Jinjoo Cho: Classical music will always be waiting for you


September 2014


It goes without saying that Jinjoo Cho is excited about winning the last Indianapolis Competition. “I think I played well for my own standard.  Actually I was pretty desperate before the competition so I was more focused, maybe." she says laughing.  At the time of her competition, her career was going a bit downhill--She was running out of the concert opportunities that she had gained from other competitions.  She needed more concerts; she needed work.  That might have made the difference: that she was not actually focused on the competition but was looking beyond.  She just felt like every performance was a concert – which is a very rare feeling, although you try to go for it every time.


The integrity of the judging at the last Indianapolis Competition has been questioned.  It created a lot of uproar and controversy.  “Are music competitions worth it?” asked people.  For Jinjoo there is no reason why there shouldn’t be competitions, even though sometimes they miss the point of art and music.  It always worked as a learning device for her. “You grow so much with the experience.  Yes sure the idea of competing the music is a little bit ridiculous and doesn’t make sense a lot of the time but for self-purpose it has been great.  Every time I went through a competition, I learned something about myself no matter the result.  I always discovered something about my playing. When do you get to prepare this much repertoire at the same time? It mimics the professional world and as young musicians it’s really good to have this amount of repertoire. Competitions force you to listen to your playing and give you objective feedback."


The harm brought to the concept of competition is more often than not caused by the musician’s surroundings – teachers or parents.  Sometimes they get too wrapped up in it and give it too much meaning.  That’s the problematic part, not the competition itself. “I think it’s very important for young musicians not to get sucked into the world of arrogance, which some people perceive our world to be”, says Jinjoo. “The finalists in the Indianapolis, we are all friends.  There was no petty fight and back-talking backstage.  We were cracking jokes right before the results were announced!  We were just having fun.  I think that we are all happy for each other and in a way, we are all aware that competitions are a fantasy.  All it means is that we almost take turns in getting opportunities. The other competitors from this competition have done very well in competitions where I haven’t done well at all.  Everybody is going to be fine and I think they know that.  More importantly, we are sharing the feeling of camaraderie and community.  That is the most important thing, especially these days.  We can’t just fall apart when there are so many of us (musicians) and organizations are struggling to find patrons and money in the business.  We have to stick together and just share the passion and love that we have for the music instead of just fighting.  Bickering is just silly.  On the other hand, why not have competitions?  I do think that people should chill out around it, though.  That’s what it is.”


I, myself, felt disconnected from the controversy created by the last Indianapolis. Somehow the reaction was coming from an older generation. Competitions can’t be 100% fair, so what?  We want to hear great music, we want people to push their limits, that’s what competitions are for. The difference is that for older competitors, winning a competition changed everything, everything about you.  It was a validation that you are an amazing violinist and you will eventually get bookings everywhere.  Maybe the older generation still thinks that competitions are everything and that they decide your fate as a musician.  Nowadays winning a competition just means that you will have more opportunities to showcase yourself, that’s all.  It’s just a different concept.  It doesn’t immediately guarantee anything. Sometimes it pushes a career really far but sometimes it doesn’t do anything at all. It really depends on what you do with the opportunities. “I think people who are in tune with everything that is going on right now.  We all know that it only means so much”, comments Jinjoo. “We've got to make our own fate; we've got to make our own career.  You must be extremely thankful for the opportunities that you get and I am so incredibly thankful that I have been given this opportunity.  It's a big honor.  But I also realize fully that it’s what I do that matters not necessarily the fact that I've won.”


Jinjoo wishes that musicians would focus more on themselves at the time of competitions.  “It’s about the music and it’s about what you do with it.  What happens doesn’t really matter and I wish that people realized that more.  I feel especially sorry for kids with illogically pushy parents, teachers in overly competitive surroundings.  They are all bullies.  They are not worth having in your life if they are making your life anything other than about yourself, anything other than the music.  It's not worth it to be bullied by their opinions.  I would really like to emphasize that.”  "It always shows when somebody has a genuine love for music, beautiful phrasing, good sound and a general understanding of the music. Violin is not a freak show. It doesn’t matter who has the best fingers."


Optimistic, Jinjoo believes there is no such thing as classical music dying.  For her everybody is a classical music lover, they just don’t know it yet or haven’t been exposed yet. She think that the reason why the audience is getting old is that classical music is something that you start to appreciate when you are little bit older.  As you age, your preferences changes. “I think that’s where classical music will always be waiting for you there.  Musicians can definitely help the younger generation to get passionate about music.  There issue much that we can do.  That is the responsibility for us musicians.  It’s our audience, we have to let the people know how great this art form is.”