Prodigy trades musical career for Army
POSTED: Wednesday, September 11, 2013 - 9:30pm
UPDATED: Thursday, September 12, 2013 - 4:59pm
Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan — Soldiers seem to always have an interesting story for why they joined the Army but if you heard Spc. Pyungan Cho’s, a native of Los Angeles, you would probably be left a little stunned.
Cho is assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 15th Sustainment Brigade “Wagonmasters” is currently on her first deployment in Afghanistan.
What makes her story so fascinating is the successful music career she walked away from to join the Army.
Cho was born in Seoul, South Korea, and started playing the piano at the age of five.
“I was first taught at church,” said Cho. “It was a gift I had the opportunity to learn.”
Many years later at the age of 18, she followed her family as they immigrated to the U.S. In the states her music career took off.
“I had a great instructor who wanted to take me to Juilliard but my family insisted that I stay,” said Cho. “My grandmother had breast cancer, and my family needed my help to take her to medical appointments.”
Cho feels that it was taking care of her grandmother that further helped her music career.
“I would play for her and she would pray for me,” said Cho. “It was her prayers that made everything possible.”
At the request of her parents, Cho auditioned at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., in front of a private audience of musical professors.
“I was so nervous,” she confided. “Here were all these men and women, masters in their craft, judging whether I get a full ride to a higher education or not. I played two pieces of music that I had practiced. When I was done a professor told me they would call me in two weeks.”
That was not the end of it, before she could walk out one professor handed her a thin music book and asked her to play it for the rest of the group. Cho did not know that it was a complicated piece and was the true test of her abilities. What the professors did not know was Cho had a talent her previous instructor identified as a perfect pitch.
“When someone has a perfect pitch they can hear a note and recognize it by name,” explained Cho. “As I read the book I could hear the notes playing in my head.”
What happened next amazed the music department – Cho played every note perfectly. They could not believe this was the first time she had played that particular work. They gave her more books to play one after another and their moods changed right before Cho’s eyes.
“Suddenly they went from we’ll call you in two weeks to – you have to come to our school,” Cho said.
One person in her family already knew she received the scholarship and was just waiting for Cho to go home.
“I walked outside to where my dad was parked and when I got inside the car he told me my grandmother had a vision of me in a cap and gown holding a diploma,” said Cho. “I told my father how it went then we got out of the car and prayed on the steps of the school.”
Cho later graduated from Pepperdine with a bachelor’s degree in music. She has played at Carnegie Hall, New York City and performed in front of thousands around the world during her time at the school.
She even earned a job at her university and became the youngest music director ever at Pepperdine. So why would Cho, a classically trained and successful musician, join the Army?
“I wanted to give something back,” she said excitedly. “The United States, through the help of its military, built schools and hospitals in South Korea. That is why Korea has been able to grow so much more as a nation.”
Today, Cho serves as a logistics specialist at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. She spends her time off practicing with her church choir and performing for religious services on base.
“Music is a powerful thing,” said Cho. “It can make you happy, and even cry. I’ve been so blessed in my life and it feels great to be a blessing for others through my music.”
Cho has plans to go to officer candidate school and play for the Army Band.
Photo by Peter Park, Peter Park Studio