We had the good fortune of connecting with Grace Lim and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Grace, what’s one piece of conventional advice that you disagree with?
As long as I drill 10,000 hours during my waking hours, I will surely become this bulletproof, know-it-all expert, right? The “10,000-hour rule” is the popular notion that after 10,000 hours of practicing, one will become an expert; however, I believe that the sheer amount of hours dedicated to one craft is only a small piece of the puzzle. It’s how you practice that actually makes a bigger difference and understanding the idea that practice makes permanent not perfect. It’s the “quality over quantity” cliché, but it took me a long time to finally realize that mindless, mechanical practicing aimed at perfection was actually counterproductive and even destructive. In pursuing perfection, joy was lost and music transformed into something that dictated whether I was good enough. Instead, the practice room should be transformed into a laboratory, where mistakes are welcomed, different techniques are experimented, and nuances of human emotion are explored. It is precisely from this positive space where love, expression, spontaneity, communication, and freedom erupts in our music making.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
To be honest, I am still on this journey to figure out my career, but I can share where I am today. I am a musician, but like many artists, that entails many things: I am a performer, adjunct professor, opera répétiteur, and piano teacher in the Los Angeles area. My parents enrolled me in piano lessons with a church lady at the age of seven in hopes of playing for church services one day. Soon enough, my fingers kept moving and the black and white keys became my mouthpiece to all of the deep emotions I felt. When the time came for me to go to college, I attended a competitive university to double major in Piano Performance and Music Theory, and this is where I blossomed as an artist. In the beginning, I felt as if I had many dams along the short distance between my head and fingers, but with the assistance of my nurturing piano professor, I achieved increased technical freedom and inward confidence, which allowed me to glide across the 88 keys with ease and precision. All of the music history, music theory, aural skills, piano lessons, and even an acting class converged to this one point during junior year and things started to click as my head knowledge transformed into something that became part of me.
After my undergraduate studies, I enrolled at a graduate school to study the art of collaborative piano and I discovered my love for singers and the vocal repertoire. Vocal music caught my attention because there were words to the music and it opened up a new world of literature, diction, expression, and vocal technique. As a solo pianist, I had no idea of what this vocal world entailed so I played for many singers and studied German, Italian, and French diction because a lot of the vocal repertoire tends to be in those three languages. I have been told by various teachers to “sing the melody with your right hand” or “feel the vibrato like a string player,” and collaborating with singers and instrumentalists has also allowed me to expand my “internal sound world” from just the hammered strings on the piano to a more colorful and vibrant blend of different sounds.
Soon after my graduation, I was able to get a job at a small Christian university as an accompanist and opera répétiteur, a pianist who coaches the singers and runs rehearsals, and was later offered to teach a class! However, it wasn’t always pink and rosy as I struggled with this unachievable goal called perfectionism and was crushed by the heavy weight of high expectations created by myself and others. I had contemplated switching my career many times throughout my undergraduate studies and seriously considered dropping out of my program during graduate school because I felt like I was not good enough compared to my colleagues and was afraid that having a career in music was not a smart financial choice. The most recent crisis was during COVID-19 when many musicians were forced out of work and it was challenging for many artists, including myself. I had to continually ask the question whether “suffering for the arts” was worth it. Who knows what the future holds, but for now, I will continue to stay curious and explore the endless beauties embedded in the music and in the world around me.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
To start the morning, I would take my friend to the Angeles Crest hiking trail followed by a delicious rose vanilla latte from Constellation Coffee. Then, we would go to LACMA for the iconic lamp posts and finish off the night with Korean noodles at Hangari Kalguksu in KTown. Obviously, boba is a must after dinner! If time allows, I would probably introduce my friend to Little Tokyo, Arts District, Melrose, and all the beautiful beaches in Orange County.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My piano professors from undergrad and graduate school really shaped the way I perceive music and demonstrated that artists were normal people! Artists have this stereotype of being aloof and being socially awkward, but my professors were normal citizens who happened to play the piano really well. They taught me to never lose curiosity for life, to find beauty and joy in the smallest things, to feel all the human emotions deeply, and to always seek my passion whether it be music or something else. Additionally, my family, of course, has played an immense role in nurturing and loving this little girl that had too many emotions and reaffirming the little Grace that she was no mistake and had a powerful story to tell. I would not be here today without my family’s unconditional support, love, and jokes along the way.