For Sein An (CC ’20), the gregarious, sparkly-eyed sophomore violinist who can swish through the repertoire’s most demanding pieces in a blink, even “practice” seems a more sprightly, more lighthearted endeavor. Though she counts meeting Janine Jansen and appearing on NPR’s From the Top among her accolades, it’s the little things–slurping pho or working out to Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do”–that imbue her with a unique charm and maturity. Here are some tidbits of wisdom Sein sprinkled between chatting about the Barnard-Columbia-Juilliard exchange, escaping the MoHi bubble, and the performance energy that sends her heart trembling.
Since her parents placed a tiny violin in her hands at age three, Sein has followed her passion across the world–beginning in Korea, her birthplace, then North Carolina and Philly, and now at Juilliard. Her musical trajectory throughout her childhood was predictably parent-pleasing and devoid of choice, but it wasn’t until studying with the Jasper Quartet in high school that Sein’s love for music began to glisten. That love has propelled her to hop on the subway down to 66th Street for solo and chamber lessons, back uptown for intermediate Econ lectures, and explore venues like Harlem Jazz Club in-between.
Such a schedule requires a “psychological balance,” Sein says, that is just as demanding than the physical. It’s a matter of “training yourself” to “isolate your brain for certain tasks,” a mental partitioning Sein has practiced since high school. When asked how she practices consistently on top of five academic classes at Columbia, she lets out a nervous cackle. “During finals and midterms, I can’t!” Otherwise, she promises herself at least an hour a weekday, and more on weekends. For a musician who lives and breathes music as much as Sein does, it’s remarkable that she carves out just as much space for math (“but I don’t love it enough to major in it!”), exploring the city, and “just doing what I love.”
Aside from the Jasper Quartet, violinist Janine Jansen (Sein seems to have a knack for idols with J names) is Sein’s role model and raison d’être, the most enduring influence on her musicianship. It’s not just the fateful call she received during her From the Top performance (“the producers called Janine’s manager, like, ‘there’s this little kid here who loves Janine Jansen'”), but also the sheer depth of respect Sein has for Jansen’s posture, expressivity, and even wardrobe, that have percolated into her own violin playing. From the first moment she watched Jansen thunder through Tchaikovky’s Violin Concerto, Sein felt the music “coming alive…she [Jansen] releases her sound in a way” that touched her more profoundly than any other violinist’s technique. Sein credits meeting Jansen backstage as a constant beam of motivation in her violin studies.
Such motivation unleashes itself in all sorts of ways. Among them, the importance of music as communication, as Sein’s “biggest goal” when performing is to “portray something you wouldn’t otherwise be able to feel.” Music has granted her “meaningful connections” with people as the great uniting force in her life, from mentors, to audience members, to friends. That “magical world” created when one musician meets another sparks “an instant bond” the two share, a bond that would be impossible, Sein says, without her violin. Music also contains an “energy” that is uniquely introverted and extroverted–a delicate balance between the emotion the musician emulates towards the audience, and the audience’s reciprocal engagement with that emotion.
When Sein’s not stunning us with Bach’s soul-shattering Chaconne or Instagramming, we’ll have to follow her throughout the city and figure out how we can get some of that twinkling energy for ourselves. In the meantime, we’ll sit back and bask in the immense talent and infectious energy of this violinist-mathematician-#noodz lover.
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contributors: Jordan Lee, Cindy Liu, and Adrian Traviezo
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