For March 2016’s Eye on Culture, the Office of International Advisement interviewed Daniel Fung. A native of Vancouver, Canada, Daniel began his studies at The Juilliard School in fall of 2008 as a master’s student majoring in collaborative piano. In fall of 2011, he began a doctorate of musical arts, and he is expected to graduate this May. Performance highlights include concerts with the Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton symphonies, and recitals at Alice Tully Hall, Peter Jay Sharp Theater, and Carnegie Hall.
Eye on Culture has not featured a DMA student before. Can you tell our readers a bit about the DMA program at Juilliard? How would you say it differs from other programs?
The DMA (Doctor of Musical Arts) degree at Juilliard is a five year program where admitted students are in residence for the first two years. They take classes and qualifying comprehensive examinations at the end of two years. Then they have up to the next three years to research, write, and complete their dissertation. The seven admitted C.V. Starr Doctoral Fellows represent a broad range of instruments and that is one way in which the program differs from other programs. We stick together for nearly every class for the two year residency and our group is a wonderful and somewhat kooky one. I enjoy each and every one of them. Another difference about the DMA is that it is most likely the last degree that one pursues in their academic careers unless they decide to do post-doctoral work. For me, though, the DMA will most certainly be the last bit of schooling that I undertake.
What advice would you give to current Juilliard students considering a DMA program?
At every significant juncture in life, one should carefully consider their future artistic and career goals. Deciding to do a DMA would be a major undertaking that opens the road to a certain path of future possibilities. The current job market is one that often requires a DMA in order to be considered for an academic position and that is an important detail to consider. That being said, academia is not for everyone and putting one’s time and energy into a DMA may not necessarily be the right fit. Having commensurate professional and performing experience, even without a DMA, would allow one to be considered for such positions should they arise. You alone will know what you want, what you aspire to, and what feels to be the right option for you in that moment. Seek the advice of your mentors and colleagues but ultimately you have to go with what you feel is right for you. I’ve wanted to do a DMA since I started my undergraduate degree as I welcomed the intellectual challenge balanced with the continued playing opportunities. One jokingly says that those in the DMA program spend all of their time in the library. That may be true for some but I have found it extremely feasible to strike a balance between academics and performing without sacrificing the quality or time for either.
You started at Juilliard in 2008 as a master’s student, and now eight years later, you are graduating with a doctorate degree. Do you think Juilliard has changed during this period of time? If so, in what ways?
This question makes me sound like I am either an ancient being or I entered the school as a 2-year-old prodigy! Has it already been eight years? I remember that I entered just as Juilliard was finishing the renovations and upgrade to the building. The scaffolding was still there and we saw a lot of the eastern side of the building (Career Services, the famous red stairs, the fifth floor orchestral room, etc.) behind plastic and marked with “Do not enter” signs. In addition to the educational enhancements these spaces allowed, we also gained some desperately needed practice rooms. Being an arts institution, we could add three more floors of practice rooms (at least) and still be needing more but those who remember the period before the renovation remain thankful for everything we gained. Another significant change is seeing Juilliard defining our brand and figuring how to make a mark in the world. The following years will be interesting ones indeed.
After graduation, what will you miss most about Juilliard? What do you think you won’t miss about being a student?
I will most likely miss getting to see and meet the concentration of wonderfully talented people that make up Juilliard. I am not only speaking about the students, but also the faculty and staff. How often, outside of school, can you get a couple of your friends together and read a piano quartet? I don’t necessarily think there is any specific thing I will miss about being a student but I am looking forward to having the last training wheels come off. Then I can take what I’ve learned here and go use it as needed as I continue on my career and life journey.
If you had to choose one, what would you say is your greatest career highlight so far?
I think one would have to define “greatest” in order to answer this question and I would substitute “most touching” instead. I still remember the last degree recital that I gave in Calgary and it was a poignant end to that chapter of my life. I had, as one does, invited all of my friends, family, and colleagues and knew that many of them would be in attendance. The concert hall seats 384 people and when I walked out onstage, I remember seeing the entire hall filled. There were maybe 15 empty seats. I remember thinking about how much love and support I felt when they applauded my entrance. Once I had finished the performance, my teacher Marilyn Engle asked where everyone came from since she had never seen such attendance for any event there student or otherwise. There were friends from school, church, the residence hall, as one might expect but there was also the cleaning lady (Mrs. Chan) who brought her family, the chefs (Allan and Amy) who worked in some of the on-campus restaurants and many others like them. That moment showed me how powerfully music could bring people together. I played a challenging program for the listener that did not feature any “standards” but they were there with me every note of the recital. That realization told me how classical music is relevant to the human experience and the importance of us to continue to bring it to people who have never experienced it. We would all be the richer for it.
One of my favorite questions to ask Juilliard students is what they would have studied or pursued as a career if not performing arts. So, what do you think you would be doing if not being a pianist?
I wrestled between music and science when I thought about which path to take for university. In deciding that it would be wiser to do a year of music (continue the momentum) and return to science rather than going at it the other way. I haven’t looked back since. But if science won, I would have pursued medicine as I am passionate about people and would want to do my part to heal others. I would probably want to be a GP (General Practitioner) so I would have maximum contact with people or I would do surgery so as to keep my hands fleet. I also enjoy languages and other cultures so I possibly could have been a translator or perhaps even a diplomat. As I shared earlier. I’ve already seen how music is a language that allows for instantaneous connection and it’s opened up new places, cultures, and experiences that I never imagined. So, I guess I’m already a diplomat or ambassador through music!
After doing a little investigative reporting (okay, it was just Google), I found that you enjoy traveling the world. Do you have a favorite travel destination? What makes this place stand out?
I have enjoyed every place that I’ve been fortunate to visit but a couple stand out to me. I love Florence and would go back there in a heartbeat. The culture, the history, the food, the scenery, and the list goes on and on. I love Munich for the culture and the energy of that city. Southern France is amazing (I can’t pick a city!) because of the golden way that the sun glows in the sky. It’s impossible to describe unless one has visited but the light is warm and captivating at the same time. There is also the wonderful smell of lavender that is present in the summer. I also love Hong Kong because of my own personal connection (I was born there) and it also has a rich history and delicious food. There are many more places on the bucket list and I know that music will continue to take me to delightful and unexpected places.
During your travels, have you done anything particularly adventurous?
I think an element of adventure is present anytime one leaves their base. One of the earliest adventures that I’ve had was my first time in Salzburg in 2002 and going to the Eisriesenwelt (“World of the Ice Giants”) in Werfen. These are the largest ice caves in the world and extends for more than 42km. We took a train from Salzburg (about 40 minutes), then a bus up the mountain, and climbed the last leg by foot up to the cave’s entrance. We were there during the summer but we wore all of our warmest clothing. I remember sitting in a bench that was carved on the side of the mountain and looking down into a vast chasm. It’s probably not a good idea if you’re afraid of heights but there was a mini thrill before the ice cave tour. We all wore headlamps as we trekked through about 2km of the caves. It was absolutely breathtaking and since the ice melts and refreezes, the formations are constantly changing. They are also beautifully lit and pictures do not do it justice. I also remember a family trip in 2007 where I was in the Maritime Provinces in my native Canada and visited Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island (P.E.I. for short). We had many wonderful experiences there but I vividly remember being in Saint John, NB (not to be confused with St. John’s, Newfoundland) and seeing the beach area go from low tide to high tide. I was actually standing in the water and dared to stay in as long as I could. It was exhilarating. I also remember something involving a can of Coke, a plastic bag, and a lobster but that is for another time. There are many more stories that I would gladly share over coffee or a glass of wine.
Google also told me you enjoy preparing new cuisines. Is there a dish or cuisine you have mastered? If so, feel free to bring it in to OIA to share 🙂
I cook a lot of Chinese food because those are the flavours that are familiar and relatively quick to make. The secret is about preparing and marinating things well in advance of the actual cooking time. My roommate has most certainly seen me up at midnight chopping garlic, dicing onions, and cutting ginger slivers so I am all set for the next day. I am always open to trying new foods and there are certain dishes that I will make on special occasions. I can make a mean roasted shoulder of lamb with accompanying vegetables and a chocolate lava cake (crunch on the outside, gooey on the inside) with a dollop of homemade vanilla bean gelato. I also used to bake quite a bit but there isn’t the time for that anymore.
Is there anything else you want to share with our readers?
While the interview answers might suggest that I lead a life firing on all cylinders, I am actually a homebody. I prefer my cup of tea (Earl Grey with a thin slice of lemon) and a good book. Despite what might seem to be an inordinately busy schedule, I relish these quiet times and it’s even better when I get to share it with a familiar or new friend. I always love connecting with other people and hearing their stories. Thank you for taking the time to read!
See Daniel Fung perform with Pureum Jo during a master class taught by renowned soprano and Juilliard alumna, Renée Fleming.