Student Spotlight: Tom Cheng '15

by Kourtney Kawano | 1/7/15 4:48pm

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Joining the Dartmouth Symphony Orchestra seemed like a no-brainer for concertmaster Tom Cheng ’15. He discovered an affinity for the violin after his mom registered him for lessons at the age of six. Originally, his motivation to keep playing were the trinkets he received from his instructor, but Cheng grew to love the instrument, performing in an ensemble and making music with his classmates of his own accord.

“As a kid, it was encouraging to know I wasn’t alone in my studies,” he said. “I loved working together to make music that sounded better than I could ever make it alone.”

By the time he entered high school, he had participated in both school and youth orchestras and had grown accustomed to the somewhat tedious nature required to perfect his craft. He said that practicing the violin taught him patience and that listening to recordings by professional violinists, such as David Oistrakh and Gil Shaham , not only influenced his playing style but also helped him learn about the importance of appreciating each musician’s distinguishing specialty.

“I find there’s something unique to admire in any accomplished musician I come across,” Cheng said. “This enables everyone to have a definitive voice in the music sphere.”

Upon his arrival at the College, Cheng decided to join the Dartmouth Symphony Orchestra because of the impression he received of camaraderie and friendliness among its members, he said.

“The DSO represents a diverse array of academic and musical backgrounds,” Cheng said. “I’ve come to admire everyone I’ve had the chance to get to know.”

Now in his senior year, Cheng, an electrical engineering major, is the orchestra’s concertmaster and one of 12 first violinists. After such a huge accomplishment, one might assume that arrogance and pride would naturally set in. However, this is far from the truth when it comes to Cheng, other members of the orchestra said.

Humility, DSO violinist Orestis Lykouropoulos ’17 said, is what Cheng taught him about being an inspiring leader.

“Tom is wonderful to work with,” Lykouropoulos said. “He is thoughtful, especially about collaborative music making.”

Violinist Chris Park ’17 described Cheng as “down-to-earth and sincere.”

Fellow first violinist Erica Westenberg ’15 said that Cheng has been a strong leader in the orchestra and is always willing to help others in the violin section.

“He’s willing to go above and beyond to make sure everyone’s prepared and make sure the first violin section is at tip-top shape,” she said. “He’s very passionate about music and shows in his playing.”

Park agreed that Cheng’s playing speaks for his passion.

Cheng’s big break came this December when the orchestra took a 10 day international tour across Eastern Europe organized by Westenberg and violinst Lindsey Lam ’15. During the tour, Cheng was featured on television while the group performed in Belgrade, Serbia alongside the concert’s featured soloist Emily Hyun ’13. This marked the second time the DSO went on tour and the first time any college orchestra from the U.S. performed in the former Yugoslavia.

Westenberg said that members of the orchestra were able to watch the interview as it happened.

“It was cool to see someone that we knew have their answers translated into Serbian and broadcast on the news network of a different country,” she said.

Outside of the DSO, Cheng continues to pursue the arts and display his inspiring nature through his participation in “Conversations That Matter,” a newly developed Tucker Foundation program that emphasizes meaningful reflection among students who observe pieces featured at the Hood Museum of Art.

Currently, Cheng and the rest of the DSO are enjoying a brief break after their international tour before preparing for their upcoming winter concert on Feb. 28, the second to last concert left for him before he graduates. Following graduation, he plans to attend graduate school and continue to study electrical engineering.

Final Word (with Tom Cheng ’15):

Favorite musical: West Side Story

Favorite app: ZipCar

Favorite restaurant in Hanover: Molly’s