Humans of Harker: Keys to connection

Yejin Song strings together communities with love and dedication


Alysa Suleiman

“I’ve experienced a lot of disappointing moments, but the ratio of good to bad moments is so stark that [it] makes the good moments so good, because they stand out more. Piano has taught me how to go through struggle, how to persevere and that it’s okay to not be a perfectionist,” Yejin Song (’22) said.

Powerful. Passionate. Romantic. Singing melodies that make you feel like you’re soaring, flying with the notes the way a pianist’s fingers fly across a piano’s keys. Tunes that evoke your deepest emotions, that “really stir something in your heart.” This is how Yejin Song (‘22) describes Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Piano Concerto No. 2,” the first composition with which she truly “felt something” about music.

Yejin’s parents introduced her to piano when she was 5 years old, but she started playing seriously in sixth grade under the tutelage of her current teacher. His passion for the piano enlightened her and inspired her musical pursuits. In their conversations, Yejin learned how music transcends sound, how every note has the power to bond listeners across cultural or personal boundaries. To better forge these connections, Yejin associates every piece with a visual while playing.

“Sometimes, I crave performance,” Yejin said. “If there’s a piece I feel a deep connection to, then I want nothing more than to share [that] with other people. A [place] in which I’m able to fully perform as if I was in my home practicing but the audience is able to experience that catharsis with me is something that I imagine quite often.”

For Yejin, the joy of playing the piano stems partly from the community. At music festivals, she enjoys the invaluable opportunity to fully immerse herself in the piano for two to three weeks, learn from the performances of famous classical musicians and share her love for music with her peers.

“Every time I come back from music camp, I’m so inspired,” Yejin said. “Being around friends who understand music and your music life and can talk about music in a passionate way with you is something that I can’t get outside of those music camps. It made me able to experience the pure beauty [of music] and be with other people who inspire me to be a better musician, which is hard to do when you’re alone.”

Yet, Yejin’s career as a pianist hasn’t come without challenges. An inherent part of being a performer is accepting uncertainty. Despite a pianist’s devoting countless hours to a piece to achieve a perfect delivery, factors completely out of one’s control can negate all that effort. One such debilitating factor includes performance anxiety, a mental block that disrupts a performer’s rhythm.

“When you memorize a piece, you’re not memorizing every note that you’re playing,” Yejin said. “It’s muscle memory. But suddenly, when I’m noticing every note I’m playing, and I realize that I don’t know what every single [one] of these hundreds of thousands of notes are, I get into a mental block.”

Yejin finds that her best performances occur when she feels less performance anxiety and can freely enjoy the music. She considers the periods of difficulty valuable learning experiences, which make the successes that much sweeter.

“I’ve experienced a lot of disappointing moments, but [they] make the good moments so good, because they stand out more,” Yejin said. “Piano has taught me how to go through struggle, how to persevere and that it’s okay to not be a perfectionist.”

Performance anxiety results in Yejin’s often not being the most outspoken. As a leader, Yejin takes joy not in directing her peers, but in bringing communities closer together through less controlling measures. Having served on student council since elementary school, she treasures creating memories and bonds both within her class and the greater student body.

“There are parallels [between piano and leadership] because I’m not the best at commanding a room or being super showy in performance or leadership,” Yejin said. “I’m better at and enjoy those moments where I can connect with people more subtly. Piano’s where I’m translating a love for a piece or [for] music in general to other people — it’s the smaller but very definite connections.”

As a student leader, Yejin relishes forming new connections between people in her community and imparting in others a sense of confidence and comfort. Working closely and communicating often with administration, she serves as a voice for the more quiet and reserved.

As with piano, Yejin faced setbacks along her journey as a student leader, such as losing the student council election in her sophomore year. During that year, she took time to reflect on the importance of recognizing and accepting her peers’ sometimes critical opinions and re-evaluate her own goals.

“That was hard for me, watching people [do] the things I love doing from afar and thinking about the way where I feel like I could have done better,” Yejin said. “It contributed to the next year when I was back on Student Council — that period of time when I could define exactly why I care about being on council, and what I want to accomplish by being on council. It was a moment of clarity for me.”

Class of 2022 dean and upper school English teacher Christopher Hurshman observed Yejin’s energy and valued her dedication and openness as a leader.

“I was impressed by the resilience of running again and that during sophomore year, [Yejin] didn’t disengage completely from student leadership,” Hurshman said. “She was still involved in advocating for things and talking to the people who were on the council about specific issues.”

Yejin further manifested her perseverance and dedication when she co-organized the upper school’s annual TEDx conference this year as a co-curator of TEDx. While planning the event, nearly every disaster possible occurred, Yejin recalls. Nevertheless, the final conference proved a success — one of the better ones yet, according to upper school business and entrepreneurship teacher and TEDx adviser Michael Acheatel.

“[Because of] our perseverance and all the problem solving, compromises, late nights and struggles, [the end result] ended up being a product that we were really proud of,” Yejin said. “That made me understand the value of persevering through whatever I do in life, as long as you have a real passion for something.”

Passion is what ultimately drives Yejin forward, compelling her to put her all into everything that she does, whether that’s hosting TEDx or making Valentine’s grams for the student body.

“In myself and others, I value people who are passionate about what they do and are honest about what they do,” Yejin said. “I feed off of that passion, and when I see someone else being passionate and into this one thing, it inspires me.”

Yejin’s own aura inspires others as well, as close friend Andrea Thia (‘22) remembers studying in cafes with Yejin, whose “work smarter not harder” attitude often encouraged Andrea.

”I appreciate those small moments with [Yejin] because she motivates me to be a better person,” Andrea said. “When we go to a cafe, her work ethic and her being there will motivate me to finish my work too.”

For Yejin, the people have always been the “why,” and she hopes that she leaves a legacy of friendliness at Harker and beyond. Whenever she meets someone new, she makes it a priority to make them feel appreciated. In any group, she sets out to learn everyone’s name as quickly as possible — a small gesture that goes a long way in laying the foundations for deeper connections.

“Wherever I go, it’s people who define my experiences,” Yejin said. “[I value] the chance to interact with [people] and through the power of collaboration, make things happen. Every single group that I’ve been a part of is what defines the memories in my life and is what I enjoy the most.”

Additional reporting by Alysa Suleiman.