Musicians of SIS: Wonjai Lee

Joyce Lee

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It is understood in the band industry that good brass players are like polar bears: they are exceedingly rare and should be protected as such. One of these rare musicians, Wonjai Lee (10) sits on the risers behind the strings section, tuning his trumpet for the Monday afternoon orchestra practice.

Entering his sixth year of playing the trumpet, Wonjai first became acquainted with the instrument through the fifth grade band program. Previously having a “bad experience with the piano,” as well as having a relative “who had gone to college with the [trumpet],” Wonjai felt inclined to the trumpet as his choice of instrumental companion. Another major factor, Wonjai jokingly explains, was that the trumpet was “easy to carry around.”

While the trumpet certainly may have seemed mobile, it certainly was not the easiest to play. It took months for Wonjai to become familiar with the instrument, even before being able to play any pieces. He started out by learning how to create sounds using only the mouthpiece; after more months passed, Wonjai spent his practices playing long whole notes to help him make proper sounds with the instrument itself.

“The hardest part [of playing the trumpet] comes after that, when you have to start building range,” Wonjai recounts. “Because brass instruments aren’t like string instruments, you have to build up muscles to play higher and lower notes. I remember waiting months until I could play a C, then another couple months until a C#, and again for a D. It’s a very gradual and incremental process.”

Through this slow, building process, Wonjai has emerged as a principal trumpet player in the high school orchestra. Despite his growth as a musician, difficulties also remain, as the pieces grow harder as well. To alleviate the burden, Wonjai often listens to both solo and orchestral trumpet music casually and imitates professionals, finding it both “fun and inspiring” to do so.

Another reason Wonjai could continue on his path of music was because of his perception of the trumpet: not as a chore or an obligation, but a pure passion. In a high-pressure society such as South Korea, many parents turn to instruments as an extracurricular activity for their children’s resume. But for Wonjai, his instrument goes beyond such purposes.

“I think that any instrument takes a lot of energy to practice, so it ends up being like sports in one way: it’s a way to burn off steam,” Wonjai reflects. “But unlike sports, music is also meditative, because you’re focusing on both yourself and on a lot of details.”

Viewing his instrument not as a line on the application or as a source of stress, but rather as a method of alleviating his accumulated pressure, Wonjai continues to pursue his musical journey with genuine passion and confidence.


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