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Meet Warren Lee of Rhapsody Piano Studio in Cypress

Today we’d like to introduce you to Warren Lee.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Warren. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
My history with piano began when I was a kid. I’m a first-generation, first-born son of a traditional Korean family. Along with being torn between two cultures, there’s an intense pressure placed on you to succeed in life for the sake of the family. So basically, during my whole childhood I had no idea who I was or where I belonged.

The good thing was that my parents had me do every activity imaginable: swimming, soccer, tennis, art, music. So, I really got to explore. I found I pretty much sucked at everything but had natural piano playing ability. It was especially important because it was the only activity I received recognition and attention for. People would call me “Bumblebee Warren.” Google “flight of the bumblebee” if you’re confused. I was pretty egotistical about it actually.

The next years all the way to college, I kept piano on the side, always being told it was just a hobby until I found a “real” career (Note: If you have kids, don’t ever tell them they can’t do a certain thing). But I was extremely unhappy trying to please everyone else. There was a pivotal moment where I decided piano was my path.

And I thought I’d rather be broke and happy than financially stable but miserable. Plus, burning the boats feels pretty awesome. Scary, but still awesome.

So, I transferred colleges and became a full-time piano performance major. My dream was to become a professional pianist but then I became totally sidetracked with teaching. I think part of the allure is that I found it very challenging. At one point in my collegiate career I felt in my gut that I had to stop everything I was doing and pursue teaching piano full-time.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
ANYTHING but smooth… Quitting my doctorate program halfway, dealing with the fallout from family and loved ones, building an entire studio and website from scratch, having to learn marketing, sales, and advertising, getting a steady stream of students only to lose them left and right, and then add a mortgage and student loan on top of that!

Yet I believe having a life without struggle is utterly mind-numbing. There are always going to be problems in one form or another. You have to honor the struggle, that’s where the meaning is. And I love it that way. I was always ambitious as a kid and I found working at a job always stifled me. When you work for yourself, literally every decision affects your livelihood and although it can be very stressful, the freedom that comes with it is exhilarating.

Rhapsody Piano Studio – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
I teach piano. I’m also very active on social media, especially my YouTube channel. I think what sets me apart is that I’m a teacher for the modern generation. The current education model in the private and public sector is really outdated and based on very traditional, old methods that have outlived their usefulness. It’s up to us to continue learning and adapt for the next generation (a.k.a. read as many books as possible).

Besides that, I enjoy providing a safe environment where the student is free to express themselves without any repercussions. And part of my philosophy is to make piano a gateway for my younger students to find what they’re passionate about in life. Also, the principles you learn to get good at piano are the same principles you can use to develop skill in any field. And the most important principle I teach them is that they have all the tools they need to succeed and solve any problem. I basically just get out of their way and let them find out on their own. It’s important to allow them freedom in their lessons.

But I’m most proud of making every student feel valued. I think it’s tough being a kid. Because they’re so young I think many adults don’t realize how much it can suck not to be recognized as an individual. So whatever age they are, I want them to feel like we’re on equal terms. I find that the respect I give to them is given back to me tenfold.

And I also still practice on a daily basis (I haven’t given up on my dream of becoming a professional musician). I find it very hypocritical to be a teacher who doesn’t practice their craft.

What is “success” or “successful” for you?
I think it’s important not to confuse success with goals. I have certain goals I want to achieve, such as achieving enough wealth so my family is taken care of for the rest of their lives.

But that’s not how I define success. To me, success is how you show up in the world. Giving your gift to the world, whatever it is. Being present in every interaction. Respecting the people, you meet, always doing the right thing. And underneath all that is being a happy human being who provides value. It’s very empowering because it’s a choice. And it’s something we can choose to do at any moment in our life, for the rest of our lives.

Success is being a good human being.

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