Panthers of ISKL #153: Vincent Cee – The Music Master

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POISKL - Vincent Cee

“I try hard to ensure my students know I am in the student achievement business. I mean, what are we doing here? We have to achieve. I push the students, and I push myself. “

Vincent Cee is the MS/HS Music/Strings Teacher and in his ninth year at ISKL. Brought up in Salt Lake City in Utah, Vincent was a university professor in the USA before being posted to Malaysia. When not teaching, Vincent enjoys cycling and watching his son play the drums.

Here is Vincent’s story:


Do tell us more about yourself.

I was born in the General Hospital in Denver, Colorado, in 1974. My parents lived in Boulder, Colorado, where they met at university. My parents moved us to Salt Lake City when I was only four or five to find a better job for my dad. I grew up in Salt Lake City and have lived in Colorado, Utah, Alaska, Arizona, Massachusetts, and now Malaysia.

When and why did you join ISKL?

I was a university professor after I earned my Ph.D. – it was horrible. I was backing out and quitting to work in a bicycle shop. I had it all lined up, and the bike shop had offered me a job.

But an ISKL teacher (Don Cosgrove), my good friend from university, heard about this and called me on the phone and encouraged me to try for this job. I applied, and I got the position.

Upon getting the position, the university where I worked offered me a two-year leave of absence to go back if ISKL weren’t my thing. I started my first year here, and then in mid-October, I called my old university and said I wouldn’t be coming back because ISKL was so good. I’m now in my 9th year at ISKL.

Vincent Cee POISKLTell us more about your role as the MS/HS Music/Strings Teacher. What tasks do you perform daily?

Non-stop work, but I also try to make it look easy. However, a student last week said I look stressed. It is stressful. I have 115 students this year. I think that’s a record for the school–teacher-to-student ratio-wise. There are a lot of students who are involved in strings now. I taught IB for the first few years, but now I don’t. We got some 6 and 7 scores, and nobody was under four during my IB teaching time.

I try hard to ensure my students know I am in the student achievement business. I mean, what are we doing here? We have to achieve. I push the students, and I push myself. It’s tough, though.

Covid took a toll. I sometimes play dumb games on my phone. When I was younger, I would have never played a game on the phone. But for my students here, I want the best for them. I want them to know they can make sense of this world and view, hear, and understand their dreams. Hopefully, playing a game on the phone makes me realize a world I didn’t know before. Maybe it even makes me a little closer to where my students are.

My work during the IASAS season is belligerent. My team rehearses well beyond what is acceptable. We want to be the best, and we work for that. We all give blood, and then we are depressed when we come back when it is over, and we can’t be together again. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

There’s something to be said about being among the best when we have so many things that aren’t working in our favor. In other words, we have to work hard at this school, and we do.

Could you share something you are currently working on and feeling excited about?

Oh, the ISKL Philharmonic Youth Orchestra (IPYO) is a huge effort. Mr. Baird and I work so hard on this, spending most of our free time on it. I’m also watching and listening to videos every night for what the IASAS piece might be for next year. I spend tons of time on IASAS. It kills me. It’s all I can think about at times.

I also have a great family, and seeing my son play the drums is so fun. He is great and can do things that older students can’t do. I don’t want him to go down my path and become a musician because music is so impossible and underfunded. But I do love that he is in the process. The process is where we can all learn something. I guess amateur connotes a love portion, and love is better than fear.

What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of your job?

I am just realizing my inadequacies. I love communication, but I’m bad at it. I’m a Gemini. I don’t fully believe in astrology, but there are times I don’t make any sense to people. I’ve heard that Geminis can be unclear or have unrealistic expectations about how others interpret them. That’s dangerous for a teacher when a teacher should have the purest explanation.

But we work through it. I also can be extremely forgiving and also extremely unforgiving. Case by case. I have my rationale, but not everybody will understand it. And it’s not their fault. It’s the burden of the teacher to make things plain. Make things clear. That’s hard, hard work.

Could you share with us some of your hobbies and interests? How do you typically spend your time outside of work?

Cycling is my favorite. I have a titanium bike I built during the Covid MCO. I bought the frame and then came up with every single part. I made many mistakes, but I love the bike and need to ride more. Life isn’t just working that way right now, but I will get out again someday.

I am also injured. There is something wrong with my vertebrae, back, elbow, and even my wrist, possibly due to some overuse injury. So I spend a lot of time in waiting rooms and physical therapy. If I could advise young people, I would say to take care of your body. Sitting in a waiting room is a horrible waste of time. You deserve better.

Who or what inspires you?

I have so many old, dead friends. Some died in my lifetime, and then there are the musical icons: Guido, Bach, Palestrina, Beethoven, Brahms, Miles Davis, Coltrane, Willie Nelson (still alive), Johnny Cash, etc.

I love just about anything that has integrity and form. Art is important to me. Chemistry and engineering are super important. I appreciate physics even though I don’t even know what physics attempts. I like the intellectual stuff. I’m a big reader and try to be well-read.

What has been your most memorable moment while working at ISKL?

Getting here is enough, but that might not be enough for families who have been all over the world. This is my first international post. The most memorable moment was how we were treated when we arrived. People took care of us. We felt like we were part of something big and grand. There have been so many great moments beyond that, but I felt like this was our place. And, of course, the students and parents made it so much more special. Those first years were like WOW. I have always felt at home here.

There was also the time in my first year when I asked the 6th graders what the best thing about ISKL is/was. One girl raised her hand, and she said,” Me!”

What does ‘”Know yourself, care for all and create a better world”‘ mean to you?

This is tricky because it is the school’s tagline. It’s something that somebody outside of ISKL probably produced. I assume it comes from a consulting agency or something a little closer to corporate.

I disagree with the corporate, but I remember reading Marshall McLuhan, and he wrote a lot about how private and corporate are two different things. I still need to find out what he was considering, but corporate is probably public. He wrote that private was the original cave paintings. A school should be more about cave paintings. Academia is not for everyone. And here, I sound like a snob. But I’m telling the truth. I do think that, deep down, academia is private.

I wouldn’t say I like that. I have run inclusive programs for my entire life, even though there is an elite aspect. We need to stretch to see if we can’t experiment with this more and not even experiment but move into territory we previously thought was impossible. Or even imagine more.

So yes, creating a better world is dependent upon knowing yourself. That’s the only way. What are your tendencies? What do you need help with? What are your proclivities? What is it about you that you would like to change or adjust? These questions are skill-based and can be improved only if we are encouraged to work in this direction. I see this in the Global Action Program (GAP), and I see it around campus. But we could double our efforts here too.


Do you know of any student, teacher, parent, or staff who always have an anecdote to tell, love to share some insights into their passions and interest, or simply is a Panther through and through? Nominate them to be featured in our Panthers of ISKL stories by sending in your submissions here.

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