Maria, Lucia, and Angella Ahn
Maria, Lucia, and Angella Ahn

This is the story of a hat, a little boy, and three musicians…and, maybe a bit more.

For those who follow the Hope College Great Performance Series, you know the Ahn Trio. The three Juilliard trained sisters who make up the piano trio are Maria (cello), Lucia (piano), and Angella (violin). Angella is the youngest and she’ll want you to know that. Her older sisters are twins. They sold out performances in Dimnent Chapel twice, the last time being 2007. 

Ahn Trio, Nai Ni Chen and dancers with Hope College Students
Ahn Trio, Nai Ni Chen and dancers with Hope College Students after their sold-out Friday night performance.

They just performed at Hope College again in September, but this time performing live music on stage for Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company, another group that sold out at Hope College 15 years ago. 

Which brings us back to the hat.

Twelve years ago, I brought the Ahn Trio to the airport after a wonderful performance and masterclass with our students. Just after I returned to Holland I had a call from them — they were bumped off a flight because of the cello [Interesting tidbit: cellists usually buy another plane ticket for their cello and it sits next to them. Some airlines don’t like that!] They were not asking for anything, just bummed because they were going to sit in the Grand Rapids Airport for about five hours before the next flight.

Five hours in the Grand Rapids airport can be rough.

Maria Ahn talks with GPS subscribers
Maria Ahn speaks with Great Performance Series subscribers after the Friday concert.

So, I offered to pick them up and take them out to eat, as long as they didn’t mind my 7-year-old son, Dov, coming along. They didn’t mind. We picked them up and went to eat at a Korean restaurant in Grand Rapids. They were quickly taken with Dov (he is pretty charming) and Dov loved the attention of all three women. They taught us about Korean food, helped us pick what to eat, and then proceeded to steal food from one another with abandon. They are sisters!

After that, we went to Woodland Mall and we split up, but when they returned they were bearing a new winter hat for Dov. He loved it, put it on, and we took them back to the airport.

Dov Emerson 2008
Dov Emerson and his “Ahn Hat” 2008

What they didn’t know was that for years Dov would wear his “Ahn Hat,” as he called it, whenever it was cool outside. He even ran a 5k wearing that hat. After a number of years, it was, alas, too small, but we’ve never parted with the hat. And an autographed Ahn Trio poster stayed on his bedroom wall the whole time.

When the Ahns returned this year, they remembered the shopping trip clearly and wanted to see Dov again. As it happened, we needed to get them lunch and Dov had just invited me to lunch (Dov is a junior at Hope College and he invites me to lunch whenever he wants me to buy him lunch). So, he joined us at Mizu Sushi on 8th Street which the Ahns, upon seeing the menu, claimed most to be owned by a Korean. A quick check with the waitress confirmed this with the added bonus of a Korean chef.

Dov Emerson and the Ahn Trio 2019
The Ahn Trio and Dov (now a junior at Hope College), reunited in 2019

As you can see from the picture, and the Ahns could see in person, their 7-year-old friend had grown up. We ended up discussing food, of course, and the Ahns and Dov’s shared love of fashion, as well the pros and cons of living in New York City versus Montana (the youngest sister is a professor at Montana State University). The photos were put up on Instagram and Facebook with texts flying back and forth, something that did not occur 12 years ago. And they still stole food from one another with abandon and nothing on my or Dov’s plate was safe.

So, there we were once again reunited around Korean food and they again helped us find new ways to expand our palettes (I can personally vouch for the Beef Bibimbop).

When artists come to campus, we meet people, not artists.  Some are in and out of Hope pretty quickly, but most spend a couple of days here. We help them find the beach, make sure they are fed, and direct them to our amazing downtown. They tell us about the families they miss when out on tour. And they seem to love talking about visits to venues that went really wrong.

Over a couple of days with the trio, I learned many interesting tidbits. Did you know the Ahns were invited to Prince’s Paisley Park mansion for a jam session with him? That the sisters were 11 and 9 when they moved to the U.S. for Juilliard and came with their mom while their dad remained in Korea? That Lucia’s husband is “half-Dutch” so she had to buy “Holland, Michigan” shirts for him? That Maria only lets her sisters carry her cello unless she really, really trusts you — I was allowed to carry it on day two (I nearly cried for the honor).

Roscoe Lee Brown in The Cowboys
Roscoe Lee Brown in “The Cowboys”

What does all this have to do with the Great Performance Series? Everything! The performance on stage takes just a few hours and in between presenters and artists make connections that make the whole experience more enjoyable for everyone. I’ve had the opportunity to discuss the merits of Somerset Maugham’s short stories with the classical guitarist Paul Galbraith, hold a Stradivarius (as did Dov!) owned by a member of the Emerson String Quartet, and discuss films with actors Anthony Zerbe and Roscoe Lee Browne (and even he quoted a famous line of his from John Wayne’s “The Cowboys”).

The artists are people with a wide ranges of tastes who don’t just want to bounce from hotel to hotel. They want to know about the communities they visit, sometimes talk about matters other than what they do all day, and love to meet people of all ages. In other words, they want to connect with people which, I believe, makes them better performers and artists. As for me, it clearly makes my work more enjoyable to learn more about people from around the world and even get to expand my culinary experiences.

Plus, sometimes we get a hat and some great memories out of the whole thing.

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