Short Bio (scroll down for a full-length profile by Jess Peckham)

Chie Kwon is a singer-songwriter, pianist, and multi-instrumentalist (she also plays ukulele, guitar, bass guitar, and melodica, among others). She's also bilingual, writing songs in both English and Japanese to embody half of her identity, which English cannot fully express. Chie's heritage is Korean, but she grew up in Japan. In Japanese, "Chie" means "wisdom" or "thousands of blessings. Pronounce Chie like the country Chile, but omit the L. 

Chie first started playing piano at the age of seven while still living in Japan. Chie moved to the U.S. in her twenties, where she studied jazz voice in college. After graduating from Sonoma State University with a Bachelor's degree in music, Chie studied opera singing and later composed original songs.

When not busy with songwriting or recording, Chie is also a music teacher and a visual artist. 



Long Profile by Jess Peckham

Hello, this is a very well-written profile by Jessica Kang Peckham. She is an aspiring and talented writer. Jess is currently studying journalism in UC Davis. One day she interviewed me. I was very impressed and felt immediate deep connection with her. She is a second generation Korean American. I am a third generation Korean Japanese, now an American citizen. We talked a lot about our cultural heritage. As many Koreans are, Jess and I like to let our emotions take us away sometimes, we are both keen on reading people's moods. That is probably why I felt very close to her from the beginning. She is also a songwriter, so we share the passion for music as well. I look forward to deepening our friendship in the future. 


October 28, 2023


Let It Unravel:

 The Artistry of Chie Kwon


The many arts of Chie Kwon are not simply practiced. They are embodied.


 She balances mindfulness of herself and her audience, whether singing, songwriting. painting, or teaching. She focuses on connection, encouraging her students to let go of a controlled outcome in favor of becoming a conduit for what music can convey and transmit. 


“I’m a storyteller,” says Kwon. 


A longtime resident of the East Bay Area, Kwon teaches singing when she isn’t creating and performing her own original music. As someone whose life is infused with art, her presence is somehow both calm and electric. 


Her recent goal has been to become a more active performer, but she has also seen herself improve as a teacher in the last 5 years. She has learned that if you have 10 students, you will have 10 different ways you need to teach. It keeps her engaged. 


Kwon was a student herself at Sonoma State University, where she studied jazz vocals and earned her bachelor’s degree in Art. 


She first started playing music in Japan. Kwon is part of the Zainichi diaspora. She is Korean and was born and raised in Japan after her family relocated. From elementary through high school, she studied classical piano. She moved to the US when she was 26, finding her way back to music in college. 


Kwon credits Delbert Bump, a professor from her community college, with teaching her how to be free with music. Coming from a classical background of playing off sheet music, she was exhilarated by the world of jazz and its pursuit of improvisation as expression. 


Rakugo, a traditional form of Japanese storytelling, was always a favorite of Kwon’s. She describes the performance art as something like Shakespeare, but with a modern twist. Performers give their unique take on classic Edo period tale retellings, leading to endless possibilities. 


“That’s where my love of jazz comes from,” explains Kwon, lighting up. “That’s improv.”


Jazz vocalists lead accompaniments, they don’t wait for them, and that opened her mind. Describing a performance, Kwon noticed how a jazz singer would nudge the band into a faster tempo, simply by moving her shoulder back and forth. 


“I thought, ‘I can do that? I can be a leader?’” she recalls. “I fell in love with jazz.” 


For Kwon, songwriting is always a dance between the music and the lyrics. She describes how her process begins with thoughts first, then words, with music getting easier to develop around them. She makes music for herself but acknowledges how it can sometimes morph into an altruistic endeavor. 


She encourages against trying to write wholly for others, an act that produces music that is stiff. She notes that it depends on the situation, because it is a sustainable practice to ask if your music is relevant. 


Kwon cites the Middle Way as a means of striking balance. A concept of Buddhism, the Middle Way calls for avoiding extremes as the way out of suffering. She applies this concept and other mindfulness practices in her teaching. 


For her students who are wrecked with stage fright, she advises against holding on to failure. Instead, she emphasizes how artists can focus on creating a memory together with the audience.


“Everyone, the lighting crew, the sound engineers, the audience, are responsible for creating a moment. The audience can sense love, and it will permeate the room. It’s not perfection that people remember, it’s the connection. The sheer connection.”


Kwon used to think she had to impress audiences or earn their respect. Nowadays, she thinks of the audience as her ally: she asks people to be a part of her act. She doesn’t want to just make people happy; she asks them questions. For Kwon, one of the most exciting parts of music is communicating. 


The artists who speak to her share a commonality: “They allow people to dream through them.”


Some of her inspirations include songwriter Masashi Sada, who accompanies memorable melodies on violin with what seems to Kwon like the writing of an accomplished poet. For visceral, unafraid lyricism, she looks to Miyuki Nakajima. Nakajima plays with gender-bending language, utilizing masculine Japanese words in a unique way. Kwon considers her favorite musicians as a large part of her “informal” education, shaped during the major music movements of the 1970’s and 80’s in both the US and Japan.  


Communication is a language, and Kwon has a knack for language learning: English, Japanese, the language of music, and visual art. She weaves her stories with emotional piano music and alluringly vulnerable lyricism. Her work muses on the interplay of cold and warm sounds. 


Kwon found new depths in her work across art forms after she began studying Buddhism, beginning with the book “Opening the Hand of Thought,” by Kosho Uchiyama. She began centering embodiment and breath, practices which helped birth the current path she walks as a performer, artist, and educator. 


“Don’t always think in your own way, don’t hold your thought too tightly,” she advises her students. “Let it unravel. In a beautifully entangled karmic web, you are a flicker of light. Too much pride will squander that precious moment. In happenstance, you shine. There will always be another opportunity to shine, to connect.”


Wisdom like this pours from Kwon easily, naturally. Rain pooling off a generous leaf. 

Her blue scarf and matching hat frame her dark hair like water. 


She laughs. “I can say that after I went through moments of fear and inadequacy myself.” 


Success can be a bitter place, even lonely, she reflects. All you can do from there is to move on. For Kwon, the constant cycle of creation and destruction in music is fascinating.


 When it comes to her music students, she aims to help them cultivate awareness. This allows them to hone their artistic gifts into a coherent package.


“Patti Smith has a certain package. Neil Young has a certain package,” says Kwon. “You can’t be too caught up in your own product. Become a conduit and people who like your package will come.”


She states that the ego and a sense of self are two different things. Kwon had her own struggle with ego, trying all different ways of learning to present herself as she truly is. Over time, she found her best state is in being creative, while being aware of her body and breath. 


Kwon asks her students where is your breath? How are you feeling? Not emotionally, but in a physical way. She wants them to be in touch with their bodies, and teaches them to locate and relax some tension in the neck or a clenched jaw. 


“Disparity comes from being out of touch with the body,” Kwon notes. 


When in touch with her body, Kwon feels a sense of unity and composure. She teaches students to talk to their body all the time. You don’t have to do anything fancy or extra, she explains. Just stick with your breathing, notice where you feel tension, and focus on physical sensations. 


“There are 2 people in your body,” shares Kwon. “The observer and the observed. Both should be non-judgmental, and in a place of compassion.”


She encourages mindfulness practice for playing music, and beyond. It can help people to feel more centered and be practiced anywhere. She brings her mindfulness to the park on a walk, doing dishes, even talking to a difficult person, or painting. 


As a child, she dreamed of becoming a manga creator, but it wasn’t until during the pandemic that she began creating visual art with acrylic and watercolor paint. Her artwork Is showcased on her website, alongside her solo album, “I Am A Canary,” and other tracks. On her motivations behind songwriting, Kwon shared that what sustains her is the world she wants to complete. She wants to write songs that move her. 


She also has another music project called Toki∞Mono, which she creates with her husband, Steve Treagus. 


“I fell in love with her voice and am sustained by her fire,” says Treagus. “I could scarcely imagine a finer musical collaborator, confidante, and human being to travel with through this strange, uncertain and wonderous adventure of life.” 


Toki meaning time, mono meaning being, the band name is inspired by the Buddhist idea that every living thing is a being in time.


 “In that way, we are all equal,” reads the Toki∞Mono website. 


 Different art forms have intersected with each other in Kwon’s world, creating a net of artistry and the connections woven between people who enjoy them. 


“I thought I had to be different, to sing, teach, or draw,” says Kwon, smile serene. 


“Now I don’t have to choose. Everything is art.”