Student Profile: Echae Kang
Echae Kang grew up playing classical violin in Korea but knew something was missing. She loved jazz—gypsy and straight-ahead styles—and it started influencing her playing. She did her best to suppress the effect, but after 13 years of classical violin, she couldn't resist any longer. With her mother's blessing, at 18 she enrolled in the Seoul Jazz Academy, a Berklee International Network partner. That experience led to an audition and a full scholarship. Here at Berklee, she is stretching her ear in plenty of directions—from pop to funk to R&B to her beloved gypsy jazz—while still respecting her classical roots. Already she's had the chance to play with string virtuoso Mark O'Connor for the launch of Berklee's American Roots Music Program, soloed with bass legend Ron Carter when he came to Berklee as a visiting artist, and performed at Symphony Hall with the Video Game Orchestra. The Berklee senior talks about her journey from Korea to Boston, jamming for the first time, and being an international student at Berklee.
I had heard Matt Glaser is here, who used to play with Stéphane Grappelli, so I really wanted to come to Berklee. I auditioned at the Seoul Jazz Academy. Luckily I got a full scholarship. When I got accepted, I cried. My mom cried.
How has Berklee opened your musical possibilities?
I moved to a dorm when I came here, so I had a lot of opportunities to jam with people. I was really scared to; I had never jammed before I came here. And I play violin, so people don't really know what to tell me after. I was really scared for like a half a year and then finally jammed with my closest friends. Then I just started jamming in all different genres, like folk, jazz, pop, R&B. I used to live in 270 Comm. Ave. That has a space in the basement you can use for 24 hours. We used to jam until 5:00 a.m.!
How does your classical training come into play?
I still love classical music. I have two main repertoires I've played at Berklee. I arranged Paganini's Caprice No. 24 in funk style with my boyfriend, Evan Veenstra, and we played it for the Women Musicians Network concert.
I arranged Pablo Sarasate's "Zigeunerweisen" into a gypsy jazz tune for the World String Orchestra. We played it in multiple concert halls, but the biggest one was at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
You're concert master for the World String Orchestra and the Video Game Orchestra. Tell me about that.
The World String Orchestra is very experimental. Everyone comes up with all different styles of music. Students write songs a lot. [The director,] Eugene Friesen is an amazing player. Everybody's willing to solo on any songs, because they can improvise.
I joined VGO right when I came here. I just loved it. It was really chill. We were playing everything—jazz, classical, funk—for video game music.
What teachers have influenced you?
Darol Anger is my private instructor. I knew of him before I came here. He's really famous. He's played with Béla Fleck. He can play anything. He's an amazing jazz violinist.
Euguen Friesen is one of my heroes. The way he plays is how I want to be able to play. He plays so strongly and really tastefully. He came from a classical background, too.
I had a Harmonic Ear Training I class with Jane Potter. We transcribed harmonies of famous songs. She's really a genius about chords. Because I play a melody instrument, before I came here it was impossible for me to figure out chords. I would listen to it and figure it out on the piano. That class helped a lot, as did just jamming with jazz player friends.
How has Berklee expanded your perceptions of music?
I was really used to comparing players when I was young, because they all play the same music, and it's really easy to tell who's better and who's not good. But here I've learned everyone has their own music. If this guy's not good at jazz, it doesn't mean that he's bad at all music. He can be really good at R&B. I just learned how to love all players and have gained a better appreciation for different styles.
What is it like being an international student here?
I think this is one of the best things about Berklee. You learn real music from different countries. There are so many different concepts [represented]. I've been inspired by Argentine music and Japanese music. When I was in Korea, I didn't really get to listen to that kind of music.