“Eastman Became my Dream School”: Interview with Weijun Chen, Music Horizons Alumnus

March 30, 2015

Summer@Eastman’s internationally acclaimed Music Horizons program is for students currently in grades 9–12 who are seriously considering a career in music. The highly individualized program emphasizes solo performance (all orchestral instruments, piano, organ, voice, classical guitar, or composition). This program is for mature students of advanced performance levels who can work well in a focused collegiate type environment. It is important that students possess high level musical skills, good organizational skills, and mature personal skills.
To give an idea of the Music Horizons program, Summer@Eastman director Sylvie Beaudette interviewed composer Weijun Chun, a 2008 Music Horizons student and now an Eastman alumnus.

When were you a student in the Music Horizons program, and what was your focus?
I came to Rochester in the summer of 2008. I was a composition student in the program.

What made you choose Music Horizons, as opposed to other summer music programs?
At that time, I was a rising senior in a music high school in Shanghai, China. I was interested in studying abroad, but I wanted to find out what it feels like to be a music student in America before making any major decisions. Therefore, I researched on Google (Google was still available in China back then), and Music Horizons was among the top results for high school composers. Of course, I was well aware of Eastman’s reputation: I could not think of a better summer than spending three weeks at one of the best music schools in the world.

Describe your experience as a Music Horizons student, in terms of challenges and success.
It was one of the best summers I have ever had. I experienced many “first times”, such as taking long international flights, speaking English at all times, and eating with a fork rather than chopsticks, among others. I was constantly exposed to new things: new vocabularies, new food, new people, and new music.
I especially enjoyed interacting with all the talented students, as we share a lot of common passions and goals despite coming from completely different musical backgrounds. The program also provided many insights into the application process, which became invaluable when I was preparing for my portfolios and auditions.

Did Music Horizons help you decide to pursue collegiate studies in music?
Yes, and more specifically, Music Horizons helped me make the decision to study music in the United States. Both Ruth Cahn, the director of the program, and Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez, a composition professor at Eastman, encouraged me to pursue my study in this country. It came no surprise that Eastman had become my dream school, as the level of talents and the amount of resources impressed me tremendously. Half a year later, I came back to Rochester for my Eastman audition. In August 2009, I dragged two big suitcases into the Eastman dorm and started a new chapter of my life. Music Horizons, to me, was where this wild journey started.

Any Music Horizons anecdotes, special moments, or epiphanies you’d like to share?
I can never forget that after my last lesson with Carlos, I somehow failed to open the studio door, and Carlos humorously said that I could never leave. It was a special moment of encouragement. (Of course, later I found out that all the doors in the Eastman building are tricky to open.)

What is your occupation today? Are you working on any exciting projects?
I graduated from Eastman in 2013, and now I am in my second year pursuing a PhD in composition at SUNY Buffalo. I am currently working on a sextet titled Memos, which I plan to present at the June in Buffalo Festival and the Aspen Music Festival this summer.