[Seoung Yeon Kim] Viola

Illustrated by Yoonji Woo

When I was applying to law schools, I devoted a part of my application essay to how my being an avid violist would make me an excellent candidate for admission. I wrote that I learned to respect other voices and work well in a team by playing the viola in various orchestras and chamber ensembles. I wrote that I gained self-discipline and diligence through the countless hours I spent practicing alone in order to add one piece after another to my repertoire. This all may be good and true, but now I realize that the viola has helped me through law school in a much more profound way than simply bestowing upon me specific skills and habits that make a successful lawyer.

As a 1L, I found law school to be quite a harrowing place. With everyone taking the same classes and gunning for the same jobs, it felt like high school all over again, except that much, much more seemed to be at stake: every academic mishap and social blunder that could possibly befall me felt so important because, simply put, this was it. Law school was the very last leg of my academic career, and everything I did here could potentially have ramifications for the rest of my professional life!

Whenever I felt myself especially crushed with these (often unfounded) fears, I found myself picking up my viola, and I began to appreciate the instrument on a completely different level. First of all, I felt consoled by its unimpressive middle register—neither piercingly high as that of the violin nor formidably deep as that of the cello—because, to me, it sounded raw and vulnerable, the way I saw myself during my 1L year. After I had a bad cold call, I restored confidence in my ability to express myself with my viola by playing music, which I always found to be a much more subtle and precise means of communication than language. If I simply needed a break from everything law-related, my viola proved to be my perfect desert island only steps away from JG, as I transported myself mentally elsewhere through the melodies penned by masters such as Bach and Mozart. Playing my viola made me whole as a person again because it always strengthened my emotional and physical awareness, both of which I often stopped being mindful of as I spent hours in my black letter law classes. I certainly didn’t realize it as I was writing my application essay, but, in short, my viola helped me through 1L because it allowed me to be myself in the most unapologetic and honest way possible in an environment that seemed to have been designed for the sole purpose of breeding my self-doubt.

1L was definitely not a pleasant time for me, but now I must say I am grateful to it for bringing me closer to my viola than ever before. Before law school, there were times when I was ashamed of my instrument because the viola is often thought of as the instrument of choice for people not talented or skilled enough to handle the more popular instruments, such as the violin. The viola is the butt of all music jokes, and I did not always enjoy being the target of all the teasing. But now, my belief in the instrument is too strong to be shaken by such trivialities, and I even poke good-natured fun at it myself because I know it will be always there for me no matter what antics I display. If I were to write a love letter to my viola, I’d say exactly what Martin Stegner, a violist with the Berlin Philharmonic, said to his: “You’re a crappy box, but I still love you!”