Joanne Lee finds success with cello

Joanne Lee practices her cello at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center. She recently won the collegiate division of the University of Missouri-St. Louis Concerto Competition. Lee came to UMSL to study with Arianna String Quartet member Kurt Baldwin. (Photo by August Jennewein.)

Joanne Lee practices her cello at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center. She recently won the collegiate division of the UMSL Concerto Competition. Lee came to UMSL to study with Arianna String Quartet member Kurt Baldwin. (Photo by August Jennewein)

As a high school senior, Joanne Lee often braved bad weather and a demanding schedule to make weekly trips from central Missouri to St. Louis to study cello with Kurt Baldwin, a professional cellist and associate professor of music at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.

Her persistence continued after enrolling at UMSL and paid off recently when she won the UMSL Concerto Competition. The competition allows UMSL’s best music students to shine, with the winner receiving the honor of a solo at the UMSL Orchestra’s spring concert.

“When they announced that I won, I was euphoric,” said Lee, a junior majoring in music performance. “I was very surprised and humbled because there were a lot of great performances that night.”

Pianist Marta Kersulis won second place for her performance of Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No. 2.

(Photo by August Jennewein.)

(Photo by August Jennewein.)

In her winning performance, Lee played Dvorak’s Cello Concerto in D Minor. She started practicing a year in advance of the competition in search of perfecting the piece, which is known to be difficult among cellists.

“It’s quite a colossal piece,” said Lee. “I’m glad I didn’t start later because it became more personal the more time I spent with it.”

Baldwin was impressed by Lee’s performance of the difficult piece.

“She really invested what she needed to in order to stand out,” Baldwin said. “The Dvorak concerto is very challenging for a cellist. Playing that piece is a rite of passage and she plays the heck out of it. It’s very exciting.”

Lee’s devotion to the cello started when she was 8 and spotted one in a music store, asking her mother if she could learn to play it. Lee started lessons, but her studies were derailed when her family moved from Columbia, Mo., to Seoul, South Korea, when she was in sixth grade. Lessons were too expensive when her family moved overseas, and her plans to practice on her own didn’t always work out.

“When I came back to the states, I was a mess,” Lee said. “I was pretty much practicing whenever I wanted. I didn’t have a routine.”

But she persisted with music studies in high school, and a teacher at a music camp mentioned that Baldwin would be a good person to study with. The high schooler began commuting the 115 miles from Columbia to UMSL to take weekly lessons with Baldwin. Her dedication immediately impressed the UMSL professor, who is also a cellist with the Arianna String Quartet.

“That was very important in getting her ready for the challenge of studying on the collegiate level, especially as a performance major which is very intense,” Baldwin said. “She very readily made it clear that the cello was where her passion was and was tenacious about coming for lessons and battling weather and schedule difficulties.”

Baldwin’s guidance inspired Lee to attend UMSL, pursuing a music degree rather than following her older sisters into medicine. She’s glad she made the choice, as studying at the collegiate level has allowed her to delve even further into her devotion to the cello.

“Before I got into this, I didn’t know what majoring in cello really meant,” Lee said. “It is harder than what I imagined, but it is even more worthwhile and satisfying. Learning music has really taught me many aspects in life – discipline, restraint, a sense of purpose and most, of all, beauty.”

At UMSL, Lee often puts in four hours of practice per day, not including lessons or orchestra or quartet rehearsals. Both her abilities and dedication have impressed her instructors and classmates. Lee plans to pursue graduate studies in music and hopes for a career in chamber music.

“We say that being with the instrument is being in the lab and that if you want to make breakthroughs you have to get back to the instrument,” Baldwin said. “Joanne’s always been tireless in that way. She always comes in with questions and a plan and a next goal, so she’s made my job very easy. “

The UMSL Experience

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