A note-worthy accomplishment: Senior Grace Huh commits to Columbia-Juilliard program

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After a grueling four years of balancing her musical and educational pursuits, Grace Huh commits to Columbia-Juilliard program. (Photo by Carlin Ma. Graphic Illustration by Kavya Iyer.)

Kavya Iyer

As the orchestra’s tuning winds down, senior Grace Huh makes her entrance onto the stage to the accompaniment of applause and takes a bow — marking the beginning of her solo performance. She then gracefully positions her violin on her shoulder, takes a brisk breath and strikes her bow on the string to produce a brilliant chord. 

Huh began playing at age five, when her mother, a pianist, encouraged her to audition for her first violin teacher. After singing a Barney song and clapping to the beat, she was accepted into the studio. Since then, she has come a long way in her musical journey. Music had always been a major part of her life, but she only began to seriously consider it as a career path during her freshman year of high school when she began learning under the renowned violinist Ian Swensen who instilled the passion to pursue violin at a higher level in her.

“One of the defining moments for me as a musician was watching this recital he gave,” Huh said. “I can still remember exactly how I felt listening to him play. I didn’t know music could be that great. After that recital, I loved music more and wanted to be able to evoke such intense emotions, just like Ian did when he performed.”

This shift in attitude resulted in greater aspirations for Huh. She began competing more and actively seeking opportunities to develop as a musician. However, it also came with its share of challenges, including doubting her abilities when surrounded by other talented musicians at the Morningside Music Bridge, a summer music program in Poland, during the summer before her sophomore year.

“It was my first time experiencing imposter syndrome,” Huh said. “This was my first international stage, and everyone there was just so incredible. The person before me in a masterclass played flawlessly, so when I played, the pressure got to me and I was so nervous that my knees, arms and bow were shaking. I felt that I didn’t deserve to be there.”

 Despite her difficulties, she kept pushing for improvement, evident from the demanding musical schedule that she maintains while also balancing school work. On top of preparing for special events, she goes to San Francisco twice a week — once for a violin lesson and again to attend  San Francisco Chamber Music Pre-College, where she takes musicianship classes and participates in chamber music, as well as to rehearse with the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra (SFSYO). However, if she is preparing for an event like a concert or a competition, she commutes to San Francisco five to six times a week for lessons and piano accompaniment rehearsals, each of which lasts between four and five hours. Although the commute is inconvenient, the musical opportunities in San Francisco are much greater than those more locally in the San Jose area, so her commitment to furthering her pursuits is what motivates her through the challenge. 

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, Huh’s musical schedule has remained fairly similar to what it was before, since most of her in-person lessons and rehearsals, except for SFSYO, resumed fairly quickly after the initial lockdown. However, since school was remote, she could practice more now that she had the option to spend more time at home. 

“During the quarantine and the summer, I started practicing with a friend from my violin studio, and we became practice buddies,” Huh said. “It was really encouraging to have someone with me doing something that normally I do alone. I sometimes practiced up to eleven hours with her, just practicing until basically, I couldn’t practice anymore, and it’s now paying off.”

As a direct result of her increased practice and her dedication, she became a National YoungArts Foundation finalist and U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts this year. She is now competing in the semi-finals of both the Klein International String Competition and the Stulberg International String Competition. 

Along with her demanding violin commitments, Huh stayed on top of her schoolwork as well, and she will attend Columbia University and participate in a program the university has in conjunction with The Juilliard School. This program will allow her to be a full-time Columbia student but remain involved in music by taking lessons, chamber music classes and studio classes at Juilliard. The program also provides students the opportunity to audition for the Juilliard master’s program in their third year, which, if passed, allows them to earn a Bachelor of the Arts degree from Columbia and a Master of Music degree from Juilliard, all within five years. 

“During the college application process, I was actually initially leaning towards only going to a music conservatory and becoming a musician, but when I was accepted into the program and realized that pursuing music and academics at the same time was an option, I was so tempted to do both,” Huh said. “I just thought, ‘What if I suddenly change my mind and don’t want to do music? Or what if I injure my finger or hand and I’m unable to play one day?’, so I decided it would be best to have the most options open.” 

As Huh moves forward in both her educational and musical pursuits, she takes with her the lessons and values she has learned from her experiences, the most important of which is persistence.

“I now look back and see that experiences that I found so discouraging at the time are the reason I’m able to be the musician I am today,” Huh said. “No matter how difficult these experiences felt, it also built resilience. It’s like my teacher says, ‘We’re all not good enough, but we get on stage and do it anyways.’ That’s the only way to get better.”