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Interview with Dohee Lee, winner of the 2016 Herb Alpert Award in Music

Dohee Lee performing in MAGO: Crow Warriors. photo by Pak Han.
I was honored to serve as a panelist for this year’s Herb Alpert Award in Music, alongside Maya Melford and Francisco Nuñez. The Alpert Award is an unrestricted $75,000 prize given annually to five mid-career artists in the fields of dance, film/video, music, theatre, and the visual arts. This year’s awardee, Dohee Lee, is a resident of Oakland, and a longstanding presence in the SF Bay Area scene.

In addition to my role as a panelist, I was particularly honored to both present the award to Dohee in a special reception in May, and to conduct an interview with her that has been published on the Alpert Awards site. You can read my full interview with Dohee at

Our discussion covered many subjects, but perhaps the most fascinating in this context is that Dohee’s creative output in recent years has been highly interdisciplinary. Her early training and study was dedicated to traditional Korean music, and in her early years in the Bay Area, she made a living teaching Korean drumming.

From that point, though, her work as evolved into a very individual form of performance. She draws upon her talents as a vocalist and improviser, on dramatic staging, lighting, and costume choices, and on the power of mythical figures and processes of mythical creation. In her own words: “For me, I’m taking from the Korean tradition, the form, the foundation … and I’m thinking about right now, this time, that ritual, and what kind of tool I can use for addressing the urgency, the stories. Then, you know, I can be free with it all. If I need a vibration sound, then I am using technology to respond to the time in which we live.”

Dohee continues to be a sought-after improviser, but has in recent years staged immersive interdisciplinary performances. While she admits to being surprised to win such a coveted music award, her reflections on her career to this point, the purpose of her work, and the tenacity required to persevere, are relevant to every creative artist.

He (David Harrington) was like: You just bring the music, we will play for you. That was the moment that dream came true. Because I didn’t know that I was going to be a composer. Those kinds of moments of…tapping the stone? You can see this stone that I found, you see your future through that, your potential through it.

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