Hosting delights family

Cho will graduate from high school a year early and will attend The Juilliard School of Music in August. Cho practices eight hours a day.

Cho will graduate from high school a year early and will attend The Juilliard School of Music in August. Cho practices eight hours a day.

Philip Martin

The family gathered around the gate at the airport, anticipating the arrival of the plane.

The plane touched down and taxied to the gate. The family members could barely control themselves; the time they were waiting for finally arrived. The passengers started exiting; at first they didn’t see her. Then, she walked out and met her new family. The excitement in the air, along with the laughing and loud voices only means one thing – it’s time to be a host family for a competitor in the Missouri Southern International Piano Competition.

Mike and Elaine Corwin, residents of Neosho, are one of the host families for the competition. The contestant they are hosting is 17-year-old Soo Yeon Cho, from Clarksville, Md. This is not anything new to the Corwin’s or Cho. Two years ago, the Corwin’s were the host family for Cho and say they enjoy being hosts.

“It’s fun [being a host family], you get to meet somebody who’s usually foreign,” Elaine said.

She said there are upsides to being hosts to a contestant.

“You get to listen to some great music,” Elaine said. “It’s nerve wracking watching them compete, because you want them to do so well.”

With a contestant staying in their house the Corwin’s said it changes their daily routine, not for worse but for better.

“It adds a lot of excitement,” Mike said.

Elaine said Cho, two years ago, would practice from 7 a.m. until approximately 10:30 p.m. Even though they tried to get her to take a brake Cho would not.

“We couldn’t get her to quit for an ice cream cone or anything,” Elaine said. “She just wanted to practice.”

“Yeah, we bribed her with ice cream and that didn’t work,” Mike said. “It’s incredible the amount of perseverance and dedication they have to practice.”

All the time spent practicing has paid off for Cho, who was accepted to The Juilliard School for Music on April 1. Cho said when she found out about her acceptance she began to cry.

Mike is proud of Cho and her accomplishments.

“Some of them (the competitors) are really smart,” he said. “Like our young lady is going to graduate from high school a year early, before she goes to Juilliard. She managed to do all that studying and practicing eight hours a day. We know of no one that can do that and has that kind of dedication.”

Because she received her letter of acceptance on April Fools’ Day, Cho’s brother decided to pull a joke on her. Instead of telling her she was accepted, he told her she was denied. Cho started to break down while at school and almost began to cry. When she found out he was lying to her she did break down and cry, not because of the stress, but because she was happy to get in.

“It was my dream school, when I got the letter I was so happy I was crying,” she said. “I’m really excited about that.”

Now that the tryouts for Juilliard are over, Cho is a more relaxed than she was two years ago. Elaine has noticed the difference in her playing and her attitude from the last competition.

“It’s been fun to watch her develop,” she said. “She was good last time, she’s exceptional now. I think she’s more relaxed, because she auditioned for Juilliard to be auditioned and three other places, she has been in other competitions. To my untrained ear, she’s better.”

Elaine said she is amazed at how the competition brings together competitors who have known each other for a while. She said the competitor from Bulgaria, Ruzha Sémova who is staying with a friend of Elaine’s in Neosho, knows Cho’s cousin. This is because the cousin plays the piano and competes. She said two years ago, when Cho was staying with her, Cho’s parents met the owners of Orient House, who have the same last name as them.

“They got along very well [two years ago],” Elaine said. “We had lunch there today (April 20), they all chatted about. It’s nice to see, and it’s amazing. You know, a small world and it really is.”

She said Cho’s mother met the mother of one of the competitors, who is staying with the Cho’s of Neosho, at the last competition. At the last competition, a lot of Korean competitors had been attending the same school, and when they came to Joplin they were able to know someone in Missouri.

“It was interesting to see all these people come to the United States, and they run into each other in the Hastings bookstore,” Elaine said.

She said she likes the fact there is an international competition in the “middle of nowhere.”

“It’s neat to have this international competition in Joplin, Mo.,” Elaine said. “I’ve lived here for 13-years, and before that I lived in Iowa, and you don’t think of something international out in the Midwest.”

Elaine said she got started being a host family during the last competition when she was asked to do it.

“Last time, I had a friend who was on the board who asked if we would do that and I said ‘yes,'” she said. “We went to one meeting beforehand and wrote back and forth with Soo.”

To be a good host family, she said you have to keep in contact with the competitor. It was easy for the Corwin’s because they have been in contact with Cho for the past two years.

“Before they come you need to be in touch with them to be sure, number one what time they are coming in on the plane and a little bit about their likes and dislikes,” she said.

Elaine said she recommends being a host family to anyone. She said all it takes is to have an open bedroom and some free time to enjoy another culture and music.