Take note: Senior wins NAFME Principal Cellist

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By Aishi Debroy, Staff Reporter

Becoming an accomplished musician takes immense passion and hard work, and senior Isaac Kim has shown that such qualities can contribute to being a nationally recognized musician. After a rigorous selection process, through districts, regionals and states, Kim achieved the title of principal cellist of the NAFME All-National Honor Ensemble’s Symphony Orchestra. The ensemble represents the “top performing high school musicians in the United States,” who train under renowned conductors.

Since third grade, Kim has always loved to play the cello, winning many local competitions and even playing at Carnegie Hall before receiving the national title. 

To achieve this title, hours of hard work and practice was necessary. A great amount of preparation precedes any performance, according to Kim. Leading up to major competitions, Kim practices two hours a day with his instructor, who plays with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Kim said that he thinks consistency is key when preparing for an event of such a prestigious caliber. 

“You definitely have to keep yourself in practice for these things, because for some time I wasn’t really competing or doing any auditions or anything,” Kim said. “After that period of inactivity, I was kind of nervous to perform again. But once you get used to it, and do it over and over again, you’re not going to feel nervous anymore.”

There is a reason Kim outperformed thousands for this title. He tries to embody the music when playing, which made him a powerful candidate during selections and an established musician overall.

“I try to feel the music a little bit more, and a lot of cellists don’t really express themselves by moving their bodies when they play,” Kim said. “I feel like once I get really into the music, I will kind of show that physically as well.”

Due to playing cello, Kim has had the opportunity to travel to many parts of the world and spread his love for music. He has traveled to Ecuador, leading a group of musicians to spread music education, and to Florida, for the All National Orchestra.

“I feel like (playing) the cello has brought me kind of on this really big musical journey,” Kim said. “I think more recently music showed me how I can travel the world, (and) how music can actually, metaphorically and also physically take me places.”

However Kim was not always the proficient he is today, as he often struggled in the beginning of his musical journey. All great artists have to start somewhere, and although difficult at first, Kim prevailed through all hardships with constant practice.

“There were a couple really hard moments when I almost wanted to give up. I couldn’t master this technique, and I started crying in the middle of a lesson because of that,” Kim said. “But I think I really started enjoying it once I became good at cello.”

Close friends like Sang-Bin Park and Sasha He inspired Kim to become accomplished at the cello, because he admired their musicality, according to Kim. Watching students his age play with such passion and eventually reach great success due to their music, sparked dedication and love for the cello in Kim. 

“I don’t look up as much to professional cellists. I definitely have a few that I particularly like, but I feel like I can connect more with people close to my age that play cello,” Kim said. “I feel like (that) especially because it’s more of a personal connection.”

According to Kim, music has taught him about leadership and consequently tries to give back to his community. Hoping to be the same kind of inspiration as Park and He were for him, Kim teaches a local middle school student the cello and holds concerts at nursing homes. His main advice for younger students hoping to mirror his success is to practice and have passion. 

“Practice a lot, and you really have to love what you are doing to get far in it,” Kim said. “You definitely need to have a passion for what you are doing. You need to feel the emotions and embody these emotions in your music.”


Aishi Debroy can be reached at [email protected]