Music is often referred to as the “universal language.” 17-year-old violinist Chelsea Kim knows this is true. Having moved several times throughout her childhood, Chelsea performed in retirement centers, hospitals, and churches in every new community. This gave her a sense of music’s power to connect people, a theme that would become very important to her life’s path.
At an early age, Chelsea’s younger brother Daniel was diagnosed with middle-intensity autism. One of his challenges is that while he feels emotions, he finds it difficult to express them. Daniel would always listen to Chelsea as she practiced, enjoying the sounds that emanated from her instrument. But it wasn’t until he began to hum along with her playing that Chelsea and her family realized that not only had he memorized entire concertos, but that he was communicating his emotions. They have since cherished this unique opportunity to connect as a family.
In 2013, while a high school student at the Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, Chelsea appeared on From the Top with Host Christopher O’Riley Show 267, recorded in Boston’s WGBH Fraser Performance Studio.
In addition to appearing on From the Top, Chelsea received the Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Award, a $10,000 scholarship given to extraordinary young musicians with financial need. Everyone who receives the Award is required to do an extended outreach project that brings their musical gifts out into the community.
Knowing the power of music to communicate with her brother, Chelsea decided to use her arts leadership project to bring music to other children with special needs. Shortly after coming on the show, Chelsea began her undergraduate work at Juilliard and quickly became a member of a string trio.
Her fellow trio members decided to join her in her mission. After researching several possible venues – from special education programs to community centers – Chelsea and her trio decided to reach out to Kidzone TV at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Kidzone TV produces live programming three times a day for pediatric patents and families on a dedicated channel within the hospital.
In her own words, Chelsea describes the experience of doing a live performance on the station:
We were led through the back door of the hospital. This was the section of the hospital for children who were extremely sick and had such vulnerable immune systems that they were not allowed outside contact.
Before we were recorded, there was an ‘advertisement’ section of the program. The ad featured the fragile young patients waving their hands and counting down for the program to start. Seeing this changed our dubious attitudes. We played our hearts out, just as if the children were right in front of us.
After the performance, the general manager of the Kidzone program had some words of affirmation for the trio.
“Thank you so much,” she said. “You have no idea how much our children love when musicians such as yourselves come and play for them. Even though it may be through the screen, the children’s blood pressure dropped as they heard you. The music you guys play creates miracles for our patients.”
Chelsea describes the impact of the visit:
This experience gave me tremendous insight and more assurance that music is a communication source for all kinds of people. Despite the fact that my trio members had never seen the patients, and vice versa, the music was our connection point.
As we go find a tissue, we also applaud Chelsea’s success in this project, and look forward to how she continues sharing music’s transcendent powers.