Sharing the gift of music through BUTI

Robin Kim (right) with her daughter Madeline.

Robin Kim (Parent BUTI’17,’18,’19) has seen firsthand how attached students become to their teachers and friends at Boston University Tanglewood Institute (BUTI). Her daughter Madeline played cello in the six-week orchestra program in 2017 and loved it so much that she wanted to return for both that and the two-week workshop the next year.

“I said, ‘No, you can’t spend the whole two months there—you need to prepare other things!’ ” Kim recalls. So Madeline went for six weeks again in 2018. The next summer, after she graduated from high school and was preparing to enter Columbia University, she wanted to go to BUTI one last time. She loved being in the Berkshires with the friends she had made at BUTI, and she knew the program would push her beyond her comfort zone to deepen her expertise.

So she returned, this time for the two-week String Quartet Workshop. And, just as she had after previous summers in the Berkshires, Madeline returned home to Los Angeles with fresh skills, refreshed motivation, and memories of friendships made and kept.

“They have a common interest: music,” Kim says. “It forms a strong bond. She loved it.”

Kim loved it too, in part because of the qualities that set BUTI apart from other programs her daughter had attended. Its focus on high school students rather than children of all ages, she says, creates “a very different atmosphere,” one that encourages both those strong bonds and deeper attention to making music. And the setting and intense instruction, of course, are without parallel, with both the natural beauty and the professional expertise of Tanglewood and its musicians close at hand.

That’s why, when Madeline returned from her third summer at BUTI still raving about her experience there, Kim decided to make a gift. Through her family foundation, the Robin-Hwajin Yoon Kim Foundation, she has pledged to provide $20,000 in scholarship funds for each of the next 10 years, ensuring that many future students will be able to enjoy the program that has meant so much to her daughter.

Madeline’s love of music goes back to her childhood; she started piano and violin lessons at age four, then moved to cello because a friend was studying it.

Kim laughs at the memory of what she did next. “I went to the store first and bought her a cello, before finding a teacher,” she says. She did find a teacher eventually, and then another when they moved to Shanghai the next year.

Madeline, the youngest of three, was entering seventh grade when the family moved back to Los Angeles. There she joined the school orchestra and continued to play, though her mother laments, “She loved cello, but she never practiced!”

That changed after Madeline started attending summer programs, first on the West Coast and then at BUTI. She started practicing much more. Her love of music has continued; she joined Columbia’s student orchestra and played chamber music her freshman year and studied music history remotely this summer.

Apparently, the enthusiasm is catching: her mother started taking piano lessons herself last fall. “When I was young, my older sister played but I didn’t, and I always thought, ‘I’m too late to start.’ ” But then she called a local music academy to inquire. “And they said, ‘We have a 90-year-old man taking lessons!’ ”

That was enough to persuade her, she says. “I’m a very beginning learner,” Kim says, “but I really love it. Even these beginning pieces, if you play them well you’re actually making music.”

It’s a passion she wants to nurture in young artists like her daughter. For Kim, BUTI seemed like the perfect place to do it, and she is eager to make the program accessible to students who might not otherwise be able to afford it.

“The program has to continue,” Kim says. “It is very special.” And she hopes other families will follow her lead to help make it so.

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