Having first started playing the cello at Jeju, the southernmost island in South Korea, Yeeun Shin ’22 stumbled upon the instrument only by chance.
“I didn’t start cello because I wanted to play the instrument. My little sister started first. And then her teacher looked really nice; she looked so fun. She gave her candy, and then I was like, oh, I want to learn from her too. So I was just like, let’s do cello. So that’s how I started,” said Shin.
Shin has been playing in the high school’s Honors Chamber Orchestra (HCO) for the past four years. She was also a part of Camerata Strings group at the Rivers Conservatory, and plays with Music For Society, a small group of musicians who perform for local seniors in the Wellesley community.
Building off her traditional music experience, Shin has also explored other facets of her musical identity. Playing in the pit orchestra before the pandemic for the high school’s musical, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Shin found an unlikely passion that she hopes to carry into college. “I thought that I wouldn’t like [the pit orchestra] because I’m not the main element of the whole performance. People don’t really notice the pit orchestra people, just focus on whatever’s on the stage… [But] I really like being in the background. I don’t know why, but it’s just so fun supporting whoever is on stage,” said Shin.
Likewise, the sense of serenity she feels in the pit orchestra also reflects through her experience playing both at Jeju and at the high school. Shin attributes the development of her love for cello to the environment created by the people around her. “I was mainly motivated by the people around me, and my orchestra conductor. The people around me were very good, and I really wanted to play with them in the orchestra conducted by Ms. Siew. She loved music and loved her students a little more and I really believe that she was born to play and conduct. She had such a passion for music that I can’t forget the day I got into the orchestra,” said Shin.
Not only do her multiple experiences shape and motivate her, but she is also the motivation to many others in the school orchestra. Jonathan Liu ’24, a fellow cellist who plays as Shin’s stand partner describes how he’s greatly benefitted from playing with her.
“Even though she isn’t technically the principal cellist, she still provides that leadership in terms of general direction,” said Liu.
Ivy Lei ’23, a violinist who plays with Shin in the Honors Chamber Orchestra, agrees. “I have always admired [Shin’s] adaptability and how she is always so willing to help others in her section improve while she plays,” said Lei. “One day I noticed Yeeun helping another student with the fingerings and bowing, even after class was over. I knew that came with the role of being a section leader, but I was really inspired by her willingness and passion when going out of her way to help others.”
Treating cello as a holistic experience, Shin also emphasizes the importance of creating a pressureless environment in helping her create a strong relationship with the instrument. “There was never any pressure to enter any competitions or be really, really good. It was more of a nurturing environment where everybody kind of helped and then dragged each other for being bad… in like a nice way,” said Shin.
However, for many musicians who take the path of music, their end goal is almost always to be a part of a selective ensemble, or to play competitively. Therefore, they invest more time into practicing and take part in more intense training compared to others. No matter the end result, the struggle to find motivation for practice is truly universal. Shin’s technique may come as a surprise to some, but her journey has still proven to be fruitful in itself.
“So how do I motivate myself? I just want to play. Like that’s just how I practice. I play whenever I want to,” said Shin. “That might not be that frequent, but I think that’s okay. Because the main thing is I want to keep playing it without feeling bad while playing. And if I don’t want to do it beforehand, then I’m just not going to, because I don’t want to hate my instrument ever.”
Shin hopes to continue the spontaneity associated with her enjoyment of music, bringing it to everyday practices as a gesture of her passion. “This was a few weeks ago–we were joking around in the beginning of class as usual, [WHS orchestra director] Dr. K was trying to calm us down like a shepherd trying to corner sheep, and I don’t remember who, but one of us just started playing the piece,” said Shin. “And one by one, everyone started playing. We even did the repeats and everything, and Dr. K just sat there and listened, not conducting, while we played. We obviously played rather horribly, but for me it was touching to play like that.”
After high school, Shin hopes to continue playing throughout college. “There’s an aspect about cello that I really like: it’s that the way you hold it is like you’re hugging it against your chest. And then I just feel really warm when it vibrates against my chest because it’s like speaking… But yeah, just the way that I can wrap my arms around it and then play it against my body is just so nice,” said Shin.
Article written by WHS Bradley staff: Hank Guo ’23 and Fiona Zhou ’24