Today we’d like to introduce you to Michelle Do.
Michelle, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I’m a jack of all trades, for sure. I started out as a musician, and while it’s still my primary focus, I still kept up with visual art and ballroom dance. Sometime along the way, I realized that art and dance were no longer just hobbies anymore, that they were very much a part of my professional image. I grew up surrounded by music. My mother wanted to be a concert pianist, but because of the Vietnam War, she had to take her life in a different direction.
Nevertheless, she saved up enough money to purchase a piano, a year or two after she settled in North America. She would constantly play a plethora of wonderful melodies, which were the source of so much inspiration for me, growing up. I started informal piano lessons with her at 3 years old and found a teacher at age 6. The rest is history, I guess; I adamantly trundled through three music degrees and emerged bruised, battered, but victorious this past February, from the University of Southern California with a doctorate in piano performance.
These days, I’m teaching and performing around the Los Angeles area, both as a soloist and a chamber musician. The highs and lows of such a lifestyle are like polar opposites: dozens upon dozens of rejection letters, sprinkled intermittently by concerts at Carnegie Hall, (which is a gorgeous venue – all green velvet and creamy Roman pillars. And don’t get me started on the beautiful Steinway that lives in Weill Recital Hall. That thing is my eternal and unrequited love) national and international tours, and opportunities to perform as a soloist with various orchestras. Soloing with orchestras is quite possibly my favorite aspect about piano performance.
I’ve played with the Indiana University Orchestra, the Orange County Collegiate Orchestra, and the Southern California Philharmonic. It’s a rush that eludes description, knowing that you have about 60-odd people supporting and collaborating with you and your creative ideas. The dream, though, is to secure a position as a piano teacher in higher education. I’ve had a lot of inspiring teachers who have shed blood, sweat, and tears to make me who I am today as both a musician and a person, and it is my heartfelt goal to become the same to future budding musicians.
As is the case with music, I started ballroom dance because of my mother. She roped me into doing a group class with her, after which I discovered I liked ballroom dance just a little too much. I started taking lessons, halfway through my sophomore year of college and ended up competing as an advanced dancer with my partner in various competitions across Southern California. It’s a niche setting, for sure, but because of Dancing With the Stars and various other movies and shows that have brought it to mainstream media, the world is quickly expanding, and I’m very happy to be a part of it.
Art blossomed for me in a much more independent way. As a kid, I was always a little too strange to fit into any sort of social circle, so all the time I would have spent on maintaining friendships, I spent drawing in my high school notes, drawing on whatever else I could find, just… drawing and sketching and painting. I never received any formal instruction. Every work was an experiment to see what worked and what didn’t, and to this day, I still create with that mindset. This past March, I entered a competition called Art Battle, which is a competitive speed-painting event.
You get twenty minutes to paint whatever you want, with an audience vote putting the top four through to the final round, which provides thirty minutes and a bigger canvas. Sixteen artists paint, and the winner of the event advances to the City Finals. I was incredibly nervous, going in, but to my complete and utter surprise, I ended up winning the event, which I never thought would happen in a million years, as I was going up against established studio artists.
Winning Art Battle was really my very first dose of validation and helped dispel a lot of my self-consciousness from not having any training. It was also extremely inspiring, being able to paint alongside some of the most creative and talented artists in Los Angeles.
Music, art, and dance. I’m not entirely sure yet how I will craft these three aspects of myself into something marketable, interdisciplinary, and uniquely mine, but until I figure it out, I’m constantly brainstorming and creating. Creativity is a part of me; an outlet for my thoughts and emotions, as much as it is the source of my life and motivation.
Has it been a smooth road?
Oh goodness, no. I wouldn’t be doing all of this if the road was pristine and free of obstructions. It’s way too easy that way, and I love a good challenge. Struggles, let’s see… a million rejection letters. Having to deal with the feeling that if I had only spent time on one discipline instead of three or four, I would be much better at just that one discipline, and would have probably been more successful/skilled in it.
Watching my peers achieve the full-time job, the car, the house, the family, and knowing that my life is so far from that, I’ll never quite be “normal”. Not quite fitting in anywhere, because instead of just being a musician or an artist, I am a little bit of everything. The crushing sense of self-doubt, wondering whether or not this is truly the right path to take, or if my efforts will all amount to nothing. “Not being good enough, ever.” Artistic depressions, inspirational dry spells, the delicate concern from others when they wonder if I’m ever going to get a “real job.”
Having an extremely limited social life, because I’m so busy creating things and hustling for gigs. Not being able to relate to those who consume excessive amounts of media and base their conversations around that, because I spend all of my time creating media instead. Moving around every two or three years, chasing my career and never really settling down. So yes, the struggles are real, and many. But it’s a lifestyle that is, at the same time, exhausting and thrilling. I’m kind of addicted to it. I wouldn’t give it up for the world.
Besides, facing obstacles and having to wriggle past them in unorthodox ways keeps me on my toes, and gives me the ability to gracefully accept failure when failure does come. It’s also made me persistent as hell. So help me, I’ll keep trying, no matter what.
So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Solfegge – Music, Dance, and Visual Arts story. Tell us more about the business.
I’m an independent contractor, with my own distinct style across music, art, and dance.
To be honest, if you’re specifically looking for something involving just music, just art, or just dance, there are loads of other businesses out there that you can turn to. But what I can offer that sets me apart is an interdisciplinary meld of everything because I’m professionally competent enough at all three to be able to see the relationship between each discipline and therefore weave things together in ways you might not expect.
Fancy an exhibition involving distinct choreography to original music against a visually relevant background? I’m your gal, hit me up.
How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
If anything, I’ll probably be settling more comfortably into my niche of interdisciplinary exhibits. At this point, I either need a good agent or just become my own entrepreneur, which is another hurdle I have to face.
Maintaining competency in one discipline is difficult enough; doing three and being my own manager requires a level of time management and effort that I’m just starting to be comfortable with. I really think marketability is going to be my next long-term challenge. We’ll see where that leads me, and how well I fare.
- Piano lessons: $90/hr
- Ballroom Dance Lessons: $65/hr
- Website: www.huyenkhanhdo.com
- Phone: 714-300-8530
- Email: email@example.com
- Instagram: instagram.com/mssolfegge
- Facebook: facebook.com/mssolfegge
The Ballroom Project, Carnegie Hall, Yupeng Gu Photography, Michael Chee Photography