Ruth Kwan is a Music Director and Pianist based Ottawa, Ontario. After moving to the NYC to study, she went on to play and conduct major National Tours like Phantom of the Opera and Miss Saigon! Keep reading to find out more about what makes Ruth an Amazing Asian in the Arts!
Name: Ruth Kwan
Heritage: Chinese Canadian
Hometown: Ottawa, Ontario Canada
Current City: Ottawa, Ontario
Executive Assistant to the Director General, Environment and Climate Change Canada
What are some of your favorite credits/projects:
Associate Music Director – The Phantom of the Opera North American Tour
Key 1/ Assistant Conductor – Miss Saigon North American Tour
Synth 1 – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in Concert
Any advice for young people getting into the arts?
Take lessons from good teachers, study a lot, practice a lot – be excellent at what you do. Watch and listen to other artists perform, learn from them, and develop your own style. Enjoy life and experience as much as you can.
How did you get your start?
I started group music lessons at a very young age, and then private piano lessons when I was 6. I went on to do a lot of school in classical piano performance. One summer, I met a drummer (a fellow student from NYU) while doing a NYMF show and he gave me a list of contractors in NYC. I emailed all of them with my resume and videos of me performing. Eventually, I heard back from one, asking if I would be interested in auditioning for the We Will Rock You tour. The audition happened to be the same day as my graduating recital, but I went (of course) and spent the whole morning and part of the afternoon in a recording studio waiting to play for QUEEN. When it was my turn, I went in and played the two cuts with the band. The people in the sound booth seemed quite impressed with my intro to Seven Seas of Rhye (played with both hands). At the end of the day, I was the only keyboard player asked to stay. This was my only shot and I nailed it. The contractor asked me that day if I would be willing to play for some Porgy and Bess auditions the next day. I told him I was graduating, but I could skip the ceremony if my parents (who had driven from Canada) didn’t mind. They didn’t. The next day I played the Porgy and Bess auditions (disaster) and then got an email informing me that I did not get the WWRY tour. One month later, the same contractor called me and asked if I would be interested in going on tour with The Phantom of the Opera.
Do you have any favorite moments in your career that you’d like to share?
One of my favorite moments in life will forever be when I got to conduct at Phantom. I had never conducted anything before my debut at Phantom. I never even considered that conducting was something I could do. I distinctly remember looking up at our wonderful conductor during the sitzprobe and thinking “Man, that looks awesome and I wonder if some crazy emergency would ever happen where I would have the opportunity to conduct just once.” Well the ended up letting me do it on purpose and it changed my entire life. My first show was incredibly terrifying – I thought I was going to throw up all day. I had only ever conducted through the show in a rehearsal room with the cast and a pianist, and then suddenly I had to take the orchestra and company through an entire show for real in front of 2000 people who paid real money to have a good time. It was crazy and exhilarating, and once I learned how to do it better, it changed the way I experience music.
What have you found is the biggest challenge in your career?
“Networking” has always been my least favorite part of the job. I love forming genuine relationships with people, but trying to force that connection for a potential job always felt fake to me and I mostly didn’t do it (well, at least).
Did you always want to be in the arts or did you have another path before you got here?
I played piano my whole life because I was good at it and it seemed like an easy thing to study after high school. At the end of my undergrad, I had a crisis and didn’t know what I would actually do with a degree in piano, so I applied to McGill for a degree in linguistics. I figured I would become a speech therapist. That year, I had a really successful competition season, and then I did my graduating recital in Montreal. It was a thrill. After I performed my concerto, I left the stage with my accompanist (and teacher) – he turned to me and said “Well, you can’t stop now.” And he was right.
Did you have any interesting “odd jobs” you worked at between shows to pay the bills?
I used to be on Rover as a dog walker and we boarded dogs at our apartment while people went on vacation. It was kind of the best side hustle.
If you come from parents who aren’t in the arts, what parts of them do you see in yourself that have helped you succeed in the arts??
My parents aren’t in the arts, but have a strong work ethic. I haven’t always been the most disciplined, but I hope some of that rubbed off on me. Most people assume that because I’m an artist, I must be creative. I’m truly not. I’ve come to realize that I am a left-brained musician – the logic and math come from my dad, and the feelings and emotions come from my mom. I’m just a person who loves technique and feels deeply.
What skills did you find to be the most helpful in your career?
Sightreading – even if you never have to read something new on the spot (you will), being able to learn something faster will only ever be beneficial.
Where did you study at?
Le Conservatoire de Musique de Gatineau (Gatineau, QC, Canada) – Age 8 through Master’s
NYU – MMus, Collaborative Piano
Manhattan School of Music – Professional Studies Certificate
What do you love most about what you do?
Collaborating with other artists.
What inspires you?
Making music with people, experiencing life with people, nature, food.
If you could name one point in time when everything changed for you, what was it?
The moment I discovered I could study collaborative piano. Playing with people was something I had done on the side, but I never really considered it to be something I could DO all the time. This led to me moving to NYC to study, and I guess that was really the first step.
Comments will be approved before showing up.