The 2019 Louis Sudler Prize in the Arts

Grace Yin ‘19

Grace Yin doesn’t remember a time when she didn’t play violin. “Apparently my musical career started in day care,” says Yin ‘19, an Electrical Engineering and Computer Science major from Cambridge, Massachusetts.

An early childhood experience steered Yin toward music studies. “One day one of the instructors taught the class a bunch of songs. I was the only one who remembered them the day after. That teacher suggested that my parents find me a music teacher.”

Fast forward some 17 years. Today, Yin is an accomplished violinist and the winner of the 2019 Louis Sudler Prize in the Arts.

Presented annually, the Sudler Prize recognizes a graduating senior who has demonstrated excellence or the highest standards of proficiency in music, theater, painting, sculpture, design, architecture, or film. The recipient is awarded a $2,500 honorarium.

“Grace is one of the rarest students I have taught in 31 years at MIT,” wrote David Deveau,

Senior Lecturer in Piano and Music, in his letter of recommendation for Yin to the CAMIT Student Art Awards committee. “Her stage presence is magically unassuming, but at the same time very confident and assured. We very occasionally encounter such special students. But rarely is such a gifted person so genuinely modest, empathic, and generous.”

Image: Grace Yin. Courtesy of the artist.
Image: Grace Yin. Courtesy of the artist.

Born in Beijing, China, Yin came to the United States  as an infant with her parents. She first held a violin bow when she was four and studied for six years at the Longy School of Music. Like many beginners, she was initially ambivalent about the violin, and particularly about practicing. But she liked the way people responded to her music. “They seemed to enjoy hearing me play,” she recalls. “And I enjoyed playing for them.”

That attention inspired Yin to focus on her technique; she spent countless hours training the fingers in her left hand to dance smoothly and swiftly across the violin neck, and exert just the right amount of pressure. She was drawn to challenging pieces that highlighted her dexterity and skill. Encouraged by her father, she also learned to express emotion through her instrument. “If you want a perfect performance, hire a robot, my father would say,” says Yin. “But it still won’t sound right. Because a robot can’t play with heart.”

Yin’s heart was frequently touched n when she listened to great violinists. She remembers bursting into tears at the age of five when she and her father heard a recording of violinist Itzhak Perlman play Edward Elgar’s Salut d’Amour. “When people ask me the time machine question,” she says, “the one where you can choose to go backwards in time, I say I want to attend a concert where Jascha Heifetz plays the violin. His final recital, preferably.”

One of 18 Emerson Fellows in the 2019 MIT class, Yin has been an essential member of The Chamber Music Program and performed in many solo and group recitals. She is as agile as she is skilled; last fall, at a chamber recital for visiting alumni, she stepped in for an ailing classmate with less than a day’s notice to play pieces she hadn’t touched in months; that program included Saint Saens’ demanding piece, Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso.

Yin will play a solo recital at Killian Hall on May 6 at 7pm. “I’ve loved being part of the music department here,” she says. “When I was young, I usually played with professional accompanists. There was a great difference in skill. Now, here, we’re all basically equals, learning from each other, quirks and all. It’s taught me how to better collaborate with people.”

After graduation, Yin will start a master’s Program at MIT in EE/Computer Science. She hopes to continue playing, and perhaps to teach violin. While science and music occupy very different areas of her life, both warm her mind and heart. “When you study calculus, you get to a point where derivatives and integrals make you feel like the world makes sense,” she explains. “Music can create a similar sensation, especially in the music hall. Everything is silent. Then everyone focuses on the music, as if with a single mind. It’s very comforting. Even though a lot of music isn’t comforting.”

Emerson Strings Fellow Student Recital: Grace Yin, solo violin
May 6, 2019 / 7:00pm
Killian Hall, MIT Building 14W
Free and open to the public


Written by Ken Shulman

The Council for the Arts at MIT presents several awards annually to MIT students who have demonstrated excellence in the arts.

Posted on May 1, 2019 by Arts at MIT