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  • Austin Hedgcoth

Humans of North Texas: Dr. Jung Choi

Dr. Choi is currently the assistant professor of oboe at the University of North Texas. Photos courtesy of Jung Choi.

Humans of North Texas explores the unique stories of the people around us.

Tricking kids into eating their vegetables is a universal parenting experience. Tricking kids into playing an instrument so that they have an incredibly successful, life-long career in the arts, however, is a not-so-universal parenting experience. However, when Jung Choi’s eldest sister chose a paintbrush and a palette over sheet music and rehearsals, their mother passed on the very same lesson book and slender, black and silver woodwind to her middle daughter.

Choi picked up the oboe, played her first tune, and never looked back.

Born and raised in Seoul, South Korea, and having toured and performed in countries across the world, Choi has a unique perspective on life and success.

She doesn’t set goals; rather, she chooses to live one moment at a time and see where the day will take her.

“Finding opportunities and reaching goals has so much to do with timing and everything aligning perfectly, that it’s not really worth stressing out about,” Choi said. “I just want to be a good musician and a good teacher, that’s all I want to do.”

This mindset has helped her find success and build a reputation internationally, both as a performer and a professor.

Choi received her bachelor’s degree in music from Seoul National University, one of the most prestigious universities in South Korea. She then came to the United States to pursue a graduate degree at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York.

During her time on the East Coast, Choi began teaching undergraduate musicians one on one, although she still had her sights set on becoming a full-time orchestral musician after graduation.

In 2008, Choi graduated with a master’s degree in music and proceeded to travel the world for 18 months, competing, performing, and accepting invitations to audition.

Then, in 2010, Choi returned to South Korea after landing a job as the associate principal oboist with the Korean Symphony Orchestra, a role which she held for nearly a decade.

Most full-time orchestral musicians also work as adjunct professors at nearby universities, so in 2013, Choi became an adjunct lecturer at Seoul National University, her alma mater.

“Back then in my career, I was 80 percent performer and 20 percent teacher,” Choi said. “However, the more I started teaching, the more I realized how much I loved teaching, and so I decided to shift that balance and go get my doctorate degree.”

In 2016, Choi moved back to Rochester to attend the Eastman School of Music once more; this time with her husband and two sons by her side. Choi’s husband was not able to stay, however, and spent two years working back in South Korea, 6,800 miles away from his family.

During her time with the Korean Symphony Orchestra, Choi got married and had two sons, MinJoon Park (10) and HyunJoon Park (7). Photos courtesy of Jung Choi.

Due to the competitiveness of the music industry, instead of resigning from her position with the Korean Symphony Orchestra when she left for New York, Choi took a leave of absence with the option to return once she completed her degree.

However, as she entered her final two semesters at Eastman, Choi had a gut feeling that she was here to stay.

In a bittersweet goodbye, she informed the orchestra of her decision not to return to South Korea, and as it would turn out, her intuition was right.

Immediately after graduating with her doctoral degree, Choi was offered a job as an oboe professor at Missouri State University, and she promptly moved her family halfway across a foreign country from New York to Springfield, Missouri.

Yet, when a job opened at the University of North Texas in 2021, Choi wasn’t sure she was ready to apply.

Her friends and colleagues convinced her otherwise.

“At first, I wasn’t really interested in this job because I thought they wouldn’t hire a younger oboist like myself,” Choi said. “But then I was encouraged by my friends and I visited Carrollton and just decided, you know what, I’m going to apply.”

A few months later, Choi and her family were packed up and on their way to Texas.

“When Koreans think of moving to the States, they think of New York City or L.A., so when I told my family I was moving to Denton, they were shocked,” Choi said. “But I love it here, I really love it.”

While Choi lives in Flower Mound, Texas, with her husband and children, the rest of her family is still in South Korea. Photos courtesy of Jung Choi.

The North Texas area isn’t the only thing she loves, though; Choi is well known for the connections she builds with her students.

“I react in a very honest manner, because I care for my students and I want them to learn as much, musically, as they can,” Choi said. “But, you know, I also want them to learn how to be successful in life; I want the time they spend with me to be valuable to them long after UNT, whether they become oboists or not.”

Choi says that although she loves performing—something she still does here at UNT—teaching is more rewarding. While compliments are nice, she says watching her students find success is better than any critic’s review could ever be.

“Compliments make me feel good in the moment, but I always go back later and find flaws in my performance and lose sleep over it,” Choi said. “But with teaching, all of my students are perfect. They may not see it that way, but they really are, and it’s so rewarding to watch and see all the amazing things they will achieve in the future; it’s so much more rewarding to me.”

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