CMPI violin and chamber music faculty member Sang Mee Lee is in many ways the textbook definition of a model teacher. She certainly has the pedigree — including two degrees from Juilliard — and her list of teachers reads like a Who’s Who of the violin world: Josef Gingold, Roland and Almita Vamos, Robert Lipsett, Dorothy DeLay, Hyo Kang, Masao Kawasaki, and Felix Galimir. But she is also the kind of teacher who will text with a struggling student at midnight, or spend an hour talking to a student who is feeling down about music or life in general.
Lee is currently on the faculty of the Music Institute of Chicago (MIC), where she teaches both violin and viola students. She is also regarded as a highly skilled chamber music coach, both at MIC and during the summer at the University of Michigan’s Center Stage Strings program for advanced string players. A highlight of the year, both for her and her CMPI students, was coaching the CMPI String Quartet. She prepared them for a masterclass with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Riccardo Muti and for CMPI’s Juneteenth Celebration.
Beginning her violin studies before age three with local pedagogue Betty Haag, Lee was already soloing with orchestra by the tender age of five. Both her mother and older brother were pianists, but, as she reflects, “my mother anticipated I might not be a physical giant [so] she decided to start me on an ‘easier’ instrument…thus the violin.”
For Lee, pursuing music was not a choice but a calling. “I knew I wouldn’t be happy any other way. With all its challenges and ups and downs, it’s a calling.” She went on to win prizes in numerous national and international competitions as a young adult. She continues her performance career, primarily as a soloist and chamber musician.
This year, CMPI will include several new students from Lee’s studio. Lee finds CMPI’s mission “amazing, very timely and sorely needed in a field where students from underrepresented backgrounds often do not have the support necessary to achieve excellence in an already very specialized field, classical music. What CMPI does for its fellows is truly life changing. To quantify the value of having ongoing evaluative support over time, as well as access to incredible opportunities such as exclusive performances and masterclasses, not to mention funds that help with instruments and lessons, makes an enormous difference to these students’ lives.”
From all her master teachers, Lee has learned three extremely important lessons she hopes to pass on to all the students she teaches and coaches:
- Be kind to everyone; you never know where they (or you) will end up
- Be humble; there’s always someone better than you
- An artistic life is a lifelong pursuit; a marathon, not a sprint
She is optimistic about the future for her growing list of CMPI students. “What will really be exciting to witness is where all these students will go in their lives, what they will do with their music, and the number of lives they will in turn touch with their gifts, in large part thanks to the support they received from CMPI!”
TOP: CMPI Faculty Sang Mee Lee, teaching incoming CMPI fellow Neena Agrawal
RIGHT: CMPI Faculty member Sang Mee Lee with her student and CMPI fellow Sameer Agrawal