Star Spotlight 22: Yunbo

I had the distinct privilege of being a piano student of Yunbo for 9 formative years, and her influence in my life spanned far beyond the keys of the piano. Yunbo taught me how to work hard, and simultaneously how to embrace playfulness. How to manage stress, and to prepare for moments of extreme nervousness. How to respect my elders, and how to express and receive love and appreciation. How to fine-tune my sensitivity, and embrace my inner performer. Perhaps more than anything else, she taught me how to listen deeply and fall in love with music.

Yunbo is an amazing role model. Before taking on a new student, she speaks to their family about how the breadth and scope of her teaching is not limited to music; how it is deeply important to her to see her students as children first, pianists second. A child’s capacities as a pianist are just one component of their extraordinary selves, Yunbo reminds us. A student’s ability to play well says nothing about how beautiful their essence is, or how much recognition they get, or how much love they deserve. She encourages her students to stay away from musical competitions unless they demonstrate they are choosing to compete for the right reasons: to work towards an exciting goal, to push themselves to do their best, to share their love of playing with a larger community. Yunbo reminds her students and their parents – and all of us! – that life is not about the accolades we win, the external validation we receive, or the awards that are presented to us. Life is about finding one’s center, living fully, experiencing fully, embracing both the challenges and the triumphs alike. She shares this truth with all those lucky enough to work with her.

Yunbo teaches tirelessly and enthusiastically. She has 40 students a week, and afternoons and evenings where she teaches ten lessons in a row, with no breaks. Her commitment is remarkable, and her stamina astonishing; she brings a genuine presence to each student, tailoring lessons to individual needs and adjusting her approach to be best supportive. The same discipline she demonstrates while teaching is apparent in the rest of her life: she has a solid self-care routine, and has incorporated rhythms of movement and nourishment that support her body and keep her healthy. I am also deeply inspired by her ability to set boundaries around her work, and stick to the limits she’s prescribed without fail. She has a maximum amount of hours she is willing to work every week (despite having a wait list of 20 students!), and a maximum amount of days, too. She cancels lessons last-minute to accommodate her family’s schedule, and takes ample vacation time. Work never supersedes or overrules her time to connect with her children, and expose them to travels and other cultural experiences.

Speaking of children: Yunbo is an awesome mother. She manages to be doting without being oppressive, caring without being overly protective, supportive without being pushy. She’s raised an incredible set of twins that are undeniable examples of the good work she’s done as a mama. She encourages high level academic work, but also is committed to enriching her kid’s education with arts (creative, visual, and performing), sports, and many other extra-curriculars. Yunbo has let her children explore any areas that caught their interest, and through this, cultivated a true love for learning, and excitement about furthering their education in degrees in engineering. Yunbo’s openness in letting her kids “take the reins” in many areas (rather than pushing hard in any realm that she was attached to, or where she saw them excel) allowed them to really get clear on what careers THEY wanted to achieve! Yunbo is a shining example of what it looks like to parent without any “hidden agenda.” Sure, there have been times in both of her twin’s life when she has made assumptions about what their future will hold; I’m sure she also has opinions about what areas she thinks they should pursue, and that sometimes, she can’t help but share her perspectives and express skepticism or disapproval. But when I see Yunbo now, I see a mom who has surrendered gracefully to the fact that she can’t make decisions for her kids, anymore. As they launch into adulthood, I see her cheering them on, and always being available to talk with, laugh with, and cry with. I see her trusting her children enough to let them fly.

The story of Yunbo’s past is striking, harrowing, humbling: escaping the cultural revolution, assimilating to American society and experiencing serious loss and pain along the way. When she recounts memories of her childhood, I’m left breathless and wide-eyed. The fact that Yunbo has emerged from her past as beautiful, composed, grounded, and wise as she now is a serious testament to her strength — physically, emotionally, and mentally. There is an ease in which she navigates the world. She has a lightness of spirit and is effortlessly kind, talkative, cheerful, curious, and open-minded. She has strong opinions about how to teach, how to parent, how to be the best person you can be. I feel in Yunbo an embracing of what is. She doesn’t let herself get worked up , and is rarely irritable or on edge. Even when tough situations arise, she doesn’t expend unnecessary energy worrying, and instead continues to operate from a space of rationality: embracing what is, calmly problem-solving, and being honest and practical.

Yunbo also has one of my very favorite qualities: she tells it how it is. She doesn’t sugar-coat the truth, or speak in a way that is passive or passive aggressive. She says what’s on her mind, without apologizing or holding back. She matter-of-factly shares her truth, her opinion, her wisdom, which allows for frank conversation and blessed clarity. Because of this, Yunbo feels instantly trustworthy — I know whatever she shares with me will be exactly what she means.

Thank you, Yunbo, for your talent, wisdom, and inspiration. Please choose a charity for me to support, and I will make a donation on your behalf.

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