IAA junior discusses the challenges of songwriting

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Idyllwild Arts Academy junior songwriting student Au Jean Rhee, native of Korea, is the next speaker at Idy Talks, the Idyllwild Community Center and IAA co-sponsored speaker series. Au Jean talks about her music background, craft and goals at Silver Pines Lodge at 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 23. Photo by Marshall Smith

By Marshall Smith

Staff Reporter

The next speaker in the Idy Talks series is Au Jean Rhee, a junior in the Academy songwriting program. This year’s Idyllwild Community Center Speaker Series is called Idy Talks, noting the pairing between ICC and Idyllwild Arts Academy. 

Hailing from Seoul, Korea, Au Jean is a well-grounded musician and has the support of her family in pursuing this course of study. “I came here in the 10th grade and my mother was flexible with the idea,” said Au Jean. “She is a classical music arts director, skilled in piano and writing. My father works in the social sciences but also plays guitar.

“I knew instinctively when I was around 10 that I’d do something similar to my mom. Plus, my family members on my mother’s side are all artists — in architecture and in wood carving.”

Au Jean discovered Idyllwild when a co-worker of her mother revealed she had graduated from the academy.

Au Jean plays piano and guitar, and writes both music and lyrics for her songs. Asked what comes first, music or lyric, Au Jean explained: “For me, it’s melody or rhythm. I think melody is the most important.” Asked to describe her style, she said she feels the most affinity with Britpop (British pop music) beginning with the Beatles. “That was the music that most influenced me.”

Asked how she tells her story, how her lyrics unfold, she said, “I don’t tell the story directly, in a linear timeframe or by events. For me, it is the feeling that moves me forward.”

In pop music, one has choices — to write what the songwriter feels will sell or to write what is in the songwriter’s interior life. “I write for myself,” said Au Jean. Her lyrics have some evocative conceptual pairings such as “the taste of your last name,” and, “Thought I was drowning when I saw you, through the fogged window, in my unpleasantly soupy room.”

But Au Jean is looking forward to broadening her professional base in college with courses in producing, the business of pop music and music marketing. “I’m also studying creative writing at Idyllwild Arts,” she noted. 

“I think I have an old-soul vibe,” she said. “I like using old-style melodies and then adding modern elements. Songwriting as a major is tricky. That’s why I’m also looking to mix music marketing, business and production.

Au Jean speaks at 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 23, at Silver Pines Lodge. There is a wine and cheese reception that precedes her talk at 5:30 p.m. Both are open and free to the public.

The series features IAA juniors and seniors discussing their art majors they are pursuing at the academy — when they first realized they might be called to a career in the arts, how they discovered IAA, what their experience there has been and how it is influencing their career choices and path.

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