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Natick - Local Town Pages

The Career Path Less Travelled

By Sean Sullivan

Jiyu Oh traces the roots of her love for music back to a specific piece of art.
“I was really obsessed with The Phantom of the Opera,” said the 18-year-old violinist. Oh is a junior at Natick’s Walnut Hill School for the Arts, where she is majoring in the instrument.
There, she attends more-traditional academic classes in the morning (math, science, etc.), a sort of intellectual warm-up for the studies in music that are her focus at the school. After lunch, Oh’s midday menu is mostly music. That may entail classes in music theory and history.
Saturdays are spent at the New England Conservatory for private and group practice sessions.
Most of Walnut Hill School’s students live on-campus, a kind of preview of college life should they choose the road of higher education after graduation. Oh is among them, travelling back to her native Seoul, Korea during school breaks.
“I’m planning to go into a conservatory for college,” she said.
Oh said that she initially considered her interest in music as more of a diversion than a potential vocation. She recalls that the violin, which she took up at age seven, was just one on a menu of activities offered to her as a child.
“It was just one of the many things I liked to do at that time,” she said. “I always wanted to play or sing.”
But for those considering performing or playing music or a sport professionally, time is of the essence. Tennis prodigies are winning tournaments and titles in their teens, though not without years of practice, training and sacrifice already in the rearview mirror.
At some point during those early years of dabbling, of trying on this or that activity, Robert Frost’s famous fork in the road presents itself: in this case, continue playing solely for love of the art or sport, or choose the rare path of making it a profession.
For Oh, that meant holding on to the violin as a hobby, or to pursuing it as a career.
Frost’s tale of a choice between two roads that “diverged” was a bit of satire, written to a literary friend after the two had taken a walk in the woods together. Was there really that much at stake when choosing this path versus that one? Not so much, retorted Frost playfully in his famous poem.
“Though as for that the passing there, / Had worn them really about the same,” he wrote.
Not so for Oh, or other aspiring musicians, who must refine their craft over many hours and years if they hope to make a career in music.
“Two roads diverged in a wood,” wrote Frost, “and I - / I took the one less travelled by, / And that has made all the difference.”
A career in classical music can certainly be said to be a professional path less trodden, and Oh’s countless hours of training and practice at the strings seem to have made a difference.
The classical music world has taken notice of the path Oh has opted for. She was recently chosen as a recipient of the Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Award, which comes with a $10,000 grant. Young musicians-in-training can use those funds to help pay for auditions, instruments, lessons and tuition.
Training to become a classical musician can be a very expensive road to take, and Oh will use funds from the award to supplement the various scholarships and paid tuition that are financing her attendance at Walnut Hill School.
Oh also recently won first place in a competition at The Concord Orchestra, and second place in the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s concerto competition.