Finding her purpose in music, this teen wants to help others do the same

Kim Nguyen
Kim Nguyen
Priska Neely/ KPCC

Listen to story

Download this story 2MB

As part of our series Age of Expression, teen artists from around Southern California share stories about the art they create and why they do it. Listen to the previous installment with a teen who says dance saved his life.

For most of high school, Kim Nguyen thought she'd study biology when she headed to college.

"[I had] that high schooler mentality, you know, 'I gotta get a job and support my family,'" said Nguyen, 18. "And I think it’s also just closely associated with my culture – being Asian. There’s that stereotype of get a job in the medical industry and make big money so you can pay your parents for the sacrifices that they’ve given you." 

Though she sang in choirs in middle and high school, music was mostly in the background of her life. That changed in eleventh grade, when a friend suggested she apply to the California State Summer School for the Arts (CSSSA) – a rigorous program where teens spend four weeks on the CalArts campus.

"She said that it was this amazing artistic wonderland where I would find myself," Nguyen recalled. "This was what I wanted more than anything else."

That dream didn't come true right away.

Nguyen, currently a freshman at Chapman University study music education with a focus on vocal music, talked with KPCC arts education reporter Priska Neely about overcoming rejection and why she wants to help others fall in love with music. 


On her dream of going to the California State Summer School for the Arts

I remember going to bed every night and just looking at the stars and saying, “Please if I’m meant to be an artist, let me get accepted into the CSSSA, otherwise I guess this is a sign that I need to just pursue biology. So I applied. And I got rejected. I just felt miserable afterwards. I was thinking, “I can’t even get accepted into a summer program, what makes me think that I can even go into college studying this alongside people who have been child prodigies, who have received private lessons."

On overcoming rejection and pursuing her dream

Had I actually gotten accepted into the California State Summer School for the Arts, I would have been spending the summer there at CalArts, but instead I had a free summer, kind of miserable. So I thought, you know, I might as well do something, instead of just mope around.

I decided to join a volunteering program where I sang for patients in hospitals. And they would tell me about how they found happiness in their lives and pretty much the reoccurring theme was follow your dreams, no matter what the circumstances that surround you, because if you work hard enough, the circumstances will eventually mold to your favor.

Then, I realized that unless I was willing to take the risk, nothing would happen. So I pushed on and I applied to so many programs. And at the end of the year, I got enough courage to apply for CSSSA again. It worked! That was a really enlightening experience for me. I think one of the most significant things that one of my voice teachers taught me is that we need to be self-aware of what we need to improve on, but not be self-conscious of it. And in that way we become the best that we can be. 

On why she wants to be a music educator 

Currently, I am a music education major at Chapman University. I can wholeheartedly say that I found my entire identity and I suppose what my purpose in this world is because of music. And the only exposure that I really got to music was through public school music programs and that was enough to get me going. The reason why I want to become an educator is so I can bring out the best in other people and I think one of my objectives is to make it more attainable regardless of socio-economic standing.

My goal in the future as a music educator is to help people love music as much as I do. And eventually also love themselves just as deeply if not more. Because I think I consider them to be the same thing – love for self as well as love for music. I think they’re deeply entwined.