At the age of five, Kevin Lee picked up the violin. Not by force, not by a specific influence but a personal choice. Perhaps he could thank the Wee Sing Video Series—a collection of live action musical videos for children that captivated his violin curiosity. Whatever the reasoning, something about playing the violin stuck with him.
A recent high school graduate from Issaquah’s High School, Lee has become the musician in his family. Not only has Lee honed his violin-playing skills, he is also a youth conductor who created his own orchestra. Before leaving Seattle to attend school at Columbia University in New York, Lee conducted two local concerts to raise scholarships for the Kent Coleman Foundation—named after his late teacher Kent Coleman who passed away in 2007.
Lee has been taught by several teachers aside from Coleman. Most recently, he was taught by the second assistant concertmaster of the Seattle symphony, Simon James. As a soloist, Lee has been given numerous recognitions including being the winner of the Evergreen Philharmonic’s 2008 Concerto—a competition amongst three main Issaquah schools.
“I love playing the violin,” says Lee. “I have this deep personal connection with the instrument. I love how the violin has a human sound quality—and when you can achieve that quality, it’s very virtuous.”
Over the last thirteen years, Lee connected with his violin. His connection grew to love as he was drawn by the capabilities of the violin that other instruments do not have.
“The violin has lack of limitations,” says Lee. “Like the flute, it has volume limits. But for the violin, it doesn’t have that limitation and the sound quality is something I enjoy hearing.”
Of course, his love grew through years of commitment and dedication with practicing. Lee recalls practicing the violin at least one or two hours on a daily basis. As his violin became his everyday partner, the idea of learning how to conduct music gradually emerged. During his fifth grade year, Lee already had the image of conducting when something as simple as a folder with printed music patterns was given to him by a school music teacher.
“I got this folder to put my music in that had music patterns,” says Lee. “I just became fascinated with it.”
Lee’s journey as a conductor didn’t just begin by looking at a folder for inspiration. Although he had the idea and thought lingering, his turning point wasn’t until attending a Mozart symphony at the St. James Cathedral in Seattle.
“That was my huge turning point,” says Lee. “I heard the whole fusion of quadruped elements and it was extremely powerful. That’s when I had my certain passion to conduct and go beyond the violin.”
And so he did. Lee went above and beyond what any high school student could imagine.
Lee began to formulate his ideas of conducting during the summer of his junior year. He began to discuss his passion, his concept and vision with his friends. The thoughts of having his orchestra at his school quickly gained support despite his doubts.
“It was something I really wanted to do,” says Lee. “I wanted to get a larger musical sphere and I wanted to give conducting a try.”
With friends and colleagues that backed his vision, Lee conducted his first concert with his orchestra group called Summer Festival Philharmonia. And though the attendance was strong and the audience from the local community left with awes, Lee was envisioning something more.
Before Lee was ready to pack his bags to move to New York as an undergraduate student at Columbia University, he remained in Seattle this past summer to conduct his final two concerts that he established from the ground up. With more experience and newfound confidence, the concert featured youth violinists from major concertos ranging from age 12-19. This time, the orchestra included musicians beyond just his friends and colleagues. In addition, the concerts were in efforts to raise money for the Kent Coleman Scholarship Foundation in hopes of supporting aspiring musicians who may not have the financial backbone to do so.
“I wanted to give back to the Kent Coleman studio that gave me so much,” says Lee. “I had such a strong and solid foundation there and I wanted to give back.”
As Lee is adjusting to his new life as a college student in pursuant of a political science and music degree, juggling his academic endeavors and conducting ambitions has not been easy.
“Realistically with conducting, it takes up a lot of time analyzing the music,” says Lee. “I don’t play the violin as much now and once you reach a certain level, you stop practicing as much.”
His role as a conductor has sacrificed his playing time. But, Lee is still very much connected with his violin. He is hopeful to find his balance of playing and conducting in the future.
He was five when he met his love, the violin. Now, only 18 years-old, with several concerts already under his belt, one can only imagine where Kevin Lee will be with his compassionate love for music.