A life of development and transformations,
for the love of making music from the heart


Namhee Han left us sadly and prematurely on March 27, 2020. For the fortunate of us who knew her personally, but also for the world of music at large and organ performance in particular, it is an immense loss.

Namhee came from Seoul, Korea to Los Angeles in 1995 to pursue her Master’s and Doctorate in Applied Linguistics at UCLA. Although she had studied piano from age 8 to 15, she had never been exposed to organ music, much less played the instrument. Yet she somehow managed to work temporarily as “organist” for a local church. She quickly realized that she needed to be more than a keyboardist, as good as she was, to continue earning a small stipend as organist in support of her graduate student life. (She used to jokingly and smilingly say, “I was caught.”). But by then, a transformation had begun. She had become fascinated with the organ’s “limitless tonal and expressive possibilities.” She thus applied to pursue graduate studies in Organ Performance at UCLA, indeed an unusual and bold step for anybody without an academic background or previous training in organ performance. Her audition with Thomas Harmon, Chair of Organ Studies at UCLA, showed him her excellent qualities as skilled keyboardist and her unique musical expressiveness, together with her amazing ability to quickly learn and adapt to the demands of music interpretation and directions. She was accepted against all odds, and successfully completed Master’s and Doctoral degrees in Organ Performance, while also earning Master’s and Ph.D. degrees in Applied Linguistics from UCLA.

Her career as organist began late and, unfortunately, ended too soon. Yet in a relatively short period of time in performance-career terms, her naturally sensitive and fluid, yet robust organ playing, and her creative grace, technical virtuosity, and imaginative attention to detail, endeared her to ever-growing audiences. She was relentlessly transforming herself into a master in interpreting the most sublime music compositions and in delighting music audiences with the sound she created with the “king of instruments”.

We witnessed other transformations. She developed into a most esteemed and sought-after, enthusiastic piano and organ teacher, keenly interested in contributing to the music community in Southern California, and regularly collaborated with instrumentalists, orchestras, choral groups, and well-known conductors. She was always invited back, easily becoming a favorite collaborator and performer — brilliant, thoughtful, flexible, a lovely, generous, and honest person. She played twelve times for Classical Crossroads!

Namhee was an extraordinarily intelligent, kind, sensitive, genuine human being, happily connected to, avid to enjoy, and satisfied with the simplest things of life — unpretentiously adapting to life in Southern California, yet maintaining her Korean culture while absorbing others in our Los Angeles melting pot and during her trips to Europe. She was quietly driven by excellence in what she did, yet eager to learn new things. She learned quickly and well, be it playing tennis or learning Spanish. A consummate example of a healthy approach to life, bicycling to her organist job at Westwood Presbyterian Church, swimming, jogging, conscientiously working at the gym, careful with the food she ate (unless it was Korean!), experimenting with healthy cooking, baking, making her own bread. Yet intermingled seamlessly with all of her endearing qualities as a person, there it was, her devotion to music and organ performance, her passionate immersion in meticulously preparing and rehearsing the programs for her concerts, always carefully selected with the prospective audience and venue in mind. And then, during the concerts, she further transformed herself into a sublime interpreter of music, creating a magic parenthesis in time when the listener could feel, clear and unfiltered, the purpose and the will of the composer. To the eyes of some of us, perhaps uneducated lovers of “classical” music who started to love organ music after hearing her play, seeing the back and forth fluid “transformations” between the lovely, unassuming, endearing human being, the brilliant and disciplined musician, and the artist sharing her connection with the music while recreating the moment when it was composed, was indeed a miracle. It was astonishing to see her fluidly moving between expressing subtle emotions and conveying the rush of energy required by different passages in her interpretations.

Transformations: I had spoken with her during intermissions at some concerts, and there she was, enjoying the little goodies in the form of cookies, tea, or bottled water left for the artists at the dressing rooms. With her face exhibiting the most endearing expression of a kid thankful for a little gift, calmly enjoying it while relishing the brief resting period until she went, transformed again, back to the stage.

An extremely honest, generous soul and exceptional musician. We miss you.

Xavier Quintana
December, 2020

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