Introducing ChengJin Koh | Student Blog

Wednesday, Sep 25, 2019
ChengJin Koh
Admissions Blog
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ChengJin and classmates at a performance
ChengJin Koh, a first-year composer, is a 2019-20 admissions blogger

Born and raised in Singapore, a tiny island some 9521 miles away, I never expected to experience the intense, colorful worldview New York offers.

I was comfortable in Singapore as a born and bred citizen. Apart from having to overcome its rigorous education system, I was musically very inspired through activities like occasionally performing on my yang qin (Chinese dulcimer), writing pieces for friends, and attending classical and cultural themed concerts. I was satisfied being in a familiar place and doing the things I love.

Why Juilliard, then?

I first learned of the school when I was twelve, watching videos of Sarah Chang on YouTube as inspiration for my own violin studies. Needless to say, I was astounded by the high standard of music-making and the sheer dedication that the school’s musicians and teachers possess, as I saw in the videos of passionate performances I found online. Although Juilliard is a name that anyone in Singapore or elsewhere studying music knows, in my opinion, its reputation is secondary to the creative stimulus it brings to its family of artists.


As I found myself transitioning from an amateur violinist to a yang qin player and then to a serious composer, Juilliard became a possibility. Singapore was great, but my heart yearned for more—more music, more like-minded personalities, more challenges, and more professional training. I auditioned and to my shock, I was accepted. Initially I felt undeserving of this gift and wondered what exactly my teacher saw in me. Gradually, I began to see the potential in myself. The multitude of concerts to attend and to have my pieces performed at inspired me. The encouragement and honest feedback I received enabled me to strive to improve every single day. And the supportive community has been nothing short of reassuring to the very shy and timid girl I was.

After four years of undergraduate life at Juilliard, I am heartened to say that all my prior expectations and hopes for myself have been fulfilled in the form of my own musical growth, mentors and peers whom I greatly admire, and the bustling momentum of inexhaustible cultural energy in the city. I discovered my limits and how to conquer them, collaborated with dancers and other musicians, broadened my musical horizons and most important of all, developed bigger dreams for myself. I kept my unique identity as a Chinese instrumentalist by playing yang qin for various communities in the city through the Gluck Fellowship, and even composed for it. I was featured in the Juilliard Chinese New Year celebrations, with my friend Zhang Ning on the dizi (Chinese bamboo flute)! I have even appeared as a guest musician on my friends’ recitals. To have the fortune of retaining my cultural roots through my “performer” self is a valuable asset I cherish being an international student here.

I am indebted to Juilliard for guiding my artistic path and bolstering me with priceless opportunities for me to hone my craft. One comes to a certain epiphany while walking the fourth-floor corridors and listening to numerous repetitions of the same phrase, a string quartet’s harmonious synergy, the relentless drills of a snare drum, the belting of a soprano in rehearsal for an upcoming opera. There is no escape from the realization that the devotion and drive for excellence is the essence, the spirit that fills this space. At the same time, I was able to continue being myself, a Singaporean carrying memories and experiences of my own culture, and be fully immersed in the reinvigorating vivacity of the environment. Juilliard has made me less afraid of failing and making mistakes, since everyone is in the same milieu, with the same goal to constantly improve. Juilliard gave me an unforgettable education about the all-encompassing world around us and most fundamentally, Juilliard helped me uncover my sense of worth and revealed to me the limitless skyline that lies beyond.

College applications for fall 2020 are now open.