By Christopher Oh
Chris Oh, a former guitar instructor for Note-worthy Experiences and a Berklee College of Music alum, discusses his musical journey that eventually led him to Berklee.
Music was always something that came in and out of my life in my earlier days. Growing up in an Asian household, it was either the piano or violin. I’m sure a lot can relate. I played the piano extensively for a greater part of my childhood, on and off, and even tried my hand at other various instruments. As primarily a guitar player today, I even played guitar on and off during elementary school and rejected the idea of ever playing guitar again. And so it seemed, music might have been considered just a hobby to me.
During middle school, I picked up the clarinet and continued to play through high school, performing in various ensembles in my school music program. Around this same time, I picked up the guitar for one final last time and never looked back. Maybe it was the fact I was an adolescent teen, going through the stages of puberty and rebellion. Maybe it was because I started listening to rock music and fantasizing about the idea of becoming a lead guitar player in a band like all my heroes. At 13, there were many reasons why I made guitar more than just a hobby, but I remember two very pivotal moments. One was the game Guitar Hero III, and the other was seeing a guitar player in my church praise team, at the time. But it was mostly Guitar Hero, haha.
I will forever consider myself a rock kid at heart, because I started out playing rock music and really submerged myself in that world all throughout middle school and high school. As a curious person and a guitar nerd, I started to poke around outside of the rock guitar genre and started to discover other styles of music and ways the guitar was being played. And really, the genre of music that truly expanded my world of guitar playing, was jazz music. The first time I heard the name “Berklee” was not too long before I entered high school. It was from a guitar instructor I had briefly, who was teaching me my first jazz vocabulary and helping me with my first audition for my high school jazz ensemble. He was a graduate of the school, and that was really the first time I ever considered the thought that music was something I could do as a career, that I could actually go to an institution that is 100% dedicated to teaching music. And as the idea of becoming a professional musician/guitar player became more solidified in my head, I became tunnel vision all through high school of getting into a music school.
Because Berklee was founded as a jazz school, I forcefully stressed on expanding my jazz vocabulary and playing jazz repertoire, during my time in high school. I say that because playing jazz wasn’t really fun for me, and I didn’t really quite develop an ear and appreciation for the music for a while. But as I read more into Berklee, I realized it was more than just a jazz school, it was a school for contemporary music. It was only founded as a jazz school because jazz music was contemporary music of that time. Now I was completely sold on the idea of going only to Berklee.
Going back to the idea of making music, and to my parents, going to school to study and play guitar as a way to make money, was a completely crazy idea for both my parents and myself. Traditionally, pursuing a music career was absolutely nonsense for someone growing up in a household to immigrant parents who came to America for a better life for their children. There isn’t a singular moment that really convinced my parents in the end, it took a lot of dedication, practice, showing my parents my involvement with music throughout high school. In retrospect, I believe receiving a partial scholarship to attend Berklee was the final push, the validation, my parents needed to see a possible future for me in doing music. And as I look back in those moments, I feel incredibly fortunate and grateful for my parents, and their continuous support. They are very progressive in a way that most traditional immigrant parents aren’t.
Today, I really like to work on my own music productions and just messing around making cool sounds. It’s a completely different world for me than the world I knew before college. For a large part of my music life, I was all about the guitar and completely obsessed. But after studying and majoring in electronic production and sound design, I became completely aware of all the things outside of my guitar world. It really was in college where I experienced musical and personal growth, being introduced to so many different styles of music and meeting different people from around the world. I understood the value of being versatile as a musician and as a person. It’s a skill set that I value very much to this day. But… I am still completely obsessed with the guitar and continue to play like my life depended on it.