GV features faculty artist in piano performance


GVL / Annabelle Robinson

Allison Bair, Staff Writer

Grand Valley State University Professor Dr. Sookkyung Cho performed at the Grand Valley Faculty Artists Recital on Jan. 20 and 21. 

Cho graduated from Juilliard with her Doctor of Musical Arts. She was musically inclined as a child, having played piano since before she could remember. It wasn’t until her teenage years she began to consider playing professionally. Since then, teaching piano was a longstanding dream of Cho’s.

“I got serious about piano in high school,” Cho said. “The teacher that I had, he really taught me how to express myself with the instrument.”

Cho has traveled the world as a professional pianist, performing at New York’s Carnegie Hall, Florida’s Sarasota Opera House, Canada’s Montreal Conservatory and China’s Zijingang Theater, among many other famous venues.

Cho decided to become an associate professor of piano at GVSU following her interview experience for the position.

“I actually really liked the campus, and I liked the colleagues that I met, and I liked the students I worked with during the master class as part of the interview,” Cho said. “I think I really fell in love with campus, actually, because I went to schools where we didn’t have a campus, it was just one or two buildings.”

Cho was also attracted to GVSU’s location. Her appreciation for the winter snow and the musical community in Michigan were additional factors in her decision.

“I was new to Michigan, but I always kind of had an admiration for the state. It is very strong in piano playing both in undergrad and graduate level in general,” Cho said. “I guess the state was always kind of under my radar.” 

Cho’s favorite part about teaching at GVSU is the one-on-one experiences she has with her students. 

“Each one of (the undergraduate students) gets my complete attention, and I really like working one-on-one,” Cho said. “There’s a lot of flexibility as to the repertoire and the ensemble work that I want to do with students. I love the fact that I can try different things. We do different projects every semester, last year we did a Black composer’s piece with singers.”

Cho created the GV Chamber Piano Series during the COVID-19 pandemic. The series holds five to six programs per year, producing 10 to 13 concerts in which Cho participates. The faculty recitals on Jan. 20 and 21 were Cho’s first solo recitals since the pandemic. 

“That’s part of the reason I didn’t get to do solo recitals in the last couple years because I was really busy launching that series,” Cho said.

Over the pandemic, Cho spent her free time perfecting difficult Chopin etudes. She performed a handful of pre-written compositions by Franz Schubert and Frederic Chopin in the Sherman van Solkema Recital Hall in the Haas Center for Performing Arts Friday and Saturday.

“I have very small hands as a pianist and it can be a real handicap,” Cho said.” Some of (Chopin’s etudes) I thought I would never be able to play because I have such small hands, but I thought, ‘It’s never too late to try to get better at things,’ so the pandemic kind of gave me time to work on little things and work on the details that I might not have had the time for.”

Using her own work ethic to inspire students, Cho said she hopes students will take the lessons of continuous growth with them after they graduate.

“It’s always gonna be a work in progress whenever you play a piece, but I love for students to get encouraged by the fact that I’ve tried something that I’m still working on and I’m working on things that I wouldn’t be able to as a student,” Cho said. “I hope that they can take it as encouragement and think that they can always be better no matter how old they are, no matter whether they’re still in school or out of school.”