Residence: Birmingham and Tampa, Fla.
Occupation: Professional opera singer and assistant professor of music and voice at UAB
Hometown: Seoul, South Korea, London and Canada
Education: Bachelor’s degree in voice from the Manhattan School of Music; master’s degree in voice from Boston University; doctorate of musical arts in voice from the University of Memphis
Latest accomplishment: Performing at concerts in Italy, France, Luxembourg, Austria, China and other countries around the world.
Won Cho Loves His Busy Life as Singer, Professor
By Keysha Drexel
One look at Won Cho’s busy schedule is enough to make even the most talented multi-tasker a little dizzy.
But luckily, the celebrated bass-baritone singer has an energy level that matches his indefatigable performances as both a professional opera singer and a college professor.
Cho is a regular performer with Opera Birmingham, where he has performed in four operas each year since 2012, and is an assistant professor of music and voice at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Known for his unique vocal range and strong stage presence, the 46-year-old also juggles two residences, along with his two professions.
“My wife (soprano Kyoung Cho) is also an opera singer and a voice professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa,” Cho said. “It can be a challenge to juggle it all sometimes, but we both love performing and teaching.”
Cho said he cannot remember a time in his life when music was not important to him.
“Music has always been an essential part of my life ever since I was a young boy,” Cho said.
Before he was 10 years old, Cho got his first chance to perform in front of an audience. He was born in Seoul, South Korea, and lived in London and in Canada when he was a child.
“I grew up singing in church and school choirs since I was 8 years old,” he said.
As he got older, Cho said, he realized music wasn’t just a hobby for him.
“I realized that this was something that I had to devote my life to and I knew I had to do it, no matter what,” he said.
But while Cho had discovered his life’s passion, not everyone around him could embrace the risk of trying to make a living as a professional musician.
“My parents were against the idea of me pursuing a career in music, so I chose engineering as a major in college,” he said. “But I knew it was not the right choice.”
Cho tried to get as excited about a career in engineering as he had been when he dreamed of singing for a living, but he just couldn’t make himself continue.
He changed his major and graduated from the Manhattan School of Music in New York City with a bachelor’s degree in music and voice.
After that, Cho continued his musical studies and earned a master’s degree in voice from Boston University.
He has a doctorate in voice from the University of Memphis.
Cho said he defied his parents’ wishes and devoted himself to a life in the arts because he believes artists have crucial roles to play in society.
“The arts are one of the most important things that define us as humans,” he said. “They are naturally inclusive, borderless, multicultural, cross-cultural and transcultural.”
When people are brought together through music, dance, theater or visual arts, Cho said, it makes for a better society.
“(The arts) bring people together and help us communicate and connect and understand each other so that we can build a more diverse, open and stronger society,” he said.
Cho, who has performed all over the world, said the arts culture in the U.S. is unique.
“One thing that is unique about the music scene in the U.S. is that most art organizations in the country were founded and are maintained by nongovernmental entities,” he said.
Not only does that allow for more freedom of expression but it also means audiences mean the world to the artists, Cho said.
“Without the support of the local community in ticket sales, donations and volunteerism, (the arts organizations) would not exist,” he said.
Cho said he continues to be inspired by “great music composed by great composers and great musicians” and hopes he can do his part to enrich the local arts scene.
“I believe building a strong arts community is a responsibility of all of us for all of us and for the sake of generations to come,” he said.
And to that end, Cho is on the road again to bring his voice to audiences in Italy, Austria and the Czech Republic this month.
In October, he’ll return to Birmingham for a faculty recital at UAB with his colleague and world-renowned pianist, Yakov Kasman of Hoover.
He’ll also embark on a concert tour to Korea and Japan within the next year.
“And there are a few other concerts being scheduled as we speak for next summer and spring,” Cho said. “It’s good to be busy doing something you love.”