Photo courtesy of Joy Yi
As the lights dimmed on the stage of “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” Joy Yi raised her bow to her viola. Slowly, the curtains swept open amidst a shower of applause to reveal the band Bastille surrounded by musicians as it performed the first bars of the hit song “Flaws.”
Seven years after playing in Diamond Bar High School’s Symphony orchestra, Yi works as a freelance musician. Aided by social media and word of mouth, Yi makes a living conducting private music lessons, performing at recording sessions and playing with orchestras and for weddings.
“I think performing is easier than teaching because I just bring my viola or violin and just play,” Yi said. “When I coach at DBHS I have one goal and it’s to make the orchestra sound better, so it’s a lot of repetitive work and breaking things down.”
With experience on the violin and viola, Yi often receives opportunities to perform with different artists. Along with her “Ellen” appearance, Yi has performed at the MTV Music Awards with Sam Smith, played on Deadmau5’s “Where’s the Drop” album, recorded an unreleased song for Chance the Rapper and collaborated with many other pop stars.
“I always loved rap since I was 9 years old, so when I got to record with Chance the Rapper I was so happy,” Yi said.
Yi played the violin in the DBHS symphony orchestra for four years, working her way up to first chair concertmaster her senior year.
“Mr. Acciani is the reason why I ended up pursuing music in college because he believed in me and encouraged me through my doubts,” Yi said. “If it wasn’t for Mr. A, I would probably be living at home with my parents and still figuring my career choices.”
Yi attended Cal State Long Beach for two years before transferring to California Institute of the Arts, both with a full ride scholarship for playing the violin. During college, Yi began working full time, teaching and doing freelance jobs since her family couldn’t support her living expenses.
At CSULB, she learned more about orchestral playing, which has helped her know what to expect when playing orchestra gigs. On the other hand, CalArts focused more on contemporary pieces and pop music. It was during her time at CSULB that Yi’s friend introduced her to the viola and has continued playing it ever since then.
“It just has a deeper sound to it, which I think goes with my personality and even my regular voice,” Yi said.
Additionally, her experience helping coach the viola section at DBHS about once a month often reminds Yi of when she used to lead sectionals as a student.
“I wanted to coach at DBHS because I wanted to give back to the community that helped me find myself,” Yi said. “I hope that I can help the students feel great about music and who they are as a person.”
Although it is exciting for her to work with well-known artists, Yi said she struggles with working unpredictable hours, as there are days when she returns home in the afternoon, or days when she returns at midnight. Despite this, Yi has expressed her satisfaction working as a freelance musician.
“The thing I love the most about my career is I get to make people happy. Music brings a lot of memories to people and also holds a lot of tradition and history,” Yi said. “I think the only difference from my job [to other jobs] is the crazy hours and all the driving I have to do.”