Nakyong Chai (1977)


Nakyong Chai

Music Instructor Nakyong ChaiIn 1977, Saddleback College built a new campus in Mission Viejo. Orange County was very attractive with endless growing developments and new communities.  I had been looking for a full-time position after nine years of teaching part-time at Rio Hondo College.  I was hired by Saddleback College in the fall of 1977 as the first full-time piano faculty to lead the keyboard studies program. I worked as a full-time music faculty member from 1977 until 1998, the year that I retired.   I continued to work as a part-time faculty member until 2004.

By the time I joined Saddleback College, the $ 3.2 M Fine Arts complex had been completed in the contemporary Spanish style by The Blurock Partnership of Newport Beach. I was fascinated to be able to build a keyboard program that would be comparable to those in four-year institutions. During my tenure, the Keyboard Studies program grew from a few beginning level classes into a diversified program for students of all levels and ages. Twelve new courses had been added, including Applied Music (private instruction), and a Piano Teacher Training program.

I think it was in 1980 when Chancellor Robert Lombardi asked me to go to New York to select the first Steinway concert grand piano for McKinney Theater. The Steinway & Sons Company was located on West 57th Street in New York. I had the thrilling opportunity of choosing one piano from among several beautiful Steinway concert grand pianos for Saddleback College.

During my tenure at Saddleback College, I initiated the Saddleback Symphony Concerto Competition for our community outreach program. It was co-sponsored by the Fine Arts Division and the local Music Teachers’ Association (MTAC) chapter. Competition was quite a challenge for Saddleback College students in the early 1980s. Inaki Zubizarreta, one of our talented students from Spain, was selected as the 1st place winner. As a Saddleback College student, Mr. Zubizarreta performed a Schumann Piano Concerto with the Saddleback Symphony, and he also presented a solo piano recital in 1991. That was how we upgraded our piano program.

In the early years when I was first hired, most Saddleback College piano students were genuinely dedicated to music although most did not have a clear goal.  Some students, in fact, had been music majors in their distant pasts, and decided to return to pursue their musical studies after several decades. The exceptions were the few students who were piano majors and had plans to transfer to a four-year college or university.  Our students were comprised of varying ages and backgrounds which led to a very diverse and interesting department.  We proudly presented our very first piano student recital from the Piano Ensemble class in February 24, 1978.

At first, it was very hard to train serious piano students because every student needed much time and attention. Later, in the 1990s, we developed the Applied Music Program and thus we were able to give private instruction to students. Because of this program and the dedication of our faculty members, Saddleback College piano graduates from the 1990s have been extremely successful and many have become professional teachers in our local area. More than 30 of our local MTAC members were teachers trained at Saddleback College.  Since my retirement, the Saddleback College Music Department has become a vital part of the musical community.