For violinst Sean Lee, every winter in Sarasota is a musical homecoming.
Sean Lee wishes he had a more romantic first encounter with his violin. He wishes he had some profound moment, in which he came across an old violin in a music store and fell in love at first sight. However, Lee’s introduction to his lifelong musical companion had a lot less to do with mythos and a lot more to do with mom.
“I grew up in Los Angeles, and I would always just wait around the house for my older brother to get home from school,” says Lee. “My mom noticed this and thought I should do something instead of just sitting around. She signed me up for Suzuki violin lessons at my school when I was 12, and I took off with it.”
Since then, violin became his passion, and it changed the course of his life. The California native studied music at the Juilliard School before traveling to Sarasota, where in 2003, he joined the Perlman Music Program Suncoast as a student in its first season. He’s returned to Sarasota to perform every year since. In 2010, Lee became the first student-turned-teacher in the program and is currently a member of the violin faculty. This year, he’ll return year for the program’s inaugural alumni concert Nov. 22, at the Sarasota Opera House with fellow alumnus, pianist Peter Dugan, and the duo will perform jazz standards and popular classical arrangements from their latest album, “Songbook.”
“I first heard about the Perlman Music Program when I was 14, and I decided to send in a video audition. When I think back on it, it’s hard to imagine that I got picked. They had more than 80 applicants for just two spots that year. Some of the students I see these days, I look back at my younger self, and I didn’t play nearly as well. I wasn’t a super-star prodigy.”
“After my first summer at Perlman Music Program, I knew I wanted to be a violinist. Somehow, I didn’t understand what it meant to really pursue it with everything I had. I came back changed, with a different outlook and attitude.”
“I started teaching as Itzhak Perlman’s assistant when I was getting my master’s degree at Juilliard. When he and the program realized I was interested in teaching, there was a spot that had just opened up with the program. I like to describe teaching like putting on a pair of glasses. It makes things that you already see clearer. You’re in a setting where you need to talk about it and articulate it, and the things you already know about playing the violin become clearer to yourself.”
“It’s very interesting to be on the other side of things, and it makes me reflect on my own upbringing. I found teaching as rewarding and challenging as performing.”
“Performing as a teenager when I was in Sarasota, I remember being very struck by the number of people who would come to everything. Hundreds would come to each event. They even come to hear us rehearse when we were singing, and we’re not even singers. They just love to hear the music and see this work. They see the enjoyment in our process.”
“Spending time with Perlman Music Program is like spending time at home. Throughout the year, I have all sorts of activities, but coming back home is a nourishing experience. It’s where I come back to my upbringing and my values as an artist and as a person.”