Professor Danh Pham discusses his past and his future

From Hawaii to WSU, music guides Danh Pham’s journey



Professor of music, condusctor of WSU Symphony Orchestra, and director of bands, Dan Pham, shares his story and passion for music on Jan. 15 in Kimbrough Music Hall.

JOEL KEMEGUE, Evergreen mint editor

Whether it’s in a conservatory in China or in Kimbrough Hall, Professor Danh Pham can find the music in his students anywhere.

Pham’s responsibilities include teaching instrumental conducting and symphonic literature, conducting WSU’s Symphony Orchestra and Symphonic Wind Ensemble, and overseeing WSU’s orchestra programs as director of bands.

Outside of WSU, Pham conducts orchestras and teaches students across the U.S. and in countries like China and Vietnam.

Lori Wiest, professor and director of choral activities, said her choir has worked with Pham’s orchestra.

“He’s a really great collaborator,” she said. “A really great team player and someone that’s always interested in doing unique things, all for the right reasons.”

Pham was born in Honolulu, Hawaii to a family of Vietnamese immigrants. Pham said his family had no experience in music. Instead, they lived on “survival mode.”

“[We were] learning the culture, learning the language,” Pham said. “Music was not a part of the family because, quite honestly, we couldn’t afford lessons. We couldn’t afford to do any of that.”

 He was introduced to music through playing in school and his love started to develop in the seventh grade, when he started playing the euphonium, a brass instrument similar to a tuba.

“It was something I had a good time doing, many of my friends were there and I thought I was good at it,” Pham said. “But my initial thought was to go off to school and become a doctor.”

But it was later in college, as his interest in medicine decreased and his interest in music grew, that he decided to switch majors and pursue music.

Pham’s love of music has taken him not only to teaching, but to working with bands, music conservatories, conducting ballet, musical theatre and opera and producing records. Pham said he is able to juggle his responsibilities through help from his colleagues.

“It’s never really a venture where I feel I’m doing it by myself,” Pham said. “Every aspect of what I do, I do with other people.”

Pham’s work also takes him abroad, specifically to working with music conservatories and organizations throughout China, Vietnam and South Korea. Pham said he’s drawn by the experience of learning to communicate with people abroad and the exchange of different cultures.

He also calls it a “recharge of the batteries,” or a chance to artistically refresh himself and learn something new about music and himself. Pham said that with every trip he tries to learn something he can bring back to his students at WSU.

“If it’s not making me better, if it’s not making my students better, then it’s really kind of a wasted trip,” Pham said. “I always bring something back … it’s manifested in what we do here.”

“He’s a lot of fun to work with,” School of Music Director Dean Luethi said. “It’s all because he takes a personal interest in his students and tries to give them opportunities.”

Luethi also said that Pham wrote a grant and introduced him to choir directors in China, giving Luethi the chance to perform there.

“[The opportunity was] directly due to Dr. Pham’s ability to introduce me to his connections,” Luethi said. “He’s very generous that way.”

Pham said that his favorite part of making music used to be the adrenaline of playing in front of a crowd, but now finds it in seeing his students succeed and go on to become musicians and teachers.

“I’m too young to be talking about legacy,” Pham said. “But if anyone can say their legacy is through the success of their students, they’re a lucky person, and I think that’s where my fate is going to be.”