For Kevin Lee ’14, choosing to play the violin was not a thought out decision.
“I just randomly chose the violin,” remarked Lee, a Biology major, research assistant and chair of the major’s commitee for the Biology Department.
And while Lee may be busy studying the gender patterns of plants under Professor of Biology Mark Schlessman, or serving as the treasurer of the Senior Class Council, he currently holds the prestigious role of concertmaster for the Vassar College Orchestra.
An orchestra concertmaster is second only to the conductor, acting as the leader of the first violin section. Generally, any violin solo in an orchestra is performed by the concertmaster, and the concertmaster is required to be a highly skilled musician, closely watching the conductor to ensure that the rest of the section works in tandem with the conductor.
Furthermore, the concertmaster makes decisions concering technicalities for the violin section, such as bowing, and the orchestra as a whole. The concertmaster also leads tuning before rehearsals and concerts.
Trumpeter Rebecca Miller ’14, also a member of the College’s orchestra, spoke to Lee’s leadership abilities as the concermaster.
“[Lee] has been the concertmaster of the Vassar Orchestra for the past three years,” explained Miller. “In this role he displays his genuine passion for classical music. Members of the audience and the orchestra alike feel his expressive energy from their seats.”
Despite his high level of skill, Lee did not start his musical career as a violinist. Initially, Lee began studying the piano at the age of three. But when, in the fourth grade, Lee’s school offered a music program that allowed him to learn a new instrument, he began to play the violin.
And while in high school, when Lee decided to halt his piano lessons, he continued to play the violin. “It’s a mobile instrument, you can carry it around, you can play it with other people,” he said. After having almost arbitrarily chosen to play the violin, Lee developed a passion for the instrument that has remained strong through his college years.
Lee is a native of San Francisco, C.A., a city that he has found to be an interesting convergence point for musicians. “There’s a lot of great music that happens in San Francisco,” Lee said.
Although music was a constant presence in Lee’s childhood, he did not originally think he would play it in college.
“Applying to colleges, I didn’t think I would even do some sort of orchestra—I guess I was sort of a naïve high schooler,” Lee noted.
As a senior in high school, he believed that playing music in a college-level orchestra would be too competitive for him. Yet, after watching the Vassar music channel and seeing students perform on YouTube, Lee was inspired to audition.
“Why not?” he thought to himself.
Although playing the violin has been a constant activity throughout his years in college, Lee has been able to pursue many of his passions while at Vassar.
“Definitely do something because you love it, and when your interests change, embrace it,” he said.
He was a member of Vassar’s swim team as a freshman and sophomore, and even went back to his piano-playing roots as a junior.
“Last year I decided to take a year of piano lessons just because I missed it,” noted Lee.
Although he is especially appreciative of his ability to explore a multitude of passions at Vassar, he knows his violin playing will remain a constant.
Lee has been a member of Vassar’s orchestra and has done chamber music for the past three years and plans to continue it during his senior year. As a freshman, Lee was placed in a quartet with three other freshmen with the intent that they would stick together for all four years of their schooling at Vassar.
And while, unfortunately, the group had to disband during Lee’s junior year—two members of the quartet did their junior years abroad—, the group has reunited for their final year as Vassar students. Lee has also written chamber music for Vassar’s orchestra, and is now in his third consecutive year as concertmaster.
Although he especially enjoys playing the works of Johann Sebastian Bach, Johannes Brahms, Felix Mendelssohn and Jean Sibelius, Lee has no absolute favorite piece or composer.
“I enjoy music because I can imagine what story a piece or composer is trying to tell,” explained Lee. He enjoys playing pieces of many difficulties and styles, and can appreciate a piece of music for what it is—art.
On Saturday, October 5 at 8:00 p.m., the orchestra will play Brahms’s Symphony #2 which Lee feels is a very significant step.
“The caliber of the orchestra has really elevated this year, and to do a big piece is rare,” Lee remarked.
After Vassar, Lee plans on taking at least a year off to find a job, and then to apply to graduate schools.
“I would eventually like to go to graduate school and do a program in oncology, but music is my outlet; it’s something I’ll always have,” he noted.