In 2013, I received a scholarship for $5,000. The scholarship was awarded in cash,
and it was the most money I’d ever held in my hand at one time. That summer, I had
a choice to make. My girlfriend and I talked about all the fun things we could do
with that money. It was meant to go to my musical studies, but no one would have
known if we’d used it to go on a trip or throw a big party instead.
I spent the summer thinking about what I would do with the money. Around this
time, I heard about Cyrus Forough, a violin professor at Carnegie Mellon University.
Mr. Forough is a highly respected violinist. When I did a little research, I quickly
learned he had studied at the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory with David
Oistrakh, one of the greatest violinists of all time. That made the decision for me.
At the time, I was studying at the University of Oregon because that’s where I lived.
Instead of partying, I used the scholarship to pay for my flight and take a few lessons
with Mr. Forough.
Mr. Forough spent that summer as a faculty member at the Bowdoin International
Music Festival. That’s where we met for the first time, and we really hit it off. He
was an excellent teacher who helped me a great deal with my understanding of
music. Mr. Forough also shared with me a lot of valuable wisdom that extended
beyond music alone. Whenever I faced a problem, Mr. Forough would always say,
“Remember CAST, Christopher.” CAST was his strategy for problem-solving: creative,
artistic, scientific, and time.
Creative — Every problem can be solved with creativity. If there’s a wall you need to
scale, you can find a ladder, dig a hole, or make a rope and climb over.
Artistic — Everything we do in life has an artistic element. This is pretty obvious
in music, but think about how having an artistic eye makes a difference in other
areas. I have an iPhone on my desk today because Steve Jobs was able to merge
artistic beauty with technology. At the time, technology was all dull and clunkylooking.
Jobs recognized the value of making tech aesthetically pleasing as well as
functional, and it paid off.
Scientific — Once you solve a problem, you should be able to replicate the solution, like a scientist
conducting an experiment. If you can’t duplicate your results, you haven’t solved the problem.
Time — You must give yourself time to improve with any problem. You don’t become a master overnight. You have to invest the time to learn and get better.
In addition to teaching me how to solve problems, Mr. Forough really emphasized
the importance of never giving up. That might be the most important lesson he
taught me. You won’t solve every problem every time. It’s okay if you need to make a
strategic retreat and come back when you’re better prepared. The important thing is
that you come back, and you don’t give up.
Mr. Forough’s lessons helped me a lot as a musician, and they continue to help me
as Director of the United Conservatory of Music. That moment of choosing to go to
Carnegie changed my life. I didn’t just find an amazing teacher; going to the East
Coast that year is also how I met Leo Kim, my business partner. If I didn’t meet Leo, I
wouldn’t have moved to Fresno and become the Director of UCM.
Going to meet Cyrus Forough was one of the best decisions of my life. It ultimately
brought me to a place where I can make a genuine impact in the world.