For my interview, I decided on interviewing my piano teacher, Sunny Byun. Sunny has been very involved in the community, and other than being an accomplished music teacher, she has her Bachelor’s in piano performance, is in the UBC Master’s program for piano performance, has a psychology minor, teaches music classes at a preschool, and much more. As you can see, she is not only an accomplished musician, but an incredible leader in the community who has influenced so many people, including (but not limited to) her students.
Let’s see what she had to say about some of the questions I had for her.
“What kind of education and experience have you received in the field of music, both learning and teaching?”
To paraphrase her answers, Sunny started piano lessons at age 6 in Korea, and was not very serious or competitive, not considering pursuing music until her teacher mentioned it to her when she was 8.
In high school, she was piano accompanist for choir, band, jazz band, and vocal jazz. When I asked if accompanying helped her become a better musician, or if she a was a good accompanist because she was already a good musician, she replied “Definitely the latter.” She wasn’t saying it to be cocky, she was instead saying that being able to accompany others came with her hard-earned skills. As she put it, “When they needed an accompanist, I already had the skills, so I just needed to know the music, and play when they needed.”
In terms of becoming a teacher, it started as a volunteer job, where her family friend’s children wanted to take piano lessons. From there, word-of-mouth got her many more students, and eventually, a paying job. Friends of friends were being referred to her, and she quickly gained lots of experience.
I asked her what qualities she possesses that make her a good leader, to which she replied, “I’m pretty determined. Determined would be the positive word, but stubborn would be a better one.” She also said, “I’m able to talk to a lot of people well. Like the parents [of students], colleagues… And I can voice my opinion. I wouldn’t say I’m 100% good at it, but that got me to where I am, and through that, I became more assertive.” Here, it really says a lot about what kind of leader she is. Leaders work in different ways, behind the scenes and commanding the ship, but having good people skills is an essential quality that every leader should have, in order for them to get their point across to those they are leading.
In reference to getting to the position of Vice Principal of the Salina Cheng Music Academy, she told me, “Part of it, I think, is just luck. Timing was right; I was just nearly finishing up my degree when Salina offered me the position of Vice Principal, because she knew me the longest (of the other teachers). I wouldn’t say it’s 100% my effort, but 50% luck, and 50% my effort.”
When I asked her what she thought she could do to become an even better influence on the community, these were her thoughts: “I could… socialize more. Go out there, talk to more people. Making connections with people, being able to engage in conversation for a long time without being… a little awkward. Other than that, I would like to do more volunteer work.”
In regards to the UBC music program, I asked her if the Masters or Bachelors program was more beneficial to her learning, to which she replied, “Well, it’s only because I’m doing my Masters in the same school as I did my Bachelors in, so I don’t feel like a, I don’t know, a step up from my Bachelor years? But Bachelors was when I realized what studying music meant and what the other professors actually are, what they actually do…” In the end, she said that although the jump from high school to university was much larger than she expected, she learned more, in a sense, from her Bachelors than she is in her Masters.
“What are some of your major accomplishments, both for yourself and in the community?”
“I would say the fact that I’m positioned as Vice Principal here, in the Academy, it’s probably the biggest accomplishment. I’ve also made myself into a music teacher at a local preschool, the Over the Rainbow Preschool. That was also 50% luck, 50% effort. At that time, I was actually looking for volunteer activities to get into the community more.”
Aside from being an accomplished music teacher and performer, Sunny has been in a successful music trio which went on to a provincial competition. She was also in another trio that volunteered to perform in different senior homes in Vancouver.
In high school, she was the main accompanist (“Partially because there was no one else,” she said) for band, choir, jazz band, vocal jazz, and musicals. Whenever a pianist was required, she was the first choice.
“Who have been some of your biggest inspirations along the way, and why?”
When asked this question, Sunny immediately began to describe her first piano teacher (back in Korea), her previous UBC teacher Jane Coop (member of the Order of Canada), and Dr. Salina Cheng, her former teacher and owner of the academy Sunny currently works in. There seemed to be a pattern in what qualities Sunny found inspiring. On the one hand, they all were different teachers with different styles, but she seemed to admire their drive, and their care for their students beyond teaching. “[…] She would yell in lessons. But really deep inside, she would really care about those students, and that’s why she yelled. I guess otherwise she wouldn’t have cared, she wouldn’t have even said anything to them,” she said, while giving thoughts on her first teacher (in Korea). “The fact that she could bring up these ideas and convince the parents to get all of the times in… that was pretty amazing. She was actually one of these teachers who came to their homes, instead of having her own student, so that’s pretty– that’s a great thing to do.”
Dr. Salina Cheng, her teacher before UBC (and head teacher of where Sunny currently teaches and I attend lessons), was not as strict as her previous teacher. “But the way she ran the Academy, again, all the ideas she had…” “Just being able to convince all these parents to get their children enrolled in various activities she wants to put on; that sort of determination and assertiveness is what I want to learn from.”
Her undergrad teacher, Jane Coop, was a concert pianist, teacher, and member of the Order of Canada. When talking about Ms. Coop’s important to her, she said, “She had… 15 students. That’s 15 students, 75 minutes per lesson, and on top of that, she was a concert pianist with concert times everywhere, and she was just able to keep on top of her schedule.” “At the same time, she was able to keep a good family life as well.”
All of Sunny’s teachers seemed to go above and beyond what was required of a teacher. They would organize concerts, gathered students outside of lessons (to form a mini choir, for example), and schedule events that were not at all required of them.
I also sense that Sunny admires the qualities of organization, care, assertiveness, drive, and passion. All of her teachers, while strict, wanted the best for their students. Talking about Jane Coop’s influence on her teaching style, Sunny said, “While I was teaching the time too, I was trying to be like her as much as possible. And still, I’m trying to be like her. Becoming is her is like my goal.” Having learned under Sunny for 3 years, I can say that she demonstrates the above qualities in abundance. At times, she can be very straight with me, and although I would not call her scary, everything she says, every little articulation she corrects, every bit of criticism is in my best interest. She does it because she cares.
To wrap up the interview, “What, in your opinion, is the best quality for someone to have in order for them to positively influence others?”
“Having a good vision, I would say. Having a good– Knowing exactly what they want for themselves, or for others, and being able to communicate that without being harsh, obviously, if you’re going to command someone, or tell anyone to do anything. So I would say, I guess being assertive. I think that having good communication skills would be good.”
Perhaps I am a bit biased, but I think Sunny demonstrates these traits in abundance. Every student she has, she has a vision for them as well. For me, she wants me to push myself to be better, and to do well, but do well for myself and not for the sake of others. She does not think of me as a little machine who replicates everything she tells me to do. She believes that I am an individual. I mean, what kind of teacher gets you cute little gifts from Christmas, or invites you to Jane Coop’s exclusive concert, or attends your recreational concerts completely out of her schedule? Sunny is not just my teacher. She is my mentor; any older sister; a leader, whom I trust to guide me on the path she sees fit. She seeks the best for her students, and as a mentor and visionary, she inspires those around her to do well.
What I took away from my interview with Sunny is that a leader does not just tell others what to do. They look out for those who listen to them, and they continuously seek out ways to help. They have goals, for themselves and for their students. They communicate clearly what they want, and they know what they want in the end, even if the road is rocky. A leader does not sit atop their people. They pull their weight equally alongside them, and they lead the way for everyone. They set examples for others, but every great leader has been led before, and that’s how they know how to be influential themselves.