David Kim: From Chemicals to Melodies

James Kennedy

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You know that person – perhaps you are that person – who sets their mind to a certain career, and then, at the last second, they completely jump ship. Such was the case with incoming Music Professor David Kim, who studied chemistry before finding a passion at the keys of the piano.

“Everyone in my family is a mathematician,” said Kim. “I don’t really know how these things happen, but somewhere in the last weeks of my first term of my very first semester, I found myself messing around in the practice rooms … I don’t really know what I was doing.”

Kim mustered up the courage to knock on the piano professor’s door at around 7:30 p.m. and asked to play a bit of music for him. After only two sheets, the professor asked, “What are you doing in chemistry? You should be in music!” From those encouraging words, Kim completely switched focus from science to sonatas.

In a lot of these stories, like the prospective lawyer deciding to become a graphic designer, the student’s parents push back and try to steer their children away from their true passions. Not so in Kim’s story.

Photo by Anna von Clemm

“Once my folks saw how much happier I was doing music, any doubts that they may have had were dispelled at that point,” said Kim.

Throughout his relatively short music career, Kim has found inspiration from several musicians. Malcolm Bilson, the aforementioned music professor, has always been a figure he looked up to.

“[He’s] someone I really greatly admire,” said Kim.

The other two pianists he draws inspiration from are British-Jewish Myra Hess and Franco-Swiss Alfred Cortot, the latter of which Kim has a picture of in his office. Besides being an accomplished piano player, Kim is also a “reasonably good flutist,” though he often keeps that fact a secret.

Despite spending much of his life in Boston and most recently moving from Harvard, Kim set his sights on Whitman and a few weeks in is enjoying the environment.

“My dream job has always been a liberal arts college position,” said Kim.

And so far so good.

“[Whitman] seems to address a lot of needs … it seems like a really healthy blend of things,” said Kim.

He pointed out that the school focuses on challenging students and allowing faculty to conduct independent research. Beyond the on-campus culture, Walla Walla itself appeals to Kim, both for its beauty as well as its more isolated location. It seems that the country was always his calling.

Following a smooth transition, Kim plans to start off strong and bring some unique insight into the Hall of Music. The new professor is currently teaching a class on Mozart, and will likely teach some of the music theory classes offered at Whitman.

“Right now my attitude is to just … get a sense of where the students are at coming in … and to adapt my approach accordingly,” said Kim, following Whitman’s lead of adjusting to the needs of the students. “I’m just really happy to be here.”

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