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Donna Yoo (Norfolk ’04) On How The Norfolk Chamber Music Festival Informed Her Life

December 5, 2017

It’s been over a decade since Donna Yoo (Norfolk ’04) attended the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival’s Chamber Music Session, and she’s still close to the quintet she played with that summer. Not bad for a group that was randomly formed by the Eastman School of Music faculty when they were freshman.

They called themselves Destino Winds. “It was as if we were put together by destiny,” Yoo says of the name. “Historically, these groups don’t stay together. We were the only freshmen quintet that stayed together all four years.”

Because the quintet clicked and was serious about a potential career as a wind quintet, they applied for a residency at Norfolk Chamber Music Festival. They got in — the only wind quintet accepted that year and the first from Eastman in a long time, Yoo says. “When we got in the Eastman faculty was very happy about it,” she says.

Even now, more than a decade later, Yoo, horn, raves about her experience. She attended the summer after her sophomore year in college, so she and her quintet were among the younger Fellows. “We learned a lot from our peers,” she says. “Not only did Norfolk provide the best possible environment to become a better chamber musician but we learned new repertoire every week and we were coached from the world’s renowned faculty members.”

Collaborating with other groups enhanced what they learned. “We learned a lot from each other,” she says, noting she played and performed in many types of chamber music groups and was exposed to all kinds of music. “I didn’t just do woodwind quintets,” she says, “which was very nice.”

But Norfolk wasn’t just all music and no play, Yoo says. She recalls working hard on a particular movement and then running upstairs to catch an episode of something on TV. Ping pong and playing cards were big too. And then there was the ice cream. “At Norfolk ice cream is a must at every meal,” Yoo says. “It was there 24/7.”

“There’s a great sense of community there,” she says. “It’s a small program so everyone gets to know each other.”

Destino Winds went their separate ways for graduate school, Yoo says. Everyone but Yoo went to Rice University, so the quintet became a quartet before eventually becoming a trio.

Yoo, who started playing horn as a child, gradually moved over to an administrative career. While she still plays professionally and teaches horn, she is also Director of Admissions and Alumni Affairs at the Yale School of Music.

“At one point I realized I don’t have to play because I’m good at it. I’m more useful elsewhere,” she says of her decision. “There are so many talented people in the musical world. I found I was good at administrative stuff and if I could help my friends and colleagues and former teachers in that way, that was more fulfilling for me.”

Interestingly, horn is not Yoo’s first instrument. She started playing piano when she was three but ultimately wasn’t that enthralled. In high school her parents insisted she continue to play an instrument. “It was too late [to start] strings,” she says, “so my parents took me to every single woodwind teacher to test instruments.”

When they arrived at the clarinet teacher’s studio, he told her that he thought she should play horn. He asked her if she knew what it looked like. “It’s that circular one that’s on the Christmas tree,” she recalls saying.

Yoo’s mother’s uncle was in charge of a university music department that had a renowned horn professor. They went for a visit. “As soon asI heard the sound of the horn of his students I just knew,” she says. “I had no choice but to play that instrument.”

The clarinet teacher had told Yoo that she should play the instrument that sounded most like her voice. “So when heard sound of the horn, I could really relate,” she says. “It’s because with wind and brass instruments you are singing into the instrument. I’m really grateful he said that to me.”

Learn more about the Festival’s Chamber Music Session.  Application deadline is January 11, 2018.  

By Janet Reynolds

Janet Reynolds is a writer, editor and content strategist living in Connecticut. She’s a lifelong cellist and viola da gamba player, and has played in the Farmington Valley Symphony Orchestra for 36 years.