School of Music professor wins London music competition

Yoon-Wha Roh won monetary prize, opportunity to tour Europe



Yoon Wha-Roh started to learn the piano as a child while her mother worked. Now she will be touring Europe next spring playing the piano.

PUNEET BSANTI, Deputy news editor

Since she was 3 years old, Yoon-Wha Roh only knew life as a pianist and worked hard to become successful. Now, she will be touring Europe next year after she won the Grand Prize at the London International Music Competition. 

Roh, an assistant professor of piano at the School of Music, submitted three pieces and one of them was a piece she studied with her teacher in Korea, who passed away. 

“Whenever I think of her, I wanted to bring back this piece and I did. I’ve been playing it for a couple of years now,” Roh said. 

Roh’s love for piano started when she was living in Korea with her working mother. Since her mom was busy, she wanted Roh to take piano classes after school. Roh kept playing piano until she was seven or eight years old. 

“Between ages nine and ten, not sure exactly when I had a friend who played this gorgeous piece and I always thought that I wanted to play that,” she said. 

When Roh moved to San Jose, California, she decided to take a break, but after two years she decided to keep playing and would play piano for her friends who would sing along. When she moved back to Korea, she became very serious about piano and went to art schools. 

“I had a tiger mom and she made sure that I would practice seven, eight hours per day. There were many struggles, I had many fights,” Roh said. 

After Roh got her doctorate, her mother realized that the path she was on was difficult. 

“My mom started saying, ‘if I knew it was a hard path then I would not have asked you to do this for your career because this career is very difficult,” she said.

She said there were many wonderful pianists, especially young ones. The only career paths that you could go on were as a concert pianist or a teacher. So once she got her job at WSU,  she felt very lucky. 

Roh has gone on and taught many students, including Thomas Ballinger, senior double majoring in music and genetics and cell biology. 

“She’s really nice and creates a fun atmosphere in our lessons. She’s really good at creating analogies and I’ve gotten way better at the piano,” he said. 

Ballinger said he has been her student for almost three years and believes that the Grand Prize Roh received was well deserved. 

Roh said next year in the spring she will begin her European tour and she will perform in several countries.

Aside from the tour, Roh has many projects that she is working on including a CD, where she will record piano pieces by Asian American living composers. 

She said she would like to promote the Piano Pedagogy Lab School, which is open to anyone who would like to take piano lessons with her or Fabio Menchetti, an assistant professor at the School of Music.