In the Fall of 2011, three Peabody students (Gabriel Meza—violin, Christine Jina Lee—cello, and Maki Kubota—cello) studied abroad for a semester at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music (YST). Megan Jeffrey, Singapore Office Coordinator, recently sat down with Kubota who shared his experiences.
Welcome back to Peabody, Maki! You’ve just spent a semester in Singapore at YST; how does it feel to be back?
I feel immediately at home! Although I spent a whole 7 months away from Peabody, when I came back it felt surprisingly normal; it was as if there was no time lapse, and life went right back to how it used to be.
As a relatively new conservatory, officially opening in 2001, how did you come to the decision to study abroad at YST?
I started considering studying abroad when I talked to the exchange students at Peabody. They spoke very highly of the cello studio there. I knew virtually nothing about Li-Wei then and was a bit skeptical of the idea of going, but after watching just one single video of him on YouTube, I was sold.
What was it like working with Li-Wei Qin? Are you keeping in touch?
Li-Wei was wonderful and inspiring, both as a musician and person. As a cellist, there was not a moment when he played that didn’t make my jaw drop, and his musical advice was profound yet straightforward enough to take home with me. As a person, he’s still relatively young and in touch with my generation, so it was very easy to connect with him. As students, we naturally look up to our teachers as examples and role models but often times our teachers’ accomplishments are those of a different generation or lifetime. But here was Li-Wei–a real life example of somebody who had succeeded facing that same challenges that our generation faces today. As for keeping in touch, I’m actually about to send him a transcription of a cello quartet he introduced to me that I worked on over winter break!
Were you able to keep in touch with your teacher at Peabody?
Yes, my teacher and I emailed back and forth quite often.
As a music student, why is it important to study abroad?
Two reasons: because different cultures cultivate different musicians, and becuse it’s the easiest way for a student to network in other parts of the world. In my opinion, there is no better way to become a well-rounded musician than to throw yourself into new and different niches and adapt to them, and studying abroad is a great way to do this. For example, YST has many students from Beijing, where solo playing is heavily emphasized. This is naturally manifest in the high level of virtuoso playing there, along with the general expectation of technical perfection. When I arrived in Singapore, I was suddenly thrust into an environment where mistakes in solo playing were not as easily forgiven, which in turn became a great learning opportunity for me. Also, Singapore is a part of an entirely different musical hemisphere than what we have in the U.S. and Canada. The country is interconnected with its neighbors such as Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and so on, creating its own music scene. What better way is there to introduce oneself to a foreign network than to study and play alongside colleagues that are soon to become the forerunners of that scene?
Could you tell me one of your favorite memories while at YST?
One of my fondest memories was when two of my friends “took me out to dinner” for my birthday. We went to an outdoor restaurant with a live band performing, and to my surprise, they has requested a birthday shout-out for me. But instead of a normal birthday announcement, I was pulled onto stage and had to a sing a Justin Bieber song with the band. It was one of the horrifically embarrassing, wonderful moments of my life!
Wow! What a surprise! I’m sure you are aware of Peabody and YST’s new Joint Degree Program, where students study for three semesters (Sophomore Fall Semester, Full Junior Year), launched just last fall; what would you say to a Peabody student interested in applying?
Two things: make friends and keep in touch often. I say this because staying in touch was easier said than done for me, especially with the 12 hour time different.
If you were to sum up your experience at YST in just three words, what would they be?
Food, friends, and family.
Any plans to return to Singapore?
As of now, I don’t have any plans to return, but I’m ready to jump on any opportunity that comes by that’ll let me visit again!