Spotlight: Dr. Tsai and coaching the school’s orchestra
Emily Chen: Welcome to our arts spotlight in which we take time each month to feature a different person in the arts organizations on campus. Today we are here with Dr. Sakura Tsai, who is the coach for orchestra.
Sakura Tsai: Thank you for having me.
Emily Chen: So can you tell us a little bit about your background?
Sakura Tsai: Actually I graduated from this school, so I’m happy to be back being the coach for the string players in the orchestra program.
Emily Chen: Why have you decided to become the coach for orchestra?
Sakura Tsai: Well, I majored in music, so I’m a professional violinist. So with my profession, what I love to do most is to teach students and also perform, so this is one way I can get back and share my love of what I do with the students.
Emily Chen: How do you feel about the orchestra?
Sakura Tsai: There are a lot of talented students, so I see big potentials, and it’s nice that they have two separate orchestras here that happen at the same time where we can work appropriately with a wide range of abilities.
Emily Chen: How do you help or coach them?
Sakura Tsai: First thing, it depends on the level of the students I’m working with. One thing I emphasize is for them to be able to use the instruments properly. Biggest thing I focus on is proper posture and use of instruments so that we don’t hurt ourselves as we play because what we do can be quite unnatural until we get used to it. So that’s one thing. And then of course developing musicianship and musicality as well to be able to appreciate and enjoy and understand the different types of music that exist.
Emily Chen: How do you help them develop their musicianship?
Sakura Tsai: One way we can do that is through just listening to each other and sharing ideas. We have so many individual players trying to present one thing as a group, and so to be able to find what it is and how it is to communicate while being individuals in the ensemble is a big thing. So again to reiterate myself, listening is a big point, sharing ideas, how to be understanding, things like that, it’s a group effort.
Emily Chen: How do you think the orchestra students are doing with your advice? Are they doing well?
Sakura Tsai: They absolutely are. They take great interest in what they are doing, so in that way, I’m really happy to see, especially this year, how enthusiastic they are. They really care about the class.
Emily Chen: Have you coached other students before?
Sakura Tsai: Yes, I have.
Emily Chen: Are they individuals or a big group like this one?
Sakura Tsai: Both. I teach at a few other high schools also, and I’m also a faculty at a university close by. I have private students, and I work with orchestra students in addition to chamber music. Chamber music would be ensembles smaller than orchestra and made up of two to five or seven people. It’s been ranging from smaller groups to orchestras that are over a hundred people, so it’s a big range.
Emily Chen: How is the experience here different from your experience with the other groups?
Sakura Tsai: That’s a really good question. I haven’t thought about it. Each place is so special to me.
Emily Chen: Do you feel like the students here are different?
Sakura Tsai: Yes, the students here are very focused. The environment here is that they really care about the individual, so in that way, I feel like each student has their own space. The students around them also respect that. It’s something that doesn’t always happen, so in that way I feel like this is a very special place.
Emily Chen: How did you get the idea to come and coach the orchestra here?
Sakura Tsai: That’s a good question too. A few years ago, Mr. Wicks contacted me and asked me if I could help the students here. I jumped in and said that I’d love to, and here I am now.
Emily Chen: Have you been coaching for the past few years?
Sakura Tsai: Yes, I was here last year, and then on and off a few years before too.
Emily Chen: So it’s more like a constant thing now?
Sakura Tsai: Yes, at the moment.
Emily Chen: Have you enjoyed your experience here so far?
Sakura Tsai: Very much.
Emily Chen: What makes it enjoyable?
Sakura Tsai: Just that this is the first thing I do when I wake up in the morning.
Emily Chen: Can you talk a little more about how you feel towards working with the orchestra and going back to your old school to coach?
Sakura Tsai: I hope the students understand that it is a special place to be. The facility is really state-of-the-art. They have everything set up already for them. Again it’s the first thing I do on the days that I come here, so I really look forward to it. The students are highly interested, and they are very enthusiastic. They respond really well, so it really means a lot for me to be able to share what I do.
Emily Chen: Thank you for answering these questions.
By Emily Chen, Arts editor