Johns Hopkins Gazette: May 1, 1995

Piano Provides Healing Touch For Shirley Yoo

By Leslie Rice

     Shirley Yoo said she viewed her April 23 piano recital as a
closure to her college career. For an hour and half she played
Debussy, Bach, Beethoven and Chopin, all from memory, with her
singular, graceful intensity. When she finished, the audience of
fellow Hopkins students and admirers rose and she received a
standing ovation.        

     Yoo's final concert came a week after learning she was
awarded Hopkins' Louis Sudler Prize in the Arts. The cash award
is given annually to the graduating Hopkins senior in the School
of Arts and Sciences or Engineering, or to the fourth-year
student in the School of Medicine, who has demonstrated
excellence in the arts.

     "When she played Bach and Beethoven it was very good, very
cerebral, done perfectly," said Ruth Aranow, who has been Yoo's
academic adviser and friend for the last four years. "But when
she played Debussy and Chopin, she did it with such emotion that
it brought tears to my eyes. And they were not tears from my
pride, but from responding to the emotion of her music. Truly she
was so ethereal, like a willow tree bending in the breeze. Very
soon, Shirley will be an international soloist."

     The Sudler Prize committee, which consists of administrators
and faculty from Homewood, the Peabody Institute, the School of
Medicine and university president William C. Richardson, awarded
two other graduating seniors, Nolan Love and Delee Kim Har, the
President's Commendation for Achievement in the Arts. Har is the
founder and leader of the Hopkins male a cappella group, the
All-Nighters. Nolan is the founder and leader of Some Things
Coming, an alternative rock band the committee judged one of the
best Hopkins has ever produced.

     For Yoo, the award is both an honor and a help. The prize
will come in handy this summer when she travels to London to
study and vacation with friends. In the fall, the Phi Beta Kappa
student will begin studies at the University of Maryland Graduate
Program in Music, a fellowship offered to only one student in the
United States each year.

     She's embarrassed to tell this story because she thinks its
corny, but when Yoo was 4 years old, for Christmas she was given
a gift certificate to a toy store from an uncle. She chose a toy
organ and began banging away on it as soon as she returned home.
Shortly afterward, her parents noticed she was playing tunes on
the toy organ entirely by ear.

     "My parents wanted to wait until I was 7 or 8 before
starting me on piano lessons, but after a while it was clear that
I wasn't going to wait so I started taking lessons when I was 4,"
said Yoo.

     When she was 9, her father traveled to Korea to teach a
seminar at a university. It was 1983, and he boarded the doomed
Korean Air Lines Flight 007. The sudden, tragic death of Yoo's
father to a terrorist bomb forever changed her and the way she
would approach her music.

     "I think I always felt I was different from other children,"
she said. "Partly because I was going to all these competitions
at a young age and partly because my father died so suddenly and
I was forced to cope with those emotions," said Yoo.

     Since then, Yoo has found some healing through performing
musical memorials for relatives of victims of Flight 007 at the
National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., the Cathedral Church of
St. John the Divine in New York City and Trinity Cathedral in

     Later, the absence of her father was one of the reasons why
Yoo's mother chose Raymond Hanson, who lived in Washington, D.C.,
as her daughter's music instructor. Not only was Hanson an
esteemed musician and teacher, but she also felt he would serve
as a paternal figure for her young teenage daughter.

     "Well, he's in his '70s, so he's more of a grandfather
really, but he's a very important figure in my life," said Yoo of
Hanson. Twice a week, she traveled from Pittsburgh to Washington,
D.C. for lessons with him.

     Although she was accepted into a number of prestigious music
conservatories, Yoo chose Hopkins and was enrolled in Hopkins'
Bachelor of Music program, which meant a full undergraduate
courseload and an independent study of piano, directed by Hanson,
on the side.

    "I really wanted a broader education," explained Yoo, who
took courses like Calculus III, Advanced French, Macro-Economics
and International Development. "I felt that if I went to a music
school like Peabody, my focus would be too narrow. I think
there's more to life than just music, and I wanted to be open to
other subjects and experiences. It helps my music by making it
fuller. Music isn't about simply practicing 10 hours a day."

     Yoo said she learned a great deal of what music means to her
during her college years.

     "Before coming here, I wasn't given much choice about
music," she explained. "My mother would make sure I practiced,
make sure I arrived at my lessons on time," she said. "But when I
came here, for the first time it became my music. I really began
to appreciate playing and being able to express myself through
this instrument."

     Yoo is convinced she can't verbally express herself very
well. She searches for the perfect words to name what she feels
about her father, about her talent. She can in fact express
herself quite well, and her listener is often touched by her
poignant and earnest manner as she tries to articulate how she
feels about things. But the truth is, she'll never be able to
match the way she communicates through words as perfectly as she
can with a piano.

     "Playing the piano can be so exposing, but it's so wonderful
when you feel you have communicated something you feel profoundly
about," she said. 

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