The secret lives of professors

Kayla Wilson

Assistant Professor of Music Stephane Tran Ngoc, born and raised in France, knew early on what he wanted to do with his life. Under the system in France, he spent a year learning music theory and then had to choose between the piano and the violin.”I heard it and I liked it,” he said of his violin choice. “It was a guess — I wasn’t yet in love with it.” He was seven years old at the time, and within a few months he did fall in love with the instrument. “I knew I was going to do that for the rest of my life.”

He finished his studies in France while still young, but knew he could learn a lot from different people and different perspectives. Tran Ngoc explained that the best violin schools at the time were in Russia and the U.S. He went to Russia to visit for a few weeks, meeting with friends who were students and seeing what the conditions were like there. It was a winter trip, which he described as “difficult.”

A few months later he came to the U.S., not on strictly musical business. “It was easier to come here and I could get a regular degree,” he explained. Tran Ngoc studied in New York for seven years at Brooklyn College’s Conservatory of Music and The Juilliard School, during which time he married an American woman. Then he returned to France.

He and his wife made the move back to America after having children. “My wife thought it would be nice to raise our kids in the U.S., so we came back when they were small, or smaller,” he said.

Tran Ngoc is in the middle of a series of three recitals with a young French pianist. They are performing all 10 of Beethoven’s sonatas. The series began on Sunday, Feb. 24, with second on Wednesday, Feb. 27, and concluding on Saturday, Mar. 1. “It is a big amount of works,” he said. “They are all pretty difficult.”

Besides practicing, teaching, and performing, Tran Ngoc is “a pretty serious amateur runner.” He has a rather interesting choice for footwear, choosing to eschew it completely.

“I’m one of the very few barefoot runners in the world,” he said. He has been running barefoot for three or four years, after coming across some writings about it. “I’m interested in how to use the body in the most productive ways,” he said, further explaining that he found that it is healthier for your body, cutting down on joint strain.

“Once you start you never go back,” he said of the practice. His next race is in April. “They are not serious races, but it is nice to do, to improve and beat my friends.”

As a father, he also “does what parents do,” driving his kids to different activities and helping them with their bilingual homework.

Although he is “frequently fighting for time,” Tran Ngoc does squeeze in some time to read. “I tend to read more French writers,” he said. Currently he is reading Romain Gary’s novel, “Promise at Dawn,” about which the violinist said, “On every page you can find several sentences you could just frame.

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