Three talented sisters plan future as classical music trio

by: REVIEW, TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - The Yoon Trio always makes happy music together. Especially in the living room of their home. From the left are Lauren, Taylor and Ashley.

The Yoon Trio will undoubtedly play before larger audiences in the coming years, but it is doubtful they could perform for a more appreciative audience than they did the night of Jan. 31.

The Yoon Trio is made up of sisters Lauren, 14, piano; Taylor, 12, cello; and Ashley, 10, violin. That evening the Yoon family of Lake Oswego was celebrating the beginning of the Chinese New Year, and family members and visitors settled back to hear the sisters perform Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio in D Minor, first movement. But even an unbiased observer would need a string of sweet adjectives to describe how they played: wonderful, stirring, exciting, etc.

Present for the occasion were mom Esther, dad Jerry, grandmother JoAnn, grandfather Ben and family dog Sam.

Esther was just as into the moment as her daughters, bobbing her head to the music and silently mouthing encouragement and instructions.

“I am proud, proud, proud of them,” Esther said.

She even claims that Sam likes the girls’ music, although all photos of the girls playing with Sam in the frame show that he is sleeping.

At the end of 10 blissful minutes, JoAnn got up, cupped her granddaughters’ faces in her hands, kissed them, hugged them and gushed with adoring praise. Ben and Jerry were more reserved but just as proud.

You don’t have to be a Yoon to appreciate the Yoon Trio. Young though they are, the Yoon sisters have already set the goal of becoming a trio, playing not only classical music but jazz, too. They are just the kind of super kids who can make their dreams come true.

The Yoons are also everyday sisters who sometimes squabble and borrow each other’s clothes without asking permission. But their music gives them an uncommon bond.

“We fight a little bit,” Lauren said. “But as a trio we understand each other in ways that can’t be expressed in words. Music has brought us together so strongly. It gives us experiences we couldn’t have otherwise.”

“I think this was meant to be,” Esther said. “They’re close in age and able to work together. They’re normal sisters who argue and steal each other’s clothes. But when they play together, they’re a strong trio.”

Jerry, whose regular job is operating the Lake Oswego Foot Clinic on Third Street, is an avid karaoke singer and “a great dancer.” But it was Esther who inspired her children to take up music. She has sung her entire life and majored in music in college. A career in music was possible, but then came marriage and motherhood.

“I didn’t want to push my dream on my daughters,” Esther said. So they picked up their music dreams on their own.

When the dream started, it seemed like the Yoons would have three piano players on their hands, and Lauren had a great natural affinity for it, becoming a pupil at age 7 of highly esteemed teacher Elizabeth Stern. But the other sisters soon began playing other instruments. “Grandma picked the cello for Taylor,” Esther said. Ashley considered taking up the flute, but Esther handed her a violin, and the Yoon Trio was born.

Their first gig was at a fundraiser in the posh setting of the Crowne Plaza Portland Hotel in downtown Portland. The threesome continued their career at other venues, such as retirement homes.

Perhaps their most important performance came three years ago at Michael Allen Harrison’s Ten Grand jazz concert at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in Portland.

“We collaborated so well, and we really listened to each other,” Lauren said.

“It was a really good experience,” Taylor said. “It was the biggest crowd we ever played before. We were nervous the first time we played. The second time we were a lot better.”

“The crowd gave us a goal we could achieve,” Lauren said. “They motivated us not as individuals but as a trio.”

The more the trio plays the better it gets, and Esther tries to get the girls at least two gigs a month. They turn the front room of their home into a little concert hall. Esther listens to them while she cooks the evening meal and hollers out what parts of the piece they need to repeat. In addition, jazz gigs are certainly in their future.

“All three of us are as familiar with jazz as we are with classical music,” Taylor said. “Jazz lets us go outside the box and be more relaxed. Jazz sends a different kind of message.”

“I think we sound fine at jazz,” Lauren said. “It’s more upbeat and more rhythmic than classical music.”

The girls also have their outside accomplishments. Taylor and Ashley are members of the Portland Youth Philharmonic. Lauren has appeared twice in the Young Artists Concerto Competition. Lauren and Taylor are both 4.0 students at Lakeridge High School and Lakeridge Junior High School, respectively, and Ashley shines academically at Hallinan Elementary School. The girls are also active in the youth group of their church.

“I am most proud of the community service part that the girls do,” said Jerry, who says his main contribution to the group is carrying their instruments. “Obviously, it is nice to see my kids up on stage, but it is more satisfying to see them giving back to the community.”

Lauren, Taylor and Ashley are not just the apples of their parents and grandparents’ eyes. Their teachers, all of them outstanding in the music field, are glowing in their reviews of their students.

“Lauren is absolutely marvelous, just marvelous,” said Stern, who has taught so many outstanding young pianists. “What sets her apart is the depth of her sound. She gets into the meaning of the music and has a very beautiful tone. She’s not just a piano acrobat.”

“I knew right away that Taylor had all kinds of talent,” said Kenneth Finch, a cellist with the Oregon Symphony for over 30 years. “She is probably the most talented student I have ever had. Taylor has something amazing. She takes an idea of the music she wants and makes her bones and muscles bring it to life.

“She has the ability now to do anything she wants. Nothing is holding her back.”

Carol Sindell knows something about the violin. She was a student of the great Jascha Heifetz, attended the prestigious Julliard School and she has been a music professor at Portland State University for the past 37 years. She is also a member of the famed Florestan Trio. But Sindell was eager to talk about her student Ashley Yoon.

“Ashley is so talented and adorable. Who wouldn’t want to teach her?” Sindell said. “She is a dream student. She is so gifted. Ashley has such innate feel for her instrument. It makes it easier for me.

“Ashley is like a lovely flower or plant. You just need to pay a little attention and try not to harm it.”

To say the future is golden for the Yoon Trio is an understatement. They have rare talent and unmatched support at home. As young as they are, they are confident they will stick together in the coming years. Their mother thinks so, too.

“They want to do this for the rest of their lives,” Esther said.

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