You don’t have to attend university to become a successful classical musician, but it’s hard to deny that world-class tutelage can provide a significant advantage. And if you’re like cellist Peter Ko, and you draw motivation from being surrounded by talented peers, music school may just be the best place for you.
Peter grew up in a small town in sunny California where he began to play the cello at the age of nine. A lot of children start to learn an instrument around this age, but not many take it to the level Peter did. He devoted many hours to practice and excelled quickly. While proud of the progress he made during his youth, he’ll be the first to admit it was easy to feel like a big fish while playing in such a small pond.
Peter originally chose to pursue a degree in computer engineering at University of California, San Diego (UCSD). But engineering studies left him dissatisfied; he couldn’t shake his desire to play cello. They say you don’t choose a career in music – it chooses you. And once it has, the idea of a career in anything else becomes less appealing.
After he made the switch to study an undergraduate degree in music at UCSD, Peter learned just how much he needed to practise in order to compete at the same level as his new peers. More than anything else, Peter says his undergraduate degree gave him work ethic and drive; two things he’d need when pursuing the next chapter of his musical studies.
Peter first visited Newfoundland and Labrador to participate in the Tuckamore Music Festival Young Artist Program. This competitive program offers promising young musicians the opportunity to immerse themselves in chamber music over a two-week period, while getting to rub elbows and learn from experienced guest artists and renowned faculty, including members of Memorial University’s School of Music.
When the time came to explore graduate school, Peter had several options to choose from, but his experience here during the Tuckermore Festival, combined with a powerful yearning to live somewhere new and exciting, helped him choose Memorial.
Currently he’s studying a master of music in performance, specifically cello performance. When he’s not practising he can be found performing as part of the Integral String Quartet along with fellow School of Music students violinists Daniel Fuchs and Maria Cherwick and violist Peter Cho.
Peter also devotes time every week to teaching youth in the local community, privately, as well as through a free community program called Strong Harbour Strings. This initiative, organized by School of Music alumna Carole Bestvater, offers free lessons and coaching to children, particularly at-risk youth. They each receive one half-hour lesson every week, with a follow up weekly group lesson. Peter teaches with a focus on quality to his students, in relation to all aspects of cello. He believes that it will directly affect their values, helping them demand more from themselves to help achieve success in whatever they do. He feels he learns from them as much as they learn from him, further enhancing his ability to play the cello and grow as an individual.
Peter describes his studies with Memorial’s School of Music as an academic discipline of the highest order – there’s plenty of knowledge, theory and rigorous study – but he says it differs from other disciplines in the way it resembles a trade school. There’s a practicality of steady practise. Students and faculty focus intently on improving physical form in order to perfect performance. He values this hands-on approach because it allows him the rare opportunity to challenge his body as much as his mind. The School of Music provides an incubated environment where he can devote all his energy to studying the cello while being surrounded by supportive peers pursuing similar goals.
A steady source of music, mentorship and motivation, a master of music in performance at Memorial’s School of Music has always been the destination Peter Ko has been working towards, even if he didn’t realize it at the time. But now that he’s here, he’s making sure he enjoys this experience for all it has to offer.
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