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Columbus Makes Art Presents Siwoo Kim and Jack Stulz on Classical Music Making Columbus Better

Michelle Vance Michelle Vance Columbus Makes Art Presents Siwoo Kim and Jack Stulz on Classical Music Making Columbus BetterGolden Night Strong Water, during 2018's VIVO Music Festival.
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VIVO Music Festival—the annual weeklong chamber music festival—is approaching its fifth year. It returns Aug. 28-Sept. 1. Every summer professional musicians from around the world team up to perform specifically for the Columbus community. Each performance is centered on bringing the Columbus community together to enjoy classical music in a casual, familiar setting. Co-founders Siwoo Kim (violinist) and John (Jack) Stulz (violist), both having Columbus roots, fashioned this festival to celebrate those roots in a communal setting. We chatted with them about their work.

Michelle: How did you get started in music? 
Jack: My mother had played violin, so she wanted my sister and me to learn, too. So I started playing when I was five. But when I was 15, I grew seven or eight inches in one year—so the violin became awkward and small for me. And my violin teacher, Roland Vamos, who also happened to be a violist, suggested that I try out viola—and so the viola became a kind of “love at first touch.”

Siwoo: My home was actually located in the music school my mother ran in Wonju, South Korea. From birth I was continually surrounded by the sounds of children practicing or getting music lessons. So to me, playing an instrument was a form of socializing and communicating. I started with violin, cello and piano, but ultimately chose the violin because it’s so portable.

Michelle: For those who don’t know much about it, can you tell us a bit about chamber music? 
Siwoo: Works written for this genre were meant to be enjoyed in an intimate setting. Rehearsals and performances are very conversational, democratic and empathetic in nature—everyone is equal. And it’s incredibly portable! You can receive a complete and engaging musical experience almost anywhere.

Jack: It’s more of a format than a style, so although we are classically trained musicians, we can play anything from medieval music, to the Beatles and avant-garde arrangements. It’s fun because we are totally self-reliant—we don’t have a conductor or bandleader; we can only count on each other for the music to happen. In that sense, it’s radically democratic, maybe even anarchic—everyone has infinite responsibility in the group; there are no leaders and no rules; it’s just a shared passion for the music and a desire to create something special on stage.

Siwoo Kim and Jack Stulz.

Michelle: What’s the vision behind VIVO Music Festival?
Jack: Our entire approach with VIVO—how and where we perform, our outreach and neighborhood events and our open rehearsals—aims at bringing the Columbus community together to share an experience.

Siwoo: One day in high school during lunch, I lost a card game and as punishment, had to stand on the table and play my violin in front of everyone. Afterward, to my surprise, everyone stood up and started cheering! I thought, “Okay, since the cafeteria in itself already conveys a sense of community, I bet that really anyone could enjoy classical music, especially if it’s introduced in this type of familiar communal context.” So ultimately, we wanted VIVO to make classical music even more relevant and engaging to Columbus’ culture and community.

Michelle: What’s your favorite thing about the Columbus art scene these days?
Siwoo: We love its vibrancy—you can feel the energy of the community reach new heights. Every summer we notice something different in Columbus. The constant development inspires us to never become complacent or stagnant!

Jack: The spirit of the people makes it happen… the artists, the venues, the audiences, the foundations, the folks at the Greater Columbus Arts Council, etc. People here want to experience new things, hear great concerts, see great plays, try new restaurants and bars, see art openings and attend poetry readings.

Michelle: To any young musicians struggling to make it, what is your best piece of advice?
Siwoo: Things take time, so persevere, keep an open mind, be kind, and most importantly, keep honing your craft and artistic integrity. You can self-promote or “hustle” all you want, but in the end, the musicianship should have content, intent and communication. People can tell when a movie actor isn’t great; similarly, audience members and contractors alike can spot poor musicianship.

Jack: There are three sides to a successful musician: craft, spirit and professional network. First and foremost, make sure to sharpen your craft—your instrument, voice, songwriting or composition. It’s hard work, sweat, blood and time—lots of time that nothing can replace. Secondly, great musicians put their life experiences into every note, so go experience life. Develop yourself: musically, artistically, socially, philosophically, etc. Finally, to build a good professional network, be nice! Don’t use people. Be friends with people. Those friends will be the ones to land you gigs, performances and opportunities.

Michelle: Do you have any hobbies outside of music?
Siwoo: My lifestyle keeps me on the road, and I’ve always liked taking pictures, so I bought a nice camera. I enjoy taking it out when I visit new places. It’s also allowed me to notice more beauty and develop interesting perspectives wherever I go.

Jack: Reading, like music, is just something I’ve always done. I’m especially interested in philosophy, but that might just be the other side of music; as Nietzsche said: “the more I become a musician, the more I become a philosopher; the more I become a philosopher, the more I become a musician.” It’s cool because with music, even though we have worked our butts off our entire lives to get here, it’s not work in the proper sense: we don’t “work” music. We “play” music. Maybe instead of hobbies, we musicians should do something more serious in our off time, like accounting or chopping wood.

Stulz and Kim invite you to join them for their rehearsals and performances this August. One of VIVO’s partners, Ohio Living Westminster-Thurber, will host the musicians for a second year. Residents and staff (all in the convenience of their home and workplace) will be enjoying the musicians’ rehearsals, as the vibrant chamber music sounds throughout the halls. 
To check performance locations for the VIVO Music Festival, to reserve a seat or to watch previous years’ performances, visit vivofestival.org or find them on Facebook @VIVOfestival. All performances are “pay what you want.” You can also stay updated on VIVO by following them on Instagram @VIVOcolumbus.

Columbus Makes Art Presents is a bi-weekly column brought to you by the Greater Columbus Arts Council – supporting art and advancing culture in Columbus. The column is a project of the Art Makes Columbus campaign, telling the inspiring stories of the people and organizations who create Columbus art and sharing information about exhibitions, performances, concerts and more at ColumbusMakesArt.com. Each column will be written by a different local arts organization to give you an insiders look at how #artmakescbus.

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