Violinist and Innovative Teacher (and Jacobs School alumnus!)
Meet Ching-Yi Lin, Project Jumpstart’s September Entrepreneur of the Month!
Ching-Yi Lin spent her formative musical life as a talented performer focused on a concert career. While studying at IU, her entrepreneurial spirit was ignited while working with Mimi Zweig and Brenda Brenner, co-directors the Jacobs School’s String Academy. Today, she runs the Western Kentucky University Pre-College Strings Program, the first of its kind for the university. She recently received the prestigious Jefferson Award for Public Service in Washington, D.C., in recognition for her work in bringing music into the lives of young people throughout her community.
Project Jumpstart recently spoke with Dr. Lin about the choices and opportunities that have shaped her unique career path, as well as her thoughts on combining performance, education, entrepreneurship, and outreach into a versatile music career. Watch the video to learn more about Ching-Yi Lin and the Western Kentucky University (WKU) Pre-College Strings Program, and read on for our recent interview with Dr. Lin.
Project Jumpstart: Thank you so much for taking time to speak with us, Dr. Lin. Could you talk a little about your career path, beginning with your undergraduate studies and ending with your current work at Western Kentucky University? What were the surprises? Did you anticipate doing what you’re doing now at the beginning? If not, what got you to where you are now?
Ching-Yi Lin: When I began college, I knew that I loved music and loved playing the violin, but I was unsure about what precise path I would eventually take. Most of my peers were interested in pursuing a concert artist career, so I adopted that mindset as well, even if I didn’t know exactly what that meant. I followed that path for about six years, and it provided some truly amazing experiences … [but] I came to the realization that it was not the right path for me. I was really surprised by how lonely a career in performance was: the long hours of practicing in solitude and the stress of high-pressure performances. I have always worked better and more positively when I’m able to engage in constant interaction with others.
When I began my doctoral work at IU, I found the right place to channel my energies: the IU String Academy. I loved being able to surround myself with so many students of all ages, and I was fascinated by the ways that Professor Mimi Zweig is able to bring all these different people together. I became involved in the IU String Academy, observed countless hours of teaching, and eventually taught private lessons and group classes for the program.
PJS: How did you decide to make the transition from a performance-based career to one that includes more education? Were there major events along the way that helped you realize where your goals were?
CYL: There were two opportunities that really changed my thinking during my studies at IU: the IU String Academy and The Fairview Project. For one of my doctoral minors, I chose music education and took all of Mimi Zweig’s pedagogy classes to learn how the String Academy functioned, from both an organizational and pedagogical perspective. I was amazed at how many children wanted to learn the violin and the many ways that Mimi and the String Academy faculty were able to foster an active engagement and deep love for music in young students.
My other inspiration was The Fairview Project, a program started by Dr. Brenda Brenner in 2008. This project is a research program designed to assess how underprivileged first graders can benefit academically and socially from learning the violin. … Being able to witness these students explore music for the first time while building their confidence through the process was a remarkable and life-changing experience. My involvement with this project and with the String Academy also allowed me to see how university students can be integrated into actual teaching situations, which is something that I emphasize with my students at WKU.
PJS: Who were some of your biggest supporters during your education?
CYL: I was fortunate to have had many wonderful teachers throughout my time at IU. My violin studies with Professor Mauricio Fuks taught me to be a more organized, disciplined, and imaginative musician. He encouraged his students to be well-rounded musicians: musicians who study the full score, attend concerts, and observe masterclasses. The other two very important mentors in my life are Dr. Brenda Brenner and Professor Mimi Zweig. My life would have turned out so differently had they not taken me under their wings and taught me everything I know about teaching children and building a program. These three mentors continue to support me to this day.
PJS: What are some of the challenges of running a precollege program? What are some of the biggest joys?
CYL: The biggest challenge is balancing the amount of work and time that it takes to run a successful pre-college program. I enjoy each individual task, whether it’s scheduling masterclasses, organizing outreach events, or choosing group repertoire. It just requires constant attention to details. All of these tasks contribute to the joy of running a precollege program, because each small task helps achieve the goal of teaching children and bringing people together through music. It’s so heart-warming to see the sense of accomplishment on each student’s face at the end of a recital, or to be able to bring music and joy to the residents at a nursing home. It is all well worth the work.
PJS: How do your skills as a performer, an educator, and an entrepreneur build on each other in your job? Which aspects of each role are different, and which are similar?
CYL: I’m very fortunate to have such a multifaceted job. No two days are ever the same! I get to engage in almost every aspect of music: collegiate violin lessons, beginner group classes for four year-olds, performing solo and chamber recitals, managing the operations of the Pre-College program, teaching violin pedagogy courses, and undertaking pedagogical research. With all of these different roles, my most important guiding principle is to stay flexible, to be comfortable operating in different realms … [and] to avoid applying the same paradigm to each problem. That being said, different aspects of my work benefit each other. For example, a performance can serve multiple functions: community outreach, engagement with supporters/donors, serving as a role model for students, and increased university public exposure. Even though each function seems different, they’re all serving the overarching purpose of music education.
PJS: Are there any skills you need for working in the music business that surprised you? Skills you wished you had learned while a student?
CYL: Students entering their first jobs must recognize the chain of command and figure out how to navigate within the system, rather than around it. I was somewhat surprised by the amount of work that it took to convince those around me (especially non-musicians) to adopt new concepts and policies for a more successful structure. I had a clear version for organizing the strings program and re-defining its philosophy, but in short, the most difficult thing was how to affect change.
PJS: Beyond being an excellent musician, what are some important traits for young musicians to cultivate as they begin their careers? What advice would you give a Jacobs School of Music student today?
CYL: Surround yourself with good, like-minded people who share the same vision as you… one’s career begins when he or she starts college. Your time in college is essential for building good relationships with your peers and professors. They are your future colleagues. It’s important for musicians to learn to socialize, make friends, and be genuinely interested in people and in building relationships. I say this very carefully, but sometimes it’s more important to cultivate a relationship than to squeeze in that extra hour of practice at the end of the day.
PJS: Thank you so much for taking the time to share with us. We look forward to hearing more about you and the WKU Pre-College Strings program in the future!
Ching-Yi Lin is currently serving as Assistant Professor of Violin at Western Kentucky University and Director of The WKU Pre-College Strings Program. Under her leadership, the strings program has grown substantially, with over seventy children, ages 4-18 studying the violin, viola and cello. In 2013, Lin was presented with the prestigious Jefferson Award for Public Service in Washington, D.C., recognizing her work in bringing music into the lives of young people throughout her community. She graduated from Indiana University in 2010 with a doctoral degree in Violin Performance.