By Tiffany Y. Hsia
Stephen Yoon may not think it, but he is Generation Y’s example of a young and modern Renaissance man. A former high school football player and a current junior at Rutgers University, Yoon is double-majoring in Political Science and Journalism and Media Studies with a minor in Music. With aspirations of becoming a political commentator by day and jazz saxophonist by night, Yoon and I discussed the beginnings of his jazz fascination and the memory of one of his most memorable musical voyages.
Yoon, 20, of Paramus, N.J., has been playing the saxophone for eleven years, since the age of 9 when he had a mandatory music class in the fourth grade although he began his musical journey on the piano when he was 5 years old. “I chose the sax because even when I was a kid I loved jazz whenever I heard it. I saw the saxophone as the icon of jazz music,” said Yoon. Remarking on the Asian stereotype of strict parents forcing their children to play instruments, Yoon stated, “I am very thankful that they encouraged me to keep playing.”
It’s a good thing that he kept playing too; otherwise the Sound of America Music Program of 2005 would have been missing one of its sax players on their annual trip to Europe. The process to join this national band is a rigorous multi-step one. Yoon first had to be a member of an all-state band with a high enough ranking just to qualify to apply to the program and then he had to submit an application, questionnaire and audition tape to become a member of the seventy-five person national band. “It’s an extremely competitive group with musicians that often go on to become professionals,” Yoon revealed.
The tour started off in Germany and worked its way through France, Italy, Switzerland, Luxembourg and Austria, playing to packed concert halls and standing room only venues. Yoon’s most memorable incident actually occurred at the first concert of the tour in Rothenburg, Germany. “We had a lot of logistical problems…additionally it began to really pour. Even though we all had expensive instruments that could potentially be damaged by the rain, we all elected to finish out the concert because we all wanted to perform and represent ourselves to the fullest extent… nobody has more pride than a musician,” reminisced Yoon.
The Sound of America program also provided its young musicians with educational tours in each city or town that they arrived at, as well as allowing Yoon and his fellow band mates the opportunity to explore on their own, though Yoon remarked that they had a strict curfew. Some of Yoon’s favorite cities on the tour included Venice, Paris and Grindelwald, Switzerland. It was on one of these unsupervised jaunts that Yoon discovered one of his favorite places on his trip. “We took a cable car ride to a peak of the Alps… from there, my friends and I hiked up…until we found an amazing peak with an incredible view of a lake in the middle of the Alps.”
When asked if he plans to return to Europe, Yoon said, “Of course! Paris was (and is) one of my favorite cities in the world and we went to a bunch of scenic areas that I’d love to go back to such as the Stresa and Cortina D’Ampezzo in Italy.”