What was your first impression of NEC?
My first impression was through Prep. I thought coming back to NEC for college would be the same but it wasn’t. Ultimately, it’s not about the school, it’s about the people and how you’re going to change yourself and the world around you.
Tell me about your musical backstory…what got you to where you are today?
I grew up in Cambodia and moved to the US to attend the Walnut Hill School when I was 15. I started classical guitar at age 5 and then picked up singing. When I was 8, I appeared on a TV talent show. I also worked with hospitals, community programs, and artists’ needs programs. Around this time I started classical voice lessons.
I was also a Judo athlete. When I was 12, I was asked to join the Olympic team. I trained until I was 14, when I dislocated my arm. I went from a child celebrity to “What do I do now? What’s next? I need to get out of this small bubble.” So, I came to the US. I was a singer for 3 years and then stated taking composition with a teacher who was an NEC graduate, Whiteman Brown. He told me I should apply to some Comp programs. I had been self-conscious about my composition abilities, but I soon realized I’d just had my own language this whole time.
What is the best thing about life as a composition major?
What I love the most about composition is how you can see the synthesis of all the art forms coming together. I really like that I have a choice on what I do – I can go to the MFA or Quincy Market for inspiration. Composers aren’t these hobbits who spend their lives writing in a basement. We’re really social beings. I can’t compose without social interaction. The best thing is that you’re writing music for the people that you love. When you’re writing out of love, you really enjoy the process.
Who has been your favorite teacher? Why?
The liberal arts teachers have really impacted and guided me. Patrick Keppel is just really funny and nurtures the understanding of the self, the art, and the relationship between the two in his students. Peter Row is an amazing scholar and lecturer, and the one teacher I’ve been able to talk openly with about Cambodian music. He’s really able to give me advice on my projects related to that.
What makes NEC unique? Why did you choose here over other schools?
Partially my connection from Prep, but also the community. Jason Moran’s jazz video really inspired me. He said “We want to hear YOU.” I realized the standard they’re expecting here isn’t perfection, but rather to see who you are.
Another quote that really inspired me was from Gandolfi just last week. He said “If what I say takes that goose bump feeling out of you, don’t take my advice.” NEC wants you to try something that fits you, to show them what that spark is. I’m learning how to take the ugly in the world and inside myself and change how I perceive it to turn it into something beautiful.
What advice would you give to incoming students?
Trust your gut. Choose somewhere that will make you happy. You don’t want to be somewhere for 4 years that won’t make you happy.