Interview with Japanese Orchestral Trumpeter Cheonho Yoon

Cheonho playing trumpet from the summit of Mt. Sheridan in Yellowstone National Park   Cheonho playing trumpet from the summit of Mt. Sheridan in Yellowstone National Park

Cheonho Yoon  was born in Yokohama, Japan. Mr. Yoon earned his Bachelor of Music degree from Aichi Prefectural University of Arts, Performer’s Certificate from Cleveland Institute of Music, and his Artist’s Diploma from Colburn School. His teachers have included Michael Sachs, James Wilt, Junichi Orita, Yasuyuki Takeuchi, Tomonori Sato.

He has been principal trumpet player in Berkeley Symphony, Symphony Napa Valley and also been Second/Assistant principal trumpet player of West Virginia Symphony

     Mr. Yoon has played extensively with Asian and European orchestras. Before starting his orchestra career in the United States, Mr. Yoon performed frequently with orchestras around Tokyo area. He has multiple experiences of guest playing with Helsinki PhilharmonicMalaysian Philharmonic, and several  orchestras in mainly San Francisco Bay area. He has participated  Asian Youth Orchestra, Pacific Music Festival, Spoleto USA, National Repertory Orchestra and has also worked extensively with Seiji Ozawa at the Ozawa Opera Festival. 
      Cheonho Yoon is also an accomplished soloist and chamber musician.  He is a founding member of Lovrass Brass Quintet, Japan.  Currently Cheonho resides in Bay area.

**To hear a sample of Mr. Yoon’s trumpet playing, here is an audio clip from the Spoleto Festival, where he is playing principal on Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances.  Scroll down to the Spoleto Festival Orchestra Concert dated 6/1/2013. The Symphonic Dances starts at around 52:00. 

Bb Trumpet: Vincent Bach 180ML 37 Silver
C Trumpet: Vincent Bach A 239Bell
Eb/D: Schilke E3L
Piccolo: Schilke P5-4, P7-4
Flugelhorn: Yamaha Xeno YFH8310U
Bb, C, Eb/D: Curry 1.5BC 
Cornet: 1 1/2B
Rotary Trumpet: Bleslmair G2 
Piccolo: Stork 7P

Interview with Japanese Orchestral Trumpeter Cheonho Yoon
The Interviewer is Stanley Curtis
SC: Tell us about your early years in music.
CY: My first instrument was a violin. My mother really loved the sound of violin so she made all of us to take lessons ( I have 2 siblings, one older sister and one younger brother.) I can say that playing violin helped build my musical foundation even though I wasn’t a good student. I remember I liked violin, but I got bored practicing so quickly. Then I started playing trumpet when I was 12 years old in my school band. The band director in my junior high band was a really good teacher so we got very close to compete in the national championship. I still remember how sad it was when we didn’t make it. 
SC: Who have been your most influential teachers and mentors?
CY: Mmm. many. All of my teachers are super influential in different ways. My first teacher, Mr. Junichi Orita is a pioneer of  brass quintet  in Japan. He wasn’t an orchestral player, but he had really unique ideas and approaches about music as well as professionalism. I still talk to him once in a while, and he always inspires me as a musician and a person.
Two of my teachers in the States were great. They changed my life.  Mr. Sachs is my hero as an orchestral player, I still miss those days when I go hear his playing at the Severance hall every week. Some of the best concerts I’ve heard in my life are from the Severance.
Mr. Wilt is a fantastic teacher and player, and personally I owe him so much. I would not have been doing all of the things that I do now without his lessons. Especially I learned a lot about audition preparation. As a learning environment, Colburn was super. I was so lucky to be there.
SC: Talk about the orchestras that you have been playing in so far–and about the large amount of travel that you have been doing between California and West Virginia.

West Virginia Symphony Orchestra trumpet section with guest artists for performance of the Stephan Paulus Concerto for Two Trumpets (l. to r., Vincent DiMartino (soloist), John Schlabach (third trumpet), David Porter (principal), Cheonho Yoon, and Rex Richardson (soloist)West Virginia Symphony Orchestra trumpet section with guest artists for performance of the Stephan Paulus Concerto for Two Trumpets (l. to r., Vincent DiMartino (soloist), John Schlabach (third trumpet), David Porter (principal), Cheonho Yoon, and Rex Richardson (soloist)

CY: I love traveling and I am good at it now, but it is still very demanding. I usually take a redeye flight to save my time. There is no direct flight to Charleston, WV from California, so there is one layover on each trip. Those five years of travel experience made me a good traveler. I got better at packing small and adjusting my inner time.

The Second Trumpet/Sub Principal job at the West Virginia Symphony was my first professional job. I won the position when I was enrolled in my second year in the Artist Diploma program at the the Colburn School. I have been so fortunate to work with wonderful colleagues of the West Virginia Symphony under Maestro Cooper. The experience in West Virginia made me stronger as a musician. I have really important friends in this orchestra–that is special to me. There are quite a few people traveling from outside of Charleston, so most of the members stay at a hotel during the concert week. (The rooms are provided by the orchestra). Mostly they are driving from Ohio, Pennsylvania or Virginia and so on. It’s nice to feel the weather differences (the weather in West Virginia reminds me of Japan) and meet musicians from other regions.  

I won the principal job at the Berkeley Symphony in 2010, and I shared two seasons with another trumpet player for trials. Fortunately they offered me the position, and I made a decision to move to Northern California from Los Angeles.
Berkeley Symphony has a remarkable history with Maestro Kent Nagano for a long time. That is probably the reason why our programming is hugely focused on new music. It is fun but sometimes very challenging. It’s a smaller size orchestra, but it’s exciting working with them. 
The orchestra consists of bay area musicians. Most of them are contracted with one or more orchestras in the bay area, so we see each other often in other occasions.  Some musicians drive a huge amount of mileage every week to play rehearsals and shows. I haven’t watched, yet, but there is a documentary movie about freelance musicians in this area.. It’s called “freeway philharmonic“. 
SC: I understand you keep a blog in Japanese. What do you like to talk about in your blog?
CY: I mostly talk about what I did that week what I’ve found in my daily life. There was a time that I tried to keep my blog in English, but it took too much time to write and edit. Even in Japanese blog, I am having a hard time being a consistent writer.
The blog hasn’t been touched for such a long time…I am working on it right now.  I am trying to keep my fresh events that I just experienced with honest opinions and feelings. I am hoping to provide something beneficial to fellow musicians in Japan. The reason why I started my blog is that I thought my lifestyle as a professional musician here would  be probably very unique. For instance, nobody wouldn’t be flying for seven hours to play a week of rehearsals and concerts, because if you take a flight from Tokyo for four hours you will be outside of Japan.. 
SC: What are some of your most memorable musical projects?
CY: I had a recital in my hometown, Yokohama, before I left for Cleveland to study. It was such a memorable day, because all of my friends came to support me.  I didn’t realized how hard it is to prepare for a concert from the scratch by myself. Especially I remember how I felt lucky to have such great supporters…my family and friends. It was my very first recital, and perhaps it was the smallest, but I remember how satisfied I was even though my playing wasn’t perfect. 
I got to play with Helsinki Philharmonic in 2010. After four rounds of intense audition in May, I was chosen to be one of three finalists. I went back to Finland in September to play with them for a month trial. We had a short tour to Italy while I was there for my trial. We performed the Sibelius Second Symphony in a historical opera theater in Verona. That was absolutely an unbelievable experience. It was loud, but not just volume.. it’s hard to describe. I felt like I was in a swirl of soul.  Unfortunately they did’t offer me the job, but the month of working with them taught me a lot. Not only are they fantastic musicians, but they are great people. 
Another one would be the little Tokyo benefit concert which I have done three times since 2011. I and my flutist friend in Los Angeles started benefit concerts for Earthquake/Tsunami Relief which happened 2011 in Tohoku region in Japan. With corporation of a buddhist temple in Los Angeles, we donated all the money to different organizations and purposes. One year we bought sets of musical instruments from the donations and sent them to a children’s marching band in Fukushima. 
SC: What are some of your thoughts or philosophies as they relate to trumpet playing?
CY: I always focus on how to stay “healthy.” In trumpet playing, healthy vibrations enable one to play well, but being in a healthy state of body and mind is also very helpful to create beautiful results. 
I usually start with meditative breathing before each practice, preferably with sunlight. I think it’s extremely important to help get one ready to start a day of practice instead of just  playing right away. These consistent routines eventually becomes consistent performances. 
I love finding favorite melodies from other fields–from other instruments or vocal pieces or other genres of music. Once I find something, I always try them to enjoy.This helps my ear to be open without criticizing anything.
SC: What are the differences between the Japanese and American classical music worlds?
CY: Most concerts in America start at 8:00 p.m. but between 6-7 pm is the normal time for concerts in Japan. 7:00 p.m. would be the latest. I was surprised when I went to a concert for the first time in the States. I thought it’s so late to start.  
The Nutcracker is traditionally the show to go to in December in America. Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 is the most popular music in December in Japan! Every orchestra plays Beethoven 9 in December multiple times over weeks. Those shows sell a lot of tickets!
SC: What about the difference between a Japanese and American trumpet audition for an orchestra?

Cheonho Yoon with 2004 Pacific Music Festival trumpet section
Cheonho Yoon with 2004 Pacific Music Festival trumpet section

CY: Very different I would say. In America, in the audition you are required to play a large amount of excerpts from orchestra parts. Solo playing is not a big part of the audition. Mostly you won’t need to play a solo until the final round, or you don’t get asked at all. 

In Japan, preliminary round is usually solo playing.  They may ask a couple of standard excerpts along with concerto, but usually you would have to play only a solo–often with an accompanist. Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto on Bb trumpet is the most standard thing to ask for prelims in Japan. E-flat trumpet is not allowed! This probably came from the German tradition.

If you pass the prelims, the next round is the orchestra excerpt round. Candidates will be playing in front of entire winds, or even the entire orchestra. Once you pass the audition round, you get to play in the orchestra for six months to one year for a trial contract.
In Japan, what I understand is that auditions are normally run by each orchestra’s guidelines. For example, a screen is not always required. American auditions are way more focused on being fair to everybody and they always follow general rules.  

SC: What are some things that you do other than play the trumpet?
CY: I try to get away from work but it’s not easy. I probably spend a lot of time networking (emailing, phone calls..) unconsciously. It’s not a bad thing right?
If I am not working at all, I enjoy cooking at home and drinking a good cup of coffee. Or a good glass of wine or beer if it’s dark enough outside.
I enjoy hanging out with people too! There are many good places in San Francisco Bay area so it’s a problem. 
Oh, and I go running! I spend a lot of time running.  I love running marathons and trail races. My current situations is just perfect. I live by the trails and not far from the ocean so I get to run in the mountains and by the water. I also love being in nature.  I had two weeks of backpacking in Grand Teton/Yellowstone with my girlfriend. That was incredible!
I have done nine full marathons, and I am very close to qualify for Boston which is my primary goal. Wish me luck for the next one in November! 
SC: Good luck with that qualifying race! What would you like to be doing in 5 or 10 years?
CY: Well, too many! I would like me to have five times more passion and curiosity than I have now for music. It’s very easy to feel tired and old even if you are not. I think that is one of the reasons why I never stop running.  It’s impossible to stop getting old but I would like to stay fresh and strong as long as possible. 
I have been busy with taking care of myself… I think I’d like to spend more time for others. I want to be a good husband and father, and if I had a studio to teach that would be very ideal.


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