USC University of Southern California

Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC

USC dental student discovers talent in pop violin

Photo by Hannah Benet


Scroll through his Instagram feed (@ivanleemusic), and you’ll find Ivan Lee, violin and bow in hand, putting his spin on some of pop music’s greatest hits from the past few years.

There’s Calvin Harris’ “This is What You Came For,” Mike Posner’s “I Took a Pill in Ibiza” and The Chainsmokers’ “Don’t Let Me Down.” The one that earns him rave reviews is Sam Smith’s “I’m Not the Only One.”

It’s a newfound passion for Lee borne out of a trip to South Korea, where he spent four months alone to learn Korean.

“When you’re alone, you can really reflect on what you truly love,” Lee says. “It really gave me some time to think about what matters the most to me.”

Though the passion may be new, violin has been part of Lee’s life since his early teens.

“In the middle of studying for midterms or finals, I’ll just pick up my violin and play.”

–Ivan Lee DDS ’21

He first picked up the instrument in the eighth grade — mostly at his parents’ urging. “They wanted to give us the opportunity to pursue music,” explains Lee, who has two brothers, both of whom are also musically talented. “They didn’t get that chance growing up because they weren’t well-off.”

Lee discovered he had some real talent for violin, regularly playing lead violin in more than 10 youth orchestras throughout high school and college.

The youth orchestras gave the young violinist the opportunity to circle the globe, playing high-profile venues like New York City’s Carnegie Hall, Berlin’s Berliner Philharmonic and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Downtown L.A.

After graduating in 2016 with a business degree, Lee decided to pursue a dental career. “I just found dentistry to be the best for me just because of the hand skill I have from playing violin,” he says.

As a first-year dental student, he’s not got the time he once had for violin — but he still manages to steal moments when he can.

“In the middle of studying for midterms or finals, I’ll just pick up my violin and play,” he says. “It’s the most therapeutic thing I can do for myself to cope with all the stress of dental school.”

This story originally appeared in the TroDent, the official publication for the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC. Read more stories like this in our Fall 2018 issue.


Posted December 2018