Tauranga student Dominic Lee will soon travel to the USA to continue his studies as a cellist. Dominic and friends will perform a thank you and farewell concert on Saturday 30th May 2015 at 4.30pm at the Tauranga Art Gallery.
It’s a wet and windy day when I arrange to meet with Dominic Lee at Alimento on 1st Avenue, Tauranga so the cafe doors are tightly closed increasing the buzz of surrounding conversations. I’ve never met Dominic before so I’m sitting at the front of Alimento. A tall contemporary-styled young man arrives. By the end of our conversation, I am inspired not only by his quiet determination but by his easy and pleasant manner.
I laugh when Dominic tells me he began playing the cello at 8 years old. Yes, the case was taller than he was and his Mum had to carry it around for him. Therese Ahlers was his first teacher and then the Waiheke Island based Sally Anne Brown, a particularly dedicated teacher who would travel to Tauranga to give Dominic lessons until he was about 13 years old.
A visiting University Cello teacher, after giving local concerts, held a workshop with about 50 students. Dominic was offered a private lesson and then, before returning to her home, this teacher visited Dominic’s parents to see if they would send him down to Christchurch for lessons at the Pettman Academy of Music, a noted music academy sponsored by Mr and Mrs Pettman. So four to five days every fortnight Dominic would head down to Christchurch. It was a demanding schedule but Dominic laughs and tells me “his teachers at Bethlehem College were surprised when he turned up at school.”
Dominic was offered a special scholarship by the Pettmans to compete internationally:- Italy the Valsesia international music competition, saw the 15 year old Dominic win 1st prize in 2013. Dominic tells me this was a huge honour and he was very surprised as all the other contestants were older and more mature. Competing in Padova Dominic was awarded top marks in his category. The Seoul National competitions in 2013 saw Dominic take another first. On his return to Tauranga, tiredness and jet lag put aside, Dominic played in and won the Tauranga Performing Arts Competition Concerto Class. I ask Dominic what he thinks is different about his playing of the cello? He tells me he plays “with emotion and kiwi style”. Then this very pleasant young man tells me at 17 years old he is now trying to further develop his technique.
How did he do all of this? “I checked up the competitions, Dad did the bookings etc and the whole family went.” Dominic tells me he has been “lucky” – listening to him I think his “luck” is a combination of natural talent, hardwork and dedication. I’m not surprised when he tells me that the cello lecturer from the Victoria University School of Music offered him as a 16-year-old a University scholarship. The year at the New Zealand School of Music Dominic says “helped him develop as an artist and as a person.” It was a very exciting time and included a second placing in the Victoria University concerto competition (for all age groups). Dominic mentions the strongly supportive and family type atmosphere of the Music School.
Where to next? Dominic wanted to broaden both his professional experience and “be exposed to a more competitive environment.” So there was an application to the Eastman School Music “the number 1 in the USA” with applications world-wide. Yes, Dominic was invited to attend for a live audition – committed elsewhere he sent a DVD! And yes, he received an email from Steven Doane the cello teacher saying a place would be kept open for him. Scholarships were offered: The Howard Hansen Meritorious Performance provides half of the tuition fees. The Anne Buxton Scholarship provides further tuition fees. Tuition for his first year will be about $US43,000 then there are the costs for Dominic’s living in the halls of residence.
The end of June 2015 sees Dominic taking up the hard-won and much deserved course of study, the start of a seven-year journey to a doctorate. Dominic’s goal is to be an internationally performing cello soloist and ultimately a University cello teacher. It’s clear that the cello is Dominic’s life, “ I wouldn’t know what to do without the cello…” and he says he’s “a fish out of water without music”.
Dominic isn’t the only musical talent in the family; sister Anna Lee 15 years is a talented and successful violinist who has individually won in the America Protegé International Competition. Anna and Dominic are performing together at Carnegie Hall on 5th July 2105. Yes, Anna plans to follow the same path as Dominic. Later in our conversation Dominic tells me his Mother, formerly an opera singer in Korea is a musician and, is the Church pianist. His Dad? – “He plays tennis and stresses the importance of physical fitness for cello performing.” As Dominic has just come from the gym he obviously follows the paternal advice!
In the sidebar of my notes I’ve written “inspirational young man”. It wasn’t that the day was bleak outside or that Dominic disclosed that he and his family are devout Christians or that he believes he is sharing his talent and music with other people. What overlaid the entire conversation was Dominic’s low-key but determined approach to his talent and his musical ambition. It was inspiring and a privilege to be speaking with someone at 17 years of age who is quietly forging an international career.
The Tauranga Art Gallery, Willow Street, Tauranga is to be the venue for a thank you and farewell concert by Dominic. On Saturday 30th May 2015 at 4.30pm Dominic will be joined by friends Tauranga jazz singer Reuben Simpson (now Auckland based) and Choong Park a Wellington pianist (with whom Dominic has played as a duo) and sister Anna Lee on violin. Tickets can be obtained from the Tauranga Art Gallery. An ARTbop contributor will be attending and reviewing this event.
(Note: The Bay of Plenty Times, Thursday 21st May 2015 Vibe entertainment and arts supplement is to feature an article about Dominic Lee
Rosemary Balu. Rosemary is the founding and current editor of ARTbop.