At the end of September, the Elkhart County Symphony Orchestra announced the selection of Dr. Soo Han from the Cleveland, Ohio, area as the new conductor of the orchestra. WVPE's Kent Fulmer recently had a chance to interview Dr. Han about his appointment. Han is a first-generation immigrant and, for him, a career in music is part of living out the American dream.
"My family and I immigrated to this country from South Korea when I was a little child, and our family came to this country for the American Dream. My parents are my heroes, and they’ve worked really hard to make a great living for themselves, and to provide for us, their children. For me, achieving that American Dream was through becoming involved with music making, and through being involved in music in public schools, and so I decided at a really early age that, that was going to be part of my life," Han said.
Han comes to the symphony with an impressive background as a student and later an educator.
"I went to Indiana University for my undergraduate, and then after that, I taught in three different schools in Indiana before going back to pursue my doctorate degree at Michigan State and studying with an incredible conductor, Kevin Noe, and after that, started my position here at Baldwin Wallace Conservatory of Music in Cleveland, Ohio, and it’s a dream come true," Han explained.
Han plays piano, violin, the string bass and the French horn. He will continue to teach at the Baldwin Wallace Conservatory of Music while conducting the Elkhart County symphony. But what attracted him to the Elkhart area?
"Most of my professional life was spent in Indiana, again teaching in public schools for 15 years in Indiana, and so I have gotten to know the community a bit more, but more importantly I’ve gotten to know the people of Elkhart County through my work, when I was teaching in Indiana, of course the public school teachers, but also Conn Selmer, whom I am a education clinician for, is based in Elkhart, and so it’s a community and a group of individuals who I feel a incredible sense of kinship already, and so I’ve heldElkhart as a special place in my heart for a long time," Han explained.
Also discussed were the challenges the orchestra faces in the age of the coronavirus.
"This is a very important time for not just Elkhart Symphony, but all arts organizations. I think we all have to think creatively and outside the box, and accept the fact that things are not normal. That we have to be resilient, and that we have to find ways to continue to deliver and make music with one another, and not just music but other art forms as well, because it’s an expression of who we are as human beings," Han reflected.
Dr. Han also said that it was his desire to have a role that goes beyond just conducting the symphony.
"Also very, very interested in, not just standing on the podium and making music, but I’m also very interested in becoming an active member of the community. I think orchestras and arts organizations can be more than entertainment. I think it can be a resource for social justice. I think it can be a resource to enhance community life for everybody in the community," Han shared.
Han also talked about his vision for the future of the orchestra.
"A year from now, my immediate goal will be to expand the Elkhart Symphony family. To invite more people to our performances. To invite more people who have never heard the Elkhart Symphony. And then, also to strengthen our regional reputation," Han explained.
And he went on to say that he hopes to take the orchestra beyond the traditional repertoire.
"I hope that we can engage in some new and creative projects. I am a big fan of performing the big orchestral cannon works. Playing the Beethovens and playing the Mozart is something that’s very important to me but I’m also equally passionate about premiering works…new works and performing works of composers that we may or may not have heard of. Performing works by female composers…by composers of color. And so, I hope that, in those kinds of ways, we can evolve in the near future and also in the distant future, as well," Han said.
Soo Han’s appointment to the position of conductor of the Elkhart County Symphony starts immediately. He replaces retiring conductor Brian Groner.
The has symphony also announced plans to, hopefully, return to indoor performances at the Lerner Theater in January. It will be The Elkhart County Symphony’s 73rd season.