Q: Where did your passion for music start?
A: I’ve always had an attachment to music. When I was young, I had this little music box that played “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” I played it over and over. My parents put me in piano lessons when I was 6, and then I picked up the flute when I was 10. Later on, I also learned to play tenor saxophone. When I entered college at California State University Long Beach, I had to decide: Do I audition on piano or flute? Ultimately, I chose flute because I really liked being with people, playing in the marching band and in ensembles.
Q: Your research into Vietnamese children’s music led you to create a book of music for families and teachers. What inspired you to do that?
A: For my dissertation, I studied how Vietnamese families in the United States were passing on their culture through music. What I found was that, while some of the parents I interviewed knew some of the songs they grew up with, many of them didn’t, or only the grandparents still knew the songs. There wasn’t a resource for these songs to help parents and educators teach them. So, I collected 10 children’s songs and worked with a friend who is an artist to do the illustrations, and we made a book. I deliberately chose songs that were easy to learn and teach in the classroom, and included music and an English translation. The primary audience is Vietnamese American parents and children; it would be a cultural archive that they could have at home and read with each other or sing with each other. The other audience is classroom teachers. I wanted to make it accessible enough that anybody can pick it up and learn these Vietnamese songs.
Q: You recently produced a documentary. Can you tell me about that?
A: The film is called Songs of Little Saigon. It follows the stories of eight Vietnamese American refugees. We see their resilience through the ways that they continued to make music and rebuilt their lives after fleeing from a war-torn Vietnam. I wanted to do deeper research on these stories, but I knew I wanted to share the research through a medium that was more accessible than a scholarly paper, so I gathered a team to make a film. The people we interviewed are all people I knew from growing up in the vibrant Vietnamese community in Southern California. Most of the featured musicians are my mentors, former teachers, people I've worked with or gigged with. It was originally supposed to be a short film, but when it came to asking if I could interview them, everyone said yes, so it wound up being 96 minutes long.
Q: What do you hope students take away from your classes?
A: For my music education students, I hope that they take away that music is a joy and also a responsibility. As music teachers, we have the responsibility to not just teach music in its technical and formal sense, but to teach the joy of music. For my all my students, I hope they learn to appreciate music and have the tools to be able to speak and write about it intelligently and eloquently.
Q: Can you tell me a little about your life outside of the classroom?
A: I like to hike and be out in nature. I can't wait to get back to Mount Rainier because it's just majestic. I don't know how locals feel about Mount Rainier having grown up with it, but every time I look at it, I’m floored. I also love to watch films. I recently watched Dune. It was so good, and the music was fantastic.