Celebrating 63 Years of Inspired Music Making!

June 22 – July 27, 2024


By: Catharine Yoder, EMF Media and Communications Associate

EMF Media and Communications Associate Catharine Yoder spoke with EMF Fellow Hee Won Jeon in July 2023. Read below to learn how two seasons as a Fellow impacted Hee Won’s development as a musician and a professional.

Photo of Hee Won Jeon posed with cello, from the torso up. She is posed standing in front of all the seats in Dana auditorium, and the floor and balcony seats are visible in the background.
Hee Won Jeon, EMF Fellow '22-'23, smiles with her cello in front of Dana stage. Photo by Yue Yang.

In the heart of Greensboro, North Carolina, the Eastern Music Festival (EMF) stands as a beacon of artistic excellence, fostering the growth of exceptional musicians and cultivating a harmonious community. At its core, the EMF Fellows program shines as a testament to the power of diversity in the world of music.

The EMF Fellows program has earned its reputation as an international melting pot, drawing aspiring musicians from every corner of the world. These gifted artists represent diverse backgrounds in an immersive environment where cross-cultural exchange becomes the rhythm of life. Whether hailing from bustling cities or serene rural landscapes, these students bring unique perspectives that enrich their performances with a depth that transcends borders.

Amongst this year’s group of Fellows, many are returning from previous seasons. Hee Won Jeon is a 29-year-old cello player that has returned for a second year as an EMF Fellow. Originally from South Korea, Jeon has traveled all over the world with her cello by her side.

Jeon received her undergraduate degree from the Hochschule für Musik Mainz (Mainz University of Music) at Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany. She is currently a graduate student earning her Doctor of Music degree in music literature at Indiana University’s (IU) Jacobs School of Music.

When reflecting on her first year as a Fellow at EMF, Jeon said: “When I came here last year for the first time, I didn’t expect this much experience. I was so shocked by the level of the orchestra. I had so much fun, everybody was so prepared, everybody sounded amazing, and that really motivated me to improve my cello skills and to do well.”

Jeon started playing cello in the sixth grade when her family moved from Canada to the United States. At first, she wasn’t serious about the instrument but purely enjoyed playing the cello with friends in the orchestra at school.

In 2004, Jeon moved back to South Korea to go to a special arts high school in Seoul and experience new music. Her experience was not what she had expected.

“I thought I was going to enjoy going back because of the environment I was in, but the special arts high school I auditioned for was very competitive with not a lot of encouragement from my teachers,” said Jeon.

Because of the lack of encouragement and constant pressure to do better, Jeon was always practicing – at least 7 to 10 hours a day. Jeon joked that it was normal for the students at her school to break themselves based on how well they played, even if they were already exceptional performers. With no positive words of affirmation from her teachers in high school, Jeon quickly adapted to the positive treatment she received from her professors at IU.

“When I came to IU in 2019 I really enjoyed the encouragement that I received from my professors. They helped me realize that I was good enough and led me on the path of what kind of person I wanted to be and where I wanted to go career-wise,” said Jeon.

It was here where Jeon discovered EMF. After seeing flyers for the program at school, Jeon realized that she had grown out of the age limit to be an EMF student. But to her good fortune, she found out about EMF’s Fellows program which fit her perfectly.

In addition to a great orchestral experience, Jeon received lessons from welcoming faculty members and getting along with the other Fellows and conductors with whom she has remained in contact ever since. Jeon was elated to see how similar the Fellows’ personalities are and how they are all there to support each other. She always took the opportunity to talk about her career with these faculty members who serve as gateways to her possible choices of career path.

Jeon reflected on an impactful conversation she encountered with Scott Flavin, EMF’s first assistant concertmaster for violin. She said, “I really enjoyed making connections with the faculty and staff here at EMF because they are all so encouraging and very helpful when it comes to giving career advice. I was talking to Scott Flavin about my career and even though we don’t play the same instrument, he was giving me a guide on how I should start on the right path.”

One of Jeon’s favorite activities to participate in as an EMF Fellow is the Encircling the City program. EMF String Fellow quartets travel to branches of the Greensboro public libraries to offer a free short program of significant works from classical literature in informative and family-friendly settings. Here, they interact with children and ignite their imagination and desire to learn about classical music.

“I love connecting with the audience and asking the kids questions and listening to their answers. I love seeing how young kids are so engaging and interested in the music that we are playing. They just sit there and listen through the entire song,” said Jeon.

As she finishes her second summer with EMF, Jeon reflects on new ways of thinking she has developed to better herself as a performer. For example, to be increasingly detailed about her performances, she has learned to visualize herself as a doctor and think of her music as a patient that she must take care of and nurture.

As the 62nd season of the Eastern Music Festival comes to an end, one thing becomes abundantly clear—the EMF Fellows program stands as a testament to the richness and beauty that emanates from embracing diversity.

The Eastern Music Festival’s unwavering commitment to inclusivity serves as a powerful reminder that when people come together, their differences can be transformed into a harmonious symphony of unity.