Music professor Juyeon Kang brings a variety of experiences to her teaching at Northwestern.
Kang was born and raised in Taejon, the sixth largest city in South Korea. As a child she went to a Catholic private school. The curriculum required every student to play an instrument, and before long her family discovered that she had a special talent for music.
“My brother’s cello teacher found that I had perfect pitch,” Kang recalled.
Kang began learning to play the piano for both school and church and her skills developed throughout her school career. After attending college in Korea and moving to America to pursue graduate studies, she planned to get a degree in teaching. But that soon changed.
“During those years at Eastman [School of Music],” Kang said, “I met a teacher who helped me dig out my hidden potential. So then I really wanted to pursue a career as a performer instead of teaching.”
Any student who has attended one of Kang’s faculty recitals can attest to her skill, but her performance career speaks for itself. After her doctoral studies in piano performance, she participated in a number of international competitions and presented solo recitals across the United States and a variety of countries.
She came to teach at NW in 2003, but that has not stopped her from conducting master’s workshops on four different continents.
Special talent and an impressive résumé are not all that Kang brings to her teaching. She also has personal knowledge of two cultures, and her unique teaching style has been influenced by that background.
“[In Korea] we always say ‘We,’” Kang said. “Even if it’s my sister, we say ‘Our sister,’ and even if you’re not family, there’s some sort of funny bond in the society.”
Kang has found that Korea is not only less individualistic but also more competitive.
“The competition is enormous,” Kang said. “During my time, we could apply to only one college, and if you failed, you had to wait another year to get in. So in high school, we just studied and practiced; that’s all we did. So that’s why Asian people seem to have a higher work ethic. It’s because of the competition.”
Having a background in such constant competition, Kang’s teaching style is sometimes different from other teachers at NW.
“Here, everything is relaxed. It’s about saying ‘Good, good,’ but I tend to point out something not good,” Kang said. “But at the same time, I see better output. No pain, no gain.”
Kang has advice for students at NW who are going through the same kind of experience.
“Something I regret is that I could have been more open-minded,” she said. “I was successful because I was so focused with my studies, but I could have grown more. Students have to have a high work ethic, but also try to learn from the American culture. They should balance the two.”