Senior high school student Esme Arias-Kim is a violinist in the Music Academy who first came to campus through the Center for Innovation and Community Impact program, Fortissima, two years ago.
This interview has been edited for style, content, and clarity.
What is your musical background Esme? How did you start playing?
Both of my parents are violinists and my older sister started the violin when she was very young. So when I was born, it was not really a question of what instrument I would play! I was two and a half, almost three, when I started in a Suzuki group back in Chicago, and that is really the place and the teacher who shaped the way I approach music now.
How did you learn about or decide that you wanted to study at Colburn?
I first came to Colburn about two years back for the one week in-person Fortissima program with a small cohort of about 10 other female musicians. The entire program was comprised of six months of mentorship and discussions, always about empowering each other, and learning about how diversity and different backgrounds can have a place in the classical music field. I had a lesson with Dr. Lipsett during my time then, and the School really spoke to me. After that it was an application process and a Zoom audition. Now I’m a senior in the Music Academy and have been working with Mr. Lipsett for the last two years.
What does a day in your life look as a senior?
I would say on most of the weekdays, it looks like waking up, doing a routine; I’ll go running for a little bit, make sure I eat breakfast, then I’ll practice for a few hours before lunch. Then a little more practicing, or I’ll have a lesson, class, or chamber music. Evenings can be more different. It’s sometimes practicing or a class or just being with people and trying to also have a social outlet.
What does the future look like from here?
Right now, I have some performances that I’m preparing quite intensely for. Next year, I would definitely love to go to a music conservatory. Music is the thing that I love the most. And then thinking long-term, I’m aiming for a solo career. I would also love to be able to do chamber music and teach. So just any aspect of music that I could find.
What are you looking forward to this coming year?
There’s a lot of cool things happening: I’m in a chamber group, a trio with two other Music Academy students, and we are learning the Schubert E-flat Trio. That’s been really fulfilling—to be able to be in a group where I feel that there’s such a level of trust—and it’s only been a couple of weeks of rehearsing together! It’s just so great to be able to connect with others to make music. And the piece is wonderful too. At the end of May, I will be soloing with the Chicago Symphony, which is very much something I’m looking forward to and even mentally preparing for now.
How do you mentally prepare for any concert, especially a performance like that?
Visualization is very helpful, at least for me. When running through the piece, I find it more impactful, more helpful when I’m really imagining this is the actual performance, visualizing the space I’m going to be in. Whatever happens, happens; you have to keep going. That’s something that my teacher always talks about. He’ll say, “right here in this room, that sounds fine, but in the concert hall, that’s not going to translate the same way.” So I’m always thinking about that as well. Doing a lot of run-throughs—as many as you can do—and in front of different kinds of people, teachers, students; just any way to put yourself in that environment where it’s a very high pressure situation—the more you do it, the more natural it will feel. This is a process, to be sure. Even in the times where I felt like I haven’t performed my best, I feel like I’ve learned something from it. I’m trying to see each performance as a steppingstone for the next thing and as a way to improve my playing so that I can be more prepared in the future.
What advice would you give to a Music Academy student or someone considering joining the Music Academy?
First, for someone considering coming to the Music Academy, I would say join! It’s a wonderful program where you can meet so many lovely people, and I’m not talking just about your music making group, but everyone here is so nice and very welcoming. The environment at Colburn feels very safe; a place where you can freely express yourself. I would also say that the Music Academy is a commitment, so be able to prioritize your time well. Lastly, whether it’s socially or in your music making, you can feel like our own technical or personal barriers get in the way of connecting with other people, so always put connections with people and with music first, and that will help you to create and to keep sharing with other people.
Will you share some memorable Colburn experiences?
Yes! There’s been so many. I would say our Academy Virtuosi concerts, the conductorless orchestra led by Margaret Batjer, have been so much fun. It’s a time when a lot of us can be together and perform music. And then on Saturdays when we have all our classes, eating lunch with people and seeing and getting to know everyone and their different personalities is just wonderful. Enjoying the collective environment of the student body is lovely.
Do you have time for any other interests?
Yes! I have a lot of other interests. I love writing, and I’ve been reading more. I’m a true crime fanatic too, so I like listening to podcasts. But a big one for me is that I’m very interested in the intersection between visual arts and music. It feels like a natural way for me to approach music; when I hear a piece, I’m not just thinking about what it sounds like but how it would appear. I like to do ink drawing, so when I listen to music, I produce a sketch that I feel represents the music. It makes each art form more vibrant and more enriching when you can see how they all overlap and intersect.
This piece is inspired by Richard Strauss’ Death and Transfiguration, which I heard the Chicago Symphony perform a couple of years ago.
What have the performing arts brought to your life?
The performing arts have given me not only a space to communicate with other people but to find a way to connect with others in a way that is so meaningful. They’ve made me feel like I can speak without barriers. Performing arts can help people understand themselves, and then help them to better communicate with others. It’s a kind of collective and shared empathy that I think is really powerful.
We are proud to recognize Esme Arias-Kim as a Kohl Scholar. Kohl Scholar students receive full room, board, and tuition scholarships to support their total Colburn experience and develop the next generation of promising young artists. Terri and Jerry Kohl created this scholarship to make Colburn accessible to and competitive for deserving students in violin and piano studios in the Music Academy.