Setting the Stage: Grace Kim

Violin, assistant concertmaster, Grand Rapids Symphony
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Grace Kim
Grace Kim. Photo by David Sparks

If you are a regular symphony-goer, you’ve likely spotted Grace Kim in the violin section of the orchestra. The young violinist joined the symphony in 2017 and sits in the position of assistant concertmaster.

Kim first picked up the violin at age 10, following her family’s immigration to the United States from Korea, while living in Washington. She said music offered her a way to communicate. “It was more of an opportunity. A different way for me to connect with people because I didn’t really speak English fluently, and I’d just moved,” Kim said.

When her family relocated to Philadelphia ahead of her junior year, Kim was eager to continue her musical studies and said she was lucky the School District of Philadelphia had a magnet school focused on music.

“Most definitely going through the public school in the Philly program, that definitely sparked my interest,” she said. “Having interaction with the Philadelphia Orchestra members and playing at the Kimmel Center (Kim performed the Sibelius Violin Concerto after winning the Philadelphia All-City High School concerto competition.) and just being exposed to such a bigger musical life.”

Kim said without the public school system’s music program, she wouldn’t be where she is today. She noted musical training like she received costs thousands of dollars over the years.

Kim earned her bachelor’s degree from Penn State University while continuing to perform and then attended the University of Michigan, earning her Master of Music and Specialist in Music degrees.

As a full-time musician for the Grand Rapids Symphony, Kim spends a good deal of her week during the season practicing, individually and with the symphony. She said that most weeks, there are rehearsals at least once a day every day for up to 2 1/2 hours; the routine is rigorous. “We are kind of like athletes, in a way. You have to be aware of your body and where you are spending your time and energy,” Kim said of practicing.

Kim said she is excited for the 2019-20 season to start and, particularly, the first concert of the season, which features violinist Augustin Hadelich. She previously performed with Hadelich and said his talent is inspiring. “I so respect talent like that. All the soloists we have throughout the year … they are all world-class, world-renowned musicians. It is so inspiring to see.” Kim said each musician brings “their energy into our orchestra” and “this chemistry is amazing.”

Kim also enjoys the movie concerts. This year, you can watch “Up,” “Ghostbusters,” “Home Alone,” “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” and “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” while the symphony plays the score live.

“I’m excited for the movie ‘Up’ because it’s so cute,” Kim said. She added, “It’s interesting for us, we get to see how the audience reacts, it’s like being on the other side of the movie screen.”

While watching Kim, pay close attention to her violin. She plays a Caressa & Francais of Paris violin dated 1906 that is on loan from the Virtu Foundation. Kim noted, for many musicians, instruments represent an exorbitant cost, upward of $30,000 for a decent violin. “I’m super grateful to be connected with this foundation. I can’t think of where my career would be without that support.”

Kim emphasized the importance of the opportunities she has received and how those opportunities have allowed her to become a full-time orchestra musician. “Educational programs are important to me,” she said. “I’ve taught through the Sphinx (Organization-Overture) program in Detroit. It’s a nonprofit. They teach violin to first- and second-graders in the Detroit Public Schools. I did that for two years while I was doing my master’s and my specialist degrees over there.”

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