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Rutgers violinist Sharon Gayoung Cho shines on, off stage with musical prowess, giving spirit

Music was, and still is, everything to Sharon Gayoung Cho. 

In a state of blue or red, she could pick up her violin, play classical music and instantly, the bad mood would retreat as she simply forgot about everything.

Along with her fervor for music, Cho carries the memory of her mother selling the family car in exchange for Cho’s violin lessons through her movement toward further education and aspiration to open a non-profit musical school for underprivileged children.

“We were not really rich and my parents were also young,” she said. “Usually it was very expensive to pay for music lessons, and also another problem was there was no great violin teacher around the area where we lived, so my mom had to drive three hours back and forth just to give me a violin lesson once a week.”

Cho said she is not driven to succeed as a musician solely for her own accomplishments.

“That’s why I am also working with and for underprivileged children. My parents always told me ‘It's not just about you, you should do something for other people which will make you feel better also,’” she said.

She said her ultimate goal is to not only have a successful life, but to grow as a founder of a non-profit music school for underprivileged children. She wants to contribute and provide opportunities to underprivileged children through my musical talent.

The daughter of a salary man, Cho moved from her home in South Korea to Austria at age 15 to pursue her musical studies as an undergraduate. She then attained her Master's at Universität für Darstellende Kunst Wien in Vienna. She went on to achieve an Artist Diploma certificate at Yale School of Music with full scholarship. Currently, Cho is a doctoral student working toward a Doctor of Musical Arts at Mason Gross School of the Arts.

When she was around 2 or 3 years old, Cho began playing the piano and her hobby was to compose music by tapping into her emotions. Her mother was not a professional musician, but she enjoyed classical music, and as an infant, Cho listened to Mozart as her lullabies.

While studying at Yale, Cho was acquainted with a pastor of a small Korean church who lived two hours away in Boston. Cho said the kids she met at the church seemed in need of a violin teacher because most of the kids did not come from families that could afford music lessons, so she volunteered to teach.

“I traveled all the way from New Haven to Boston once a week or once in two weeks for two years to help them study violin,” she said. “It cost me a little, but I was super happy because I saw the kids' face and how they were so excited about it.”

During this time in Cho’s life, she met a 7-year-old who was the daughter of two immigrants. Her father worked many hours and her mother spoke broken English, and together they were very poor, Cho said. The young girl had to stay at home all day, every day, because her family could not afford a tutor for her or even a violin.

“I felt so sorry. I could see her facial expressions were just so dark and then she couldn’t even look into my eyes. I felt so bad and so sorry ... ” Cho said. “I bought a violin with my expenses for her. It was not an expensive violin, it was a very cheap violin. But still, I really wanted to do something for her.”

Cho said she knows she is not yet a famous or rich individual who can make change on a large scale, but she knows she can still make change on a small scale.

“At least I could do some little things for a kid ... It was a little blue violin and she loved it so much. After I started to teach her, I realized how smart she was. Her progress was twice as fast as the other kids I taught. And then she practiced so hard,” Cho said.

Cho’s dream exemplifies the kind of person she is, said Todd Phillips, Cho’s violin instructor at Mason Gross. It shows her idealism and desire to contribute to society in a meaningful way, and also her conviction that music can be the medium in which contribution can be accomplished.

“(Cho) is a very gifted violinist who brings thoughtfulness, integrity and passion to everything she chooses to involve herself in. (She) always brings a positive and enthusiastic attitude to her lessons, always eager to learn more and always well prepared so that she can get the most out of each session,” Phillips said.

Robert Aldridge, director of the Department of Music at Mason Gross, said in addition to being an extraordinary player, Cho is one of the few performers he has met who has real interest in giving back in meaningful ways to poor and disadvantaged individuals in society.

Normally, performers at her level they want to get out, perform, become successful, make a name for themselves, and while Cho is certainly capable of doing that, he thinks she wants to do more, he said.

“I think Sharon’s idea is a terrific one which she’ll need a lot of help with, but I think she has the drive and determination to do this,” he said. “She is to be applauded for wanting to do something more than being a great performer.”

A lot of people want their kids to play music, but Aldridge said a lot of them cannot afford to have their kids take music lessons because the lessons tend to be expensive since often time they are private lessons.

“They end up not exposing their kids to music. Hundreds of studies have shown that the development of music (gives) positive brain stimulation and coordination and all kinds of motor and mental skills. Music education for everybody is an important aspect of education itself,” he said.

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