Wisconsin State Journal: Teaching piano and perseverance to lifelong learners

pianist kangwoo jin

Learning to play the piano can be difficult, but University of Wisconsin–Madison piano instructor Kangwoo Jin is no stranger to struggle. Jin, a doctoral student in the Mead Witter School of Music, has hemophilia, a medical disorder that can cause excruciating joint pain and internal bleeding. This challenge helps him sympathize with his students in Continuing Studies, which serves learners from all age groups, skill levels, and walks of life.

The Wisconsin State Journal recently highlighted Jin and his condition, which requires him to inject himself with a blood-clotting protein several times a week. He must also cope with permanent joint damage in his elbows, knees, and ankles. Despite the chronic pain and other challenges of managing hemophilia, he has won at least ten high-profile competitions and performed as a soloist on Wisconsin Public Radio and with the UW Symphony Orchestra.

“I’m always thankful that I can still play the piano and make the music I can,” Jin told the Wisconsin State Journal.

Creativity, compassion, generosity

Jin was diagnosed with severe hemophilia when he was a baby. Hemophilia medications are among the most expensive on the market, and the annual cost of managing the condition can easily reach a million dollars. So in addition to managing the condition itself, Jin must find a way to pay for treatment.

Piano instructor Kangwoo Jin with student
Kangwoo Jin is known for the creative way he teaches piano.

Growing up in South Korea, Jin received government insurance that made his drugs affordable. But now, as an international student, he doesn’t have access to this resource or UW–Madison’s traditional student health insurance plan. He’s made do with assistance from Patient Services, a nonprofit foundation that helps people with rare chronic illnesses afford the premiums and copays of private health insurance.

Since Jin seldom mentions his condition, most people would never fathom that he faces such steep physical and financial barriers. Even UW–Madison piano professor Christopher Taylor didn’t know the extent of the condition’s demands for quite some time.

“Gradually I came to realize how formidable the obstacles are that he had to contend with, and my admiration for his persistence and fortitude grows continually,” Taylor told the Wisconsin State Journal.

Jessica Johnson, another one of Jin’s piano professors, says the condition helps him thrive in many areas of life, especially his interactions with others.

“He pursues his art with wholehearted joy, love, and an unbridled enthusiasm that is contagious,” she said in the article. “I think that the challenges he has faced have made him a more generous, compassionate, and accepting person.”

In Continuing Studies, Jin is known for the creativity he uses to teach musical concepts and the dedication with which he guides students toward musical discoveries.

“Jin knows that each Continuing Studies learner brings a unique background to the classroom, including a unique set of challenges,” says Jessica Courtier, who directs Continuing Studies programs in music, history, and the arts. “He uses this knowledge to facilitate their personal growth, learning processes, and creative practices.”

Jin’s next Continuing Studies piano course begins Wednesday, Sept. 19. For more information about Continuing Studies music instruction, see the music program page.