Sarah Hong, a junior at Grand Forks Red River High School, is one of 24 violinists from across the country chosen to participate in the highly-selective Carnegie Hall National Youth Orchestra program this summer in New York.
Hong, 17, will spend several weeks at State University of New York-Purchase College, studying and performing with professional musicians and conductors from top orchestras around the country in the intensive music training program.
Being selected for the program “shocked me to no end,” Hong said. “I was not expecting to get in in a million years, and so I’m just so grateful for having this opportunity, honestly.”
The orchestra, dubbed NYO2, is open to musicians 16 to 19 years old. Selection is based on a digital audition, a short biographical essay and a video essay.
“I’ve always loved the idea of New York and going to see everything there is to it,” Hong said. “And just the thought of playing with such talented musicians and with such talented conductors and helpers, it makes me so excited just even thinking about all the things that I could learn there and also all the fun things I can do in New York at the same time – I guess, just the opportunity to be able to learn from such great people.”
Hong credits her mother and father, Eunjung Youn and Doojin Hong, for supporting and encouraging her interest in music.
At about age 4, she was prompted by her mother to learn to play violin, Hong said, noting that her mother was just learning to play it at that time.
Hong is “very glad” her parents chose that instrument for her, she said, because “I think it matches my personality quite well – if I could choose, I would choose the violin.”
She also appreciates the music and orchestra teachers who have mentored her since childhood, she said. They all were important to her development as a violinist, so she hesitates to single out any as being most influential.
“I would not be where I am today without any of them,” she said, "and without my parents either. They’ve been really helpful in the sense of keeping me on track, motivated, and also the encouragement and all that. And having them always on my side, it’s really nice.”
Naomi Welsh, executive director of the Northern Valley Youth Orchestras, said all of Hong’s school and private teachers, who have worked with her over the years, have contributed to her growth as a musician.
“It’s a credit to her that she has been able to combine what she has learned from each of them on a path to becoming her own musician,” Welsh said.
Hong has been a member of the NVYO for seven years.
“She’s always been a strong musician,” Welsh said. “It’s been fun to see her challenge herself to higher levels of musicianship, and her appreciation for playing the violin blossom as a result. She is a lovely example of what talent becomes when it is combined with hard work, perseverance, friendship and joy. Approaching a challenge with those qualities will serve her well in whatever she chooses to eventually pursue.”
Hong is not the only Grand Forks student who’s been selected for the National Youth Orchestra. Aiden Krogh, a cellist and Red River High School student, was selected in 2019 and 2020. In ‘20, he was one of 12 cellists and in ‘19 one of eight cellists nationwide to be chosen for the program. He was the first string player from North Dakota and the first Grand Forks student of any instrument to be selected, said Welsh, who encouraged Hong to apply for the NYO2 program.
“It’s really wonderful to have Grand Forks, North Dakota, represented in the Carnegie Hall programs three years in a row,” Welsh said, “especially when we now know firsthand how fantastic the learning opportunity and connections will be.”
In addition to Hong’s selection to join NYO2, she has garnered other honors as a violinist. She recently won second prize in the Young Artists Concerto Competition, High School Division, sponsored by the Greater Grand Forks Symphony Orchestra, according to Tamara Bertram, the symphony’s executive director. Hong has been performing with the symphony, in the first violin section, for the past year.
But music may not be her first choice as a future career.
“It’s on my list of options; I’m not really knowing what I want exactly,” Hong said. “Music is such a volatile career and the instability of the job kind of scares me, but I’d say I’m thinking about maybe minoring in it to just keep it up throughout my adult life, because I really do like playing music. It’s a really nice way to destress.
“Probably, I’m thinking more about going into the medical field and/or whatever else I find interesting in college, I guess. There are just so many other options.”