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“I Learn More about Music through Other Fields than I do through Music Itself”

Like many first introductions these days, my first face-to-face encounter with Peter Ko happened over a zoom meeting. By this time in the pandemic, we both have become pretty used to this experience. Peter is currently obtaining his masters of performance from UCSD, and he is also the newest cello faculty member at Villa Musica.

He started his musical journey like many students in the country as a high school orchestra student. He admits that “he excelled a little in the orchestra and enjoyed participating in the program but that, at the time, I did not see myself pursuing music as a career.”

This meant that when he started his undergrad, also at UCSD, he was a computer engineering major before he ended up switching to the music major. “ It wasn’t a straightforward path. And UCSD was very interesting to me because it certainly is not a conservatory in any sense of the word. But there were a lot of really good musicians there, and they have a really good contemporary music program.” 

He also says, “Disclaimer, I am not a physicist, but I have been thinking a lot about physics nowadays, about how to understand a gesture, a technique, or a musical idea. In some ways I almost feel like I learn more about music through other fields than I do through music itself. I find inspiration in other fields. I guess in a lot of ways, sound and music to me is a representation of those ideas. The way that music is constructed and the way that we choose to express music evokes other things to me frequently.” 

“I use things like sports, athletics, psychology to draw inspiration from to make those connections to help myself or one of my students understand a musical problem that we have been struggling with. It helps me [or my students] to suddenly have a new perspective on the same idea that we had been looking at for a while.” 

When I asked him further about his students, and what is the most fulfilling thing about teaching, he laughs and says, “Well, I do like when they do well. But more seriously,  I can’t say that there is a specific moment, I really enjoy when I see them overcome something that they have been struggling with because in my teaching that inevitably happens.  I guess my favorite moment is when they make real progress.  Real progress in the fruits of their labor,  in something that they aren’t so great with, but it’s been broken down, they understand it from a fundamental conceptual level and then they put in the work.” 

Even though Peter searches for the complex connections that can be made between music and so many other disciplines, about his teaching style he says the following, “I try to stick very clearly to fundamentals and basics, and how one approaches the instrument, how one approaches the craft. Because music is a craft with a huge history. Because what I like first and foremost is not necessarily that they do everything that I tell them to do or that they follow some ideal path or model. Rather what I want them to understand is that these are the fundamentals and this is why. And so I want them to have a deep and nuanced understanding about even the way that the hands work in relation to the bow and the way that sound works. So I will sometimes draw on physics and anatomy to say, the sound behaves like this generally because of all these other things.”

Luckily, Peter tells me, even though COVID is still preventing many musicians from meeting together in person, his personal music practices and his teaching style has not really changed since transitioning online. “Other than the fact that  I don’t really perform that often anymore, things are mostly the same. Most of  my musical practice and process is primarily concerned with the process of learning why things are the way they are. Which includes the process of continually trying to get a better sound or to figure out how to do something. The pressure of the performance has been mitigated, and in some ways that’s good in some ways that’s not so good because it leaves you with unfinished projects. But sometimes it is good to have the pressure of performances so that you are forced to finish something.”

While this is Peter’s official welcome to the VM team, he has participated in some of our events before. Just a few months ago Peter took the virtual #LiveFromTheVilla stage with fellow VM faculty member Jesus Cervantes, which you can view here. He has also performed in the past with the Villa Musica Summer Orchestra. Villa Musica is extremely excited to welcome Peter Ko into our ranks of amazing musicians.