Now: An actor/singer/songwriter, Jiho recently starred in KPOP in NYC. The acclaimed new interactive musical tackled issues of race and identity and was featured everywhere from the New York Times to Vulture. Jiho even earned a specific cast member callout in a recent NPR feature.
What did you really value about SYSO?
SYSO was a place where I was able to grow as a musician at a really young age. I learned not only musicality, but also professionalism, which was only possible due to the passion, support, and dedication of my peers. I don’t think I had a single experience in middle school or high school where the students worked as hard as they did in SYSO. Whether in Symphonette or Youth, SYSO kids were always prepared, having fully practiced their parts with their teachers and also making sure to come in to rehearsals early. Honestly, that was the most inspiring thing about SYSO–my peers made me want to work harder!
What was challenging and/or inspiring?
I had a lot of respect for my SYSO coaches and conductors. They were such high-level musicians who took time out of their busy schedules to work with SYSO kids on a weekly basis. I could always tell they wanted to be there. I appreciated how they never showed an attitude of patronizing superiority towards students for being young or lacking experience. They kept their expectations high and encouraged SYSO students to reach and exceed it. It always seemed like both the students and the conductors/coaches mutually respected each other, which is not something that even happens in the “real world” that often.
How do you think your training with SYSO influenced your development as a professional musician/actor/dancer?
My experiences with SYSO were very different from what I am pursuing now, but I think the most important thing I learned from SYSO is discipline and professionalism. KPOP was my first large scale theatrical production, but even though I was walking into new territory, I found myself recalling a lot of important lessons from my time in SYSO. For example, it really is helpful to show up to rehearsal 15 minutes early! I remember we would always be told: “early is on time, on time is late, and late is unacceptable!” Obviously, punctuality is important, but beyond that, I knew how to ask questions about my music, develop a relationship with my cast, and more. These are skills that I definitely began to develop through my experiences in SYSO orchestras.
How did you get from SYSO to KPOP?
After I graduated high school (and SYSO!), I attended Harvard University, where I attempted to continue my classical music career by playing in the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra. However, I quit after my sophomore year and ended up having time to join an a cappella group (Harvard KeyChange), where I made some really good friends. A year after I graduated, one of my a cappella friends set me up with an audition to try out for Ars Nova’s KPOP, so I took a bus from D.C. (where I was working at the time) and went in.
What are a few of your favorite memories with SYSO?
I enjoyed going to SYSO rehearsals to spend quality time and make music with fellow members of the orchestra, whom I had developed real friendships with throughout the process. It meant a lot to me at the time to realize that my peers felt the same way about SYSO and had the same level of respect for making music.
What are your goals for your work in the near future, in NY or beyond?
Though I haven’t been in the industry very long yet, I already know it’s an unpredictable career to be a full-time actor. Therefore, I don’t really have a timeline or anything set in stone, but I would love to keep making opportunities for myself to perform. Whether it be theatre, film, or a random performance, I’m excited and eager to keep learning and developing my craft. Honestly, right now (and in the “near future”), I’m just trying to find more ways to help pay for things like acting and dance classes and also to find a longer-term lease in the city.
What advice would you give to the young SYSO musicians?
They should keep doing what they’re doing! I’m pretty sure everyone tells them this, but I hope young SYSO musicians will continue to have fun and chase after their happiness (hokey, I know, but I’m serious!) through music and other pursuits.
Your favorite hobbies/activities outside of music?
I’ve always been interested in teaching, so I’ve been getting into academic and test-prep tutoring in my spare time. I also love hanging out with my friends, eating Korean food, and watching shows/movies.