Welcome to Remarkable People. We’re on a mission to make you remarkable. Helping me in this episode is Suuvi Bacelar.

Suuvi began playing cello at the incredibly young age of two and was accepted into the prestigious Juilliard pre-college program at just ten years old.

But she is no one-trick pony. Her journey reflects a winding path of diverse passions – from music, to literature, business, and beyond. She shares behind-the-scenes insights on her unorthodox homeschooling enabled by her psychologist mother, as well as her father’s influence as a Cuban refugee who taught himself cello and became an instrument maker.

Tune in to hear Suuvi’s takes on parenting, the complex interplay of talent, luck and grit, and the magic that happens when blending perspectives across multiple disciplines. Discover how she actively supports education, climate change, mental health and more through her performances at iconic venues like Carnegie Hall.

Join Guy Kawasaki and the remarkable Suuvi Bacelar on a captivating journey you won’t want to miss!

Please enjoy this remarkable episode, Suuvi Bacelar: Defying Expectations through Music, Business, and Beyond.

If you enjoyed this episode of the Remarkable People podcast, please leave a rating, write a review, and subscribe. Thank you!

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Transcript of Guy Kawasaki’s Remarkable People podcast with Suuvi Bacelar: Defying Expectations through Music, Business, and Beyond.

Guy Kawasaki:
I'm Guy Kawasaki. Welcome to Remarkable People. We're on a mission to help you make a difference and to become remarkable. Today we have the pleasure of introducing the extraordinary and remarkable Suuvi Bacelar. She is a Cuban Chinese prodigy, accepted to Juilliard at the age of ten. Her academic journey led her to elite institutions in Paris and Berlin.
Now residing in Los Angeles, she embraces diverse interests from literature to music to martial arts to entrepreneurship. Her performances at iconic venues such as Carnegie Hall showcase her disruptive, exploratory spirit. As an ambassador to the Grammy Music Education Coalition, she actively supports causes spanning education, climate change, mental health, and more.
In this episode, you'll learn how parents shape the lives of their kids, the complex interaction of talent, luck and grit, and the magic of a multidisciplinary perspective. Suuvi's commitment extends to board roles at BODYTRAFFIC, a contemporary dance company, and STRUT CARES, a non-profit fostering harmony among people, the planet, animals and communities. Join me, Guy Kawasaki, on this episode of Remarkable People as we delve into the captivating life and artistry of Suuvi Bacelar. To start, here's about thirty seconds of Suuvi playing the cello.
I looked at your background, and you start the cello at two. You're in Juilliard at ten. You graduate high school at fifteen. Are you basically the Asian tiger mom's fantasy child?
Suuvi Bacelar:
That's so funny because my mother actually, who is the Asian one, hates the phrase tiger mom. And when the book came out, she was strongly against its principles. And interestingly, I had the combination of a very strict and very lackadaisical parental style growing up.
So on one hand, my parents had extremely high expectations and they definitely created an environment in which learning, and education were pretty much just the central part of everything I did. So as a kid, I thought it was normal that at age three, instead of playing with toys, I would have math workbooks, and that was just what I did for fun.
But I genuinely loved it. My parents, they gave me books. They gave me puzzles. I remember as a kid, it was funny. I would sneak up stairs late at night to what was called the playroom, but it was where the TV was, and I would listen to tons and tons of lectures.
I know this company called The Great Courses. They do a lecture series. My parents would just buy lectures on every possible topic, everything from science to history, to literature, art history, and they would just leave them there. So for me, that was what I had access to.
So it was just normal that this is what I wanted to do for fun. So they let me do whatever. But at the same time, it was just the environment I was in. I was born into a household where my father, who had been a cellist by the time I was born, he was a violin maker. He was a luthier.
So there were instruments everywhere, and it was just completely natural for me to gravitate towards an instrument. I remember really distinctly my first human memory at age two was getting my cello and meeting my cello teacher. For me, there was no life before the cello. It's always just been part of my existence.
And it was funny because there's even a story that my father tells. Apparently when I was really little. I was probably two or three years old. I went to a friend's house for my first ever play date, and I came home, and I told my father I had lots of fun, but I didn't see her father's shop.
And I just assumed that everyone had an instrument shop in their home because my father did. It's a little bit of that nature versus nurture thing where for me, I think my parents, they did push me in some ways, but they definitely also gave me a lot of freedom.
For example, I didn't like elementary school. I hated school. So when I was ten years old, I got into Juilliard, which they actually tricked me into getting into Juilliard. It's a funny story I can tell later. But I didn't know what Juilliard was, but I got accepted into it.
I auditioned because I wanted to see a movie and my parents basically told me they would take me to the movie if I played this audition for these people at 8:00 AM, and all I remember was being really excited to go to the movie theater afterwards.
So I did that. I got into Juilliard, and then I basically told them, "Now I'm in Juilliard, I need a lot of time to practice. So I don't want to go to school anymore." So I convinced them to homeschool me. And their approach to homeschooling was extremely unorthodox.
At the time, I don't think the phrase was used yet. Nowadays, it would probably be called unschooling, which is getting quite popular. But the state where I was registered as a student didn't actually check if you were homeschooling your child. There was no regulation.
No one came and enforced that you were actually homeschooling your child. All you had to do was at the end of the year, take a standardized test. And my parents essentially didn't really care what I did as long as I could pass the test.
So from a very young age, my model for learning was do whatever you want, absorb whatever you want. I remember I have so many memories. My parents lived at the edge of a very big forest, so I would always be reading Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter and all these fantasy books, and then running through the forest and having my little adventures all alone.
And then I would just come back at the end of the year, end of the school year, study for about two weeks, and pass all the tests, and then spend the whole year doing whatever I wanted again. So I absorbed a lot of very diverse resources and experiences during that time.
I was watching tons of films. I was reading tons of books. My parents always made sure we had loads of those around, and they were also very good about taking me to a lot of performances and museums and cultural experiences. So it was definitely unorthodox, and somehow I managed to finish school. But I don't think I'm a particularly good student.
It's really funny because I think the only reason why I have degrees is because I managed to get myself into programs where I was able to replicate that model of structuring my own education and then just showing up for exams and passing them. But I was not a good student in the sense of coming in every day and listening to a teacher.
I remember when I was in Juilliard, which I was doing parallel to my elementary high school academic unschooling homeschooling, I remember very distinctly my teachers being very frustrated with me because I was trying to do that at Juilliard. I would skip classes that I didn't think were necessary.
For example, I didn't like chorus, so I just wouldn't go, and I would walk myself to the Museum of Modern Art instead and then get in lots of trouble. And my cello teacher in particular, I remember very distinctly when I was maybe fourteen or fifteen, one day, she finally just walked out of one of my lessons and had this look of complete exhaustion and frustration on her face.
And when she came back, she was like, "You're just the most difficult student I've ever had. I don't know what to do." But I think I got better when I came back and did an artist diploma many years later at Juilliard with the same teacher. And then I was a much better student. I think after age eighteen, I learned that I needed a little bit more structure.
But definitely I think it's contributed to in many ways also my free thinking because I realized that I was not indoctrinated to a lot of society's rules and expectations, which you unconsciously pick up when you are in a traditional school environment.
So because of that and also the fact that my father was from Cuba, my mother was from China, I grew up basically in three different cultures, and then moved to Europe as a teenager. I've never really followed any one doctrine except my own. So I don't know if that makes me extremely open-minded or extremely stubborn. It's one or the other or maybe a bit of both.
Guy Kawasaki:
Well, I have to say that was the longest answer to the first question of this podcast in the history of this podcast.
Suuvi Bacelar:
I'm also very verbose.
Guy Kawasaki:
I, like 99.9 percent of the parents listening to this, I'm saying to myself, "What can I possibly learn from her? Because she's the purple cow, black swan, unicorn." What's the lesson that normal people who don't take up the cello at two and don't get into Juilliard at ten, what should they take away from your childhood?
Suuvi Bacelar:
I would say I'm probably not a good example for everyone because I'm definitely an anomaly in many senses. But I think that it's funny that you mentioned Purple Cow and Black Swan because those are two of my favorite books. I'm a big fan of Seth Godin in particular.
But I think one thing that I have always tried to do, and it's carried through into every area of my life, is to really challenge and question everything, not in a paranoid sense, but I think I'm really obsessed with optimization.
So I'm always looking for the most efficient way to get the results I want. I don't know if you've read this book by Adam Grant. I am blanking on the title right now, but it's something along the lines of how to fail at everything in life but still win really big, something like that.
But he talks about something called systems thinking, and I've always been very much into biohacking and goal-setting and all of that stuff. But something I really took away from that book when I learned about the systems method is that a goal is basically useless unless you have a system in place that supports it.
And the easiest example of this is weight loss. If you have a goal to lose twenty pounds but you have no system in place, it's a meaningless number, basically. It's more important to actually have a system in place, for example, committing to going to the gym three times a week or working with a trainer or logging all your food, all those things that will support the goal.
And so whenever I've wanted to do something, I've basically just identified what the result I want is and reverse engineered it by thinking backwards and figuring out all the steps to get there.
So I think that's just a principle for pretty much everything I've done, whether that was getting through school or getting into Juilliard, or when I was fifteen years old, I woke up one day and completely on a whim decided that I wanted to live in Paris. So I figured out a way to do that, and I moved there alone at age sixteen. And yeah, I think that's another random story.
But yeah. I think the big takeaway is maybe just to, I mentioned a few things: challenging expectations, and by challenging expectations, I mean challenging the way we're told to do things because I definitely am very much a rebel and a defiant spirit.
And for me, when I was told throughout my life, whether it was in my career or my personal life or in school, that there was only one way of doing things. I would just question it and see if I could find a better way.
And sometimes when we just blindly follow what we're told to do, it doesn't necessarily lead us to success or happiness, even in the sense that sometimes what we're told to do is not getting us to results that we necessarily want. It might be the result that someone else wants for us.
Guy Kawasaki:
Well, so were your parents' attitudes toward you like, "No news is good news. She's achieving all this. Let's not get in her face."? Are you saying they were the antithesis of tiger parents and you thrived in this lack of discipline or force or whatever?
Suuvi Bacelar:
No. So my father was actually more of the tiger parent. So my father had very high expectations and quite strict methods of enforcing them. And my mom, interestingly, who was the Asian parent, she was a psychologist, and she had this way of parenting where she treated her kids more as equals and friends rather than subordinates.
And so she always was very open about talking through things with us. For example, one of the crazy things I did when I was fifteen, I literally woke up one day and told her I wanted to move to Paris, and she basically just told me, "Okay. If you can figure out how to do it, you can." So what I did was I basically realized I had three years left of high school.
I didn't speak French and I needed to get into university because that was the easiest and clearest way of getting there. So I did the last three years of school and learned French in five months, passed all the necessary language and entrance exams. And then a couple of months later, I moved to Paris.
And I think everyone thought it was insane. They were like, "You're letting your daughter do this. That's crazy. She's going to Paris and living alone as an adult." But I think my mom trusted that she knew I was a very determined child, and she knew that when I set my mind to things, I would get them done.
And instead of necessarily telling me what to do and how to do it, she was better at guiding me in the right direction of where I should be channeling that energy. For example, I can't remember her ever telling me I couldn't do something. I think it was more that she just set up these environments, like I mentioned earlier, in terms of what I had access to that created good habits and good influences for me.
I remember I was studying art and music my whole life, but she was also very adamant from probably age ten, she was feeding me business and marketing and psychology books. It's like she wanted to train a little entrepreneur. It was funny.
I was reading all these books about startups and about entrepreneurship when I was a teenager and about people skills. And all those things later served me very well in my art career and at the time had seemingly no relationship to what I was majoring in or what I was doing.
I remember very distinctly being made fun of when I was studying in college in a conservatory because I was reading books on marketing and people thought it was weird. Similarly, she encouraged me a lot of things that now are much more mainstream and popular, but at the time were not, for example, meditation.
She was having her kids meditate probably since age seven, eight, nine. And so I think there is something really important in just creating that environment where you have those good influences because we are the sum of what we surround ourselves with.
Guy Kawasaki:
If and when you have children, is this how you're going to raise your children?
Suuvi Bacelar:
I have no idea. I think there's a part of me that wants to take my children to a mountain in Montana and not give them iPads until they're teenagers and have them grow up in a forest. But that kind of worked for me. I don't know.
I also have no idea what the landscape of the world will be by the time I have children, if I do. I think there are definitely a lot of lessons I learned from my own childhood and also my relationship with my parents now in adulthood that I have reflected upon. And of course, no parent-child relationship is perfect.
Guy Kawasaki:
No. Really?
Suuvi Bacelar:
Yeah. No parent-child relationship is perfect. And I think for a long time, I struggled with certain things in my relationships with my parents, particularly with my father. My father was much less emotional and not as close with his children. He very much acknowledged our academic and professional achievements, but we didn't really have personal interaction with him.
It was very balanced by my mother because she was very emotionally close and very involved with me and my sister. But as an adult, as a parent, I think the one thing I would definitely do is always make sure that I prioritize my children above everything else. I am obviously extremely career focused, but something I really do recognize and appreciate is my mother, she had a PhD in psychology, and she was practicing.
But once she had children, she stopped working and really prioritized her children above everything. And I saw how many sacrifices she made in her own personal life and with her own goals to be able to create the life that she wanted for her kids and the support systems she wanted for her kids.
I remember so distinctly she would wake up at 5:00 AM and drive me to my cello lesson because I lived an hour and a half away from my teacher when I was a kid. She would fly with me to international competitions in Korea, in China, in Europe, and she was always there for me.
And I remember even when I first moved to Europe, of course, the transition of living alone as a teenager suddenly was very difficult for me and was on the phone with me pretty much every single day for the first year or two. And she was always available to me. And that's something I think if I do have kids, I'm not 100% sure if I will.
That depends on several things in my future. But if I do, I know that I only want to do it if I'm at a point in my life where I know that I can give that same level of dedication to my children because it's something I saw so much in my relationship with my mother.
Guy Kawasaki:
And what pray tell does your sister do? I'm almost afraid to ask.
Suuvi Bacelar:
My sister, actually, so it was interesting, our grandmother, my father's mother was an artist, a visual artist. So we actually both studied music and visual art our whole lives. And then I focused more on music. Eventually I went to conservatory. She ended up focusing more on art.
So she went to school of visual arts, and she studied graphic design, and then she actually moved to Amsterdam. She lives in Europe now. So she followed in my path a little bit. Now she's much younger than I am. She's studying English literature. She's very different from me in the sense that she's very private.
I think she would even be embarrassed that I'm sharing this much about her. But she's truly one of the best humans I have ever met. She's honestly the sweetest girl ever. I was much more the rebel. I was the bad girl. We always joked that I had to make the mistakes and do the crazy things so that she saw that you shouldn't do them.
She's just a very creative and kind, sweet spirit. And she's also an amazing chef. I keep on telling her when she finishes school, she needs to open a farm to table restaurant or something because that's one area in which I have no skill. I'm an awful cook.
And when we used to live together at one point in New York, I definitely was very lucky to receive home-cooked meals from her. She's the kind of person who she really takes her artistry into her food. She's the kind of person, if she's going to make pasta, she will make it from scratch and make it from flour and cut the noodles and everything. So she's very elaborate with her food.
Guy Kawasaki:
Of all instruments, obviously your father was in the trade. But why the cello? Did you want something that big and awkward? Why didn't you just do violin?
Suuvi Bacelar:
So this is a funny story and it actually goes back a generation. So my father's family came to the states as Cuban refugees. They came here when he was fourteen years old. And he had a single mother, parent, two boys. And when they came here, they were only allowed to leave Cuba with two pairs of socks and the clothing on their back.
By the way, I'm wearing the socks you sent me. Thank you. They're very comfortable, speaking of socks. But yeah. So he came here and they had to start over. They had no money. He was in high school, didn't speak English when he arrived.
And at the time, he was working as a janitor, construction worker and landscaper and going through high school. And then one day, he walked into the orchestra room and he heard a cello, and he just fell in love, and he wanted lessons, but he could not afford them.
So he worked out something with his teacher where he mowed his lawn in exchange for cello lessons. He started cello quite late for a cellist. Typically, to play a string instrument, you have to start pretty young. I think he started around fifteen, and at eighteen he got into conservatory, and he became a cellist. But the funny thing is because he still didn't have any money, he was always borrowing instruments.
I don't know if you've heard about how Cubans are very DIY. They make everything. So Cubans are very DIY because they're stuck on the island, and with the embargo, they just had to work with whatever they had. So he was very good always with his hands and woodworking. And so it was funny.
One summer, I think after his freshman year of conservatory, he just told all his friends, he, "I'm tired of getting instruments on loan. I'm just going to make one." And they all thought. "Okay. That's insane. How are you going to make a cello?"
But he somehow went out and made a cello. And he came back the next year and had one and played on that. And eventually, he had a career as a cellist, but was always working on instruments. And by the time I was born, he had transitioned fully into making instruments.
And I think for him, he definitely had it in his mind that he was going to have a daughter that was a cellist. Again, I don't know if it was nature or nurture, probably both. But the first thing he did when he brought me home from the hospital apparently at three days old, was he put me down in front of him and played me the cello.
And according to him, my eyes lit up and I just loved the cello ever since then. And apparently I was always begging for one since I was a baby, even before I could talk. And so at age two, they finally decided I was ready. And I actually didn't even start on a cello because even the tiniest cello was too big for me.
So I started actually on a viola, which I held like a cello because I had the same string tuning. And then I graduated to, I have a series of, I think they're still in my parents' basement somewhere, maybe eight cellos going up from I think one-sixteenth to one-tenth, one-eighth, all the way up to a full size. I went up the ranks of these tiny cellos. But yeah.
That's how I ended up playing the instrument, which again, I always forget because it was so normal in my family and in my households that cellos were around and people played cello, that it's not the most common choice. Most children probably gravitate towards piano or guitar or drums. But for me it was just the predominant thing in my life.
Guy Kawasaki:
Pardon the ignorance of this question. We had Min Kym and she talked about how her Strad was stolen. So in the cello world, is there the equivalent of Stradivarius where there's these two million dollar cellos?
Suuvi Bacelar:
Yeah. Definitely. There are definitely Strad cellos. Cellos are expensive. I won't go into detail about exactly how expensive, but I'd say a decent cello that most professional cellists are playing on is a six- to seven-figure cello.
Guy Kawasaki:
Suuvi Bacelar:
Yeah. And so it's interesting because they're also very fragile instruments and they're essentially works of art. Because my father was an instrument dealer, I grew up in what I didn't realize at the time, but when I was older and became immersed in the art world, I realized it was very similar to being an art dealer because you're working with all these instruments that are very rare.
The older ones are the more valuable ones, and they have to be preserved. They have to be restored. I remember there were so many humidifiers and dehumidifiers in our house because they have to be kept at controlled temperatures because of the health of the wood. So they are very special instruments in that sense.
Of course, there are mass-produced commercial cello, but that's typically not what a soloist or someone in a high-level position would play on. And yeah, they really are very unique. I remember one time as a child watching my father restore an instrument where he had to make a patch on the back of a cello, and he was telling someone that he needed to get wood of the same grain.
And the person asked, "Do you mean from the same species?" And he said, "No. Literally from the same exact grain because it has to match." So they asked, "How are you going to get that?" He said, "I'm going to take it off."
Basically it's like fine surgery. He would shave it off one part of the back of the cello and essentially patch it onto the other side. So I watched him do a lot of this very detailed work growing up, and I think I learned a lot about attention to detail just from observing that.
Guy Kawasaki:
A lot of people use the metaphor of playing in Carnegie Hall. Now you have literally done that. So I want to ask you the question, how does one get to Carnegie Hall?
Suuvi Bacelar:
So I've played in Carnegie Hall three times, actually. The first time, I was twelve and it was as the prize winner of a competition. I think it was the first competition I had ever won. And the second time, I was fifteen and it was actually on the piano, and it was also the result of a competition prize.
But funnily enough, it actually ended my piano career because there's a photo of this. I for some reason decided, I never wore heels ever. I had never worn heels at all in my life. But for this concert, I decided for the first time in my life I was going to wear stiletto heels. And of course, I didn't try them out at the piano before I actually went on stage.
And the second I sat down and tried to pedal, I realized immediately that I couldn't at all, and my foot kept slipping off the pedal, and the performance was a mortifying disaster. And so after that, I actually stopped playing piano.
I still play for fun, but I decided I could not be a pianist because the event definitely left me with a little bit of performance anxiety, PTSD. And then the third time I played, which was two years ago, was also as the result of a prize. I was doing my artist diploma at Juilliard, I started in 2019, and basically the artist diploma program is a program in which they have students from all disciplines.
So there were eight of us at the time, but that was out of all the instruments, and I was the only cellist when I was there. And basically once a year they give one of those students a prize, and part of the award is to have a Carnegie Hall debut.
So I did that. It was supposed to be in 2019, but because of the pandemic, it ended up being pushed all the way to 2021, and that was actually the final performance I gave in New York before moving to California.
Guy Kawasaki:
You answered the question at one level about the three times you've got to Carnegie Hall. The question I'm really asking is what does it take to get to Carnegie Hall? Is it talent? Is it practice? Is it luck?
Suuvi Bacelar:
Luck is a tricky concept because obviously there's an element of luck in everyone's life. There was luck in the sense that I was born into a household where there were instruments everywhere, of course. That's the first thing. I was definitely set up for success in that sense.
I always think of that story about how Bill Gates, he went to one of the only high schools at the time that had access to a computer, and so that's how he ended up going down that path. So I had luck from the beginning that I had access to all of this, and then I had parents who fostered that education.
But the thing about luck also is I think you can make your luck, and I think luck without preparation doesn't become luck.
For example, certain things in my life can appear very lucky. I remember when I had my Berliner Philharmonie debut, which was in 2017 I believe, I was twenty years old at the time, and I definitely got that performance in a sense because I was lucky.
What had happened was I had happened to move into an apartment building and the landlord was also an artist manager. And we realized that she was from Shanghai. My mother was from Shanghai, and we got to know each other. And she had an artist cancel their Berliner Philharmonie recital on six weeks’ notice.
So she called me and asked me if I wanted to do it instead. That was definitely lucky. But if I hadn't practiced cello for six to twelve hours a day since childhood, I would absolutely not have been equipped to prepare for that kind of performance in six weeks.
Ultimately, there is a lot of hard work that goes into results, and I do recognize that I definitely did not have a typical childhood. I didn't have many friends. I was definitely not the cool kid. I was definitely the nerd. People did not want to be hanging out with me.
I was the weird kid who was very immersed in books and not very social, but all of that did pay off later in life because all those hours I spent studying or practicing, they definitely resulted in me being prepared for all the opportunities that seemingly luckily appeared in my life in later years.
Guy Kawasaki:
I don't want you to think I'm obsessed with this topic, but I don't know many people who have made it to Carnegie Hall. So my last Carnegie Hall question is this.
Suuvi Bacelar:
Guy Kawasaki:
So let's say you are going to go perform. Walk me through. You get to Carnegie Hall. And is there this entourage of people with you or are there people making sure that the M&Ms are the right color? Are they just all kissing your ring? And is this like superstar Tom Brady walks into the Super Bowl and Suuvi walks into Carnegie Hall.
Suuvi Bacelar:
The funny thing is actually from my last Carnegie Hall recital, something I realized by my twenties, by my mid-twenties, I'm twenty-seven now, and I had that recital when I was twenty-five. I realized that I actually really love sharing experiences with people. So I'm very known for being very collaborative. So for my Carnegie Hall recital, the last one, I actually had, I think about seven guest artists with me.
So the first half of the performance I played solo, which is the traditional classical recital structure. But for the second half, I wanted to do something really fun and I essentially just invited all of my favorite collaborators and people with whom I enjoyed working over the last couple of years, and we did a very varied program. I had a jazz pianist, a good friend of mine. We did an improv jazz piece.
I had a trio that operates in the classical crossover scene called Time For Three. We did a very fun piece for two violins, double bass and cello. I had a friend of mine and I, we did an arrangement of Moon River, which is one of my favorite songs. We did a lot of really fun things.
And what I really loved about the performance is that it somehow took the pressure off in the sense of I think in a lot of high stakes, high pressure environments, you do have people catering to you, opening doors, bringing food, making sure everything's Okay. But then you feel all this pressure that everything's on you.
Bizarrely enough, actually, it's funny because my profession does put me in the center of attention quite often, but I don't like being the center of attention. I'm actually naturally very shy and introverted. I've had to train myself to be comfortable being in spotlights.
So I love, actually I guess I'm revealing one of my secrets, but part of why I do so many collaborations is to diffuse the attention off of me. I think that particular performance was really fun just because it really felt like I was hanging out with all my friends and there happened to be an audience.
Guy Kawasaki:
Do you just get off the subway with your cello or get out of a Uber car and you walk to the backstage, you ring the bell and somebody lets you in and that's it?
Suuvi Bacelar:
Yeah. They have a very beautiful backstage. It's a beautiful hall. It's very gilded and ornate, as many concert halls are. I actually took the subway because I remember that morning, looking at the traffic.
Guy Kawasaki:
With your cello.
Suuvi Bacelar:
Yeah. I remember looking at the traffic and I was staying on the Upper East Side, and I realized that the fastest way to get there was the Q train. I actually just took the subway down, and it was very casual. And in a way, I am a very casual person. I don't like over-hyping things, and I think I studied a lot of sports psychology when I was younger because there was a period during which I dealt with a lot of stage fright.
And at the time, there was virtually no literature or resources available in terms of stage performance for musicians. Nowadays, there's much more. But there was a lot available for athletes. And I just read all of those books and listened to those interviews and applied them to performance because it's really the same thing.
You're under pressure. You're in front of an audience. But I remember one of the things I read in a sports psychology book years ago that I never forgot was this tennis player.
Guy Kawasaki:
Tim Gallwey?
Suuvi Bacelar:
It was not him.
Guy Kawasaki:
Inner Game of Tennis?
Suuvi Bacelar:
I don't remember if it was that. I have read that book. But anyway, the story was that this tennis player was saying that when they were competing, they would try to have as normal of a day as possible because if they started psyching themselves up by suddenly changing things and making it this special day where everything has to be perfect, it would put them into a state that wasn't relaxed.
So I actually try to have as normal of an environment as possible whenever I do anything high pressure. Even this morning. This is a little bit nerve-wracking being on a podcast potentially. No. It's not nerve-wracking because of you, but of course, some people I think would put pressure on themselves to prepare for a podcast because they would want to make sure that it goes really well because it's going out into the public.
I'll admit I did no preparation because I figured the story that I'm telling was going to be my own, and that should be the story I know the best. If I have to prepare to tell my own story, then I don't even know what kind of pressure I'll be putting on myself to talk about anything else in life. This is the topic I should know well.
Guy Kawasaki:
Let me just make it very clear to you. If you ever go on other podcasts, the burden is on the podcaster, not the guest. It's our problem to prepare for you.
Suuvi Bacelar:
That's good to know.
Guy Kawasaki:
Not your problem to prepare for me. Maybe you have been on NPR, but if NPR calls you up and says, "Come on our podcast," or Stephen Dubner of Freakonomics, you just tell them, "Okay. You guys prepare. I hope you're ready for me."
Suuvi Bacelar:
Yeah. I just try to be prepared for life every day. I'm very big on optimizing wellness. I mentioned earlier, so I practice transcendental meditation twice a day. I make sure no matter what I'm doing, I get that session in the morning before I do anything else, because I just find that setting yourself up mentally in the best head space for whatever you're going to do, whether it's going to the gym or being on a podcast or playing in Carnegie Hall or taking a trip or going on a date, anything that might be out of the realm of your normal daily activities, I think it's just good to have that routine.
I really believe in the power of routine and habits. I just read Atomic Habits and The Power of Habit, so that's something very much on my mind at the moment. And I think there is a reason why people who have good routines and have good habits get better results out of life, because you just train yourself to be in this consistently optimized state.
Guy Kawasaki:
Yesterday, Madisun and I interviewed Julia Cameron, and she is the queen of habits. And her habit, this morning pages, to hand-write three pages. It sounds like your TM in the morning. There is no more remarkable and lovely person than Julia Cameron in the world. Maybe she's tied with Jane Goodall. Those are the three. Yeah.
Suuvi Bacelar:
Oh, gosh. I love Jane Goodall so much. I remember I watched her masterclass series during the pandemic, and it was so inspiring to see someone so dedicated to something in such a selfless way. And when you see her talk about her work and see what she does, it's just incredibly inspiring.
Guy Kawasaki:
It's interesting, Suuvi, because in a sense, you are the opposite end of the spectrum from Jane because Jane started with animals at, I don't know, probably two, like you with the cello, and she stuck with animals for ninety years.
You have done art and music and cello and piano and composing. Madisun and I have just written a book called Think Remarkable. There is no single path. I'm very interested in this break you had from your "cello days", including changing your name. So what brought that on?
Suuvi Bacelar:
I interestingly took a couple of breaks from cello. It first happened at age eighteen. So I had my undergrad at age eighteen, which is typically when people start their conservatory studies. And I remember moving back from Paris to New York for about nine months and just having no idea what I was going to do because I had this degree, but I didn't quite feel ready to embark on a performance career.
I actually, interestingly felt that I needed to do a lot of work on myself before I could prepare for any sort of public-facing profession. I was very shy at the time. People nowadays can't believe this, but at the time, people thought I was autistic because I literally wouldn't speak to anyone. I remember my whole time in my undergrad, a lot of my fellow students probably never heard me say anything more than hello, goodbye, thank you. I was very shy.
So I went back to New York and became obsessed with behavioral psychology, of all things. And for a while I was literally just studying behavioral psychology and trying to reinvent my personality in a way that would make it possible for me to have a performance career because we live in an era now where I think one hundred years ago, as a classically trained instrumentalist, you could make a career and be very successful purely based off of your playing.
That's not the era we live in now, especially with media, social media and everything. It's very much about having a "complete package" where you're also a persona. And typically, a personable persona does better professionally. And whether that's a good or bad thing, I know musicians all feel differently about that.
But I accepted that it was the reality and that I couldn't behave like this antisocial, angsty, shy, dressed in black and hiding in the shadows teenager. So I really spent some time just working on myself and trying to get better at being around people.
And so I did that with a vengeance, and then I decided to go to Europe to essentially pursue a bunch of renowned cello teachers. I always joke that I stalked all the major European cello teachers for the next couple of years of my life because I basically just went over to Europe one summer and went to every single masterclass, sought out professors, asked them for private lessons, followed them to whatever city they were in, and traveled around for basically about a year doing this.
Typically, after you do your undergrad as a cellist, you would go and do a post-grad. But when you are in a degree program, you are assigned one primary cello teacher, and you're in that cello teacher's studio. And I really thought that there would be a lot of value in getting a lot of different perspectives.
I probably took lessons with maybe about a dozen professors over those few years when I lived in Germany, and then eventually I did end up doing a post-grad in Berlin, and I did also do a residency with Gautier Capuçon, who's an incredible, very renowned French soloist. I just tried to soak up all those experiences. And it's funny.
I actually heard this once from Hugh Jackman, I think on Tim Ferriss's podcast about how, I think he was twenty-six or twenty-seven, and he had already been in a couple of films, but I think he decided to go back to school to just continue working on his craft.
And a lot of people at the time didn't understand it. And I think a lot of people with me also wondered why I kept going back and studying more because I ended up then doing a post-grad at Juilliard.
But ironically enough, when I was doing my artist diploma at Juilliard, they had a double exchange program with Columbia University. And I was studying film there, and Hugh Jackman was actually in one of my film classes. So it was this full circle moment, and I remember thinking about that interview and just being so truly impressed, and at first surprised, but then just really so much respect for Hugh Jackman.
At that point, I think now he's probably in his fifties. He's definitely an A-list actor. He does not need to be going to film class. But he still goes to class because he's still developing his craft. And I think for me, it was really important to actually not rush my career. I actually paced it with a lot of breaks in between so that I could pursue more deeper paths within the realm of cello education.
But also parallel to that, I also took time completely away from the cello when I did things like work in tech and start businesses that did not go very well but taught me a lot about entrepreneurship and risk mitigation and people skills.
I remember my first business was selling candles and jewelry, which at the time I thought was such a great idea, and then I just ended up with tons of boxes of wax and empty glass bottles in my apartment, trying to make candles. And I also worked for a tech company based in Switzerland for about a year.
Through a random series of events, I ended up running their marketing department despite having no formal background in marketing. But again, all those marketing books that my mother was giving me as a child and a teenager paid off because when I met the CEO, she liked my ideas and put me in charge.
And all of those things taught me a lot about the business side of the arts because the tech company was a company that basically used AI, but it was within the realm of the art and music world. And I learned a lot from being on that side of things.
I also took some time off last year from performing. And I was on the board of a performing arts company in Los Angeles, which taught me a tremendous amount about what the state of the performing arts are now post-pandemic, because they have been very difficult for a lot of organizations and artists.
So I think something that's been very valuable for me is having these other perspectives because one of the things I've observed in a lot of instrumentalists is that they often end up spending their whole lives in the practice room and then have a lot of difficulty integrating into the world at large when they leave school.
And I think I'm very grateful that with the experiences I had and the interests I had outside of purely just playing the cello, I was able to prepare myself better to be adaptable and understand how the arts play into society at large. So that's the breaks in cello.
But in terms of the name change, that was an interesting thing that happened this year. Actually, funny enough, it was only about six or seven months ago that I decided to change my name, but it was actually a very long process of planning and thinking.
Basically, I had realized for a long time that I wanted to do something beyond strictly traditional classical music. And I had been experimenting with a lot of different genres of music, but not releasing anything and not really knowing how to do it because my reputation and what people expected of me was classical cello.
And it finally got to the point where I realized that I couldn't actually do anything under my old name that was different because people, it's not that they wouldn't accept it, but they would always compare it against what they expected from me, and it wouldn't be judged as its own project or as its own product.
And I really thought about branding when I was going through this process. For example, a company that makes boxed wine, if they suddenly decide to make high-end wine and sell it under the same name, that's going to be a very confusing transition.
Guy Kawasaki:
That's Toyota and Lexus, right?
Suuvi Bacelar:
Exactly. Yeah. I thought about it for a long time. And at first I thought about creating a second entity that would be Suuvi and just releasing everything else under that name. But then ultimately I realized that everything I do is so personal and comes from such an authentic place, that it really is me.
I thought about it for probably about a year, and then one day I just woke up and changed all my social media handles and website and email and became Suuvi. And I thought it was going to just be an artist's name, but everyone started calling me that.
And the funny thing now is that it's gotten to the point in about seven months that I don't even remember being called Sophia. And when people occasionally call me Sophia whom I haven't seen in a while, it actually confuses me because for a split second, I don't know who they're talking about.
Guy Kawasaki:
Pardon my ignorance, but what does Suuvi come from? What's the name mean?
Suuvi Bacelar:
So when I was about thirteen or fourteen years old, I was obsessed with Tumblr, and I was on Tumblr all the time. And I think at some point I came across the name Suuvi, and I just loved it. And I always said that my firstborn daughter, if I had one, would be named Suuvi.
So when I was thinking about names, Suuvi obviously came to mind. And I Googled it, and miraculously, no one was really using it. And it's very hard, I think to pick an artist's name nowadays that isn't already in use just purely from an SEO optimization standpoint. Suuvi was a great choice, and I always loved the name.
So it felt very natural. And it's not so different from Sophia that it felt like a huge change. I think if I'd gone from Sophia to something like, I don't know, Krista or something with a different letter, it might have felt a little bit more drastic. But everyone seemed to accept it very quickly.
And the funny thing is, obviously I'd never changed my name before, but before you do it, you think it's going to be this huge, confusing thing for people to adjust to. And then once I did it, I realized it's actually incredibly easy.
Guy Kawasaki:
You've obviously been hyper multidisciplinary, but what's your advice to other people? Should you go broad or should you go deep?
Suuvi Bacelar:
I think you should go deep and broad. Obviously my concentration was cello predominantly, but I didn't concentrate it on it to the point where I sacrificed having interests and a life outside of cello. So I think it is important. Obviously, you can't achieve mastery without a certain amount of focus and dedication to whatever the craft or practice or endeavor is.
But I think people who discount other interests and other activities as irrelevant when they're focused on just the thing that they are focused on, I don't think that's a healthy approach because so much of what I've done that had seemingly no relationship to music ended up deeply informing a lot of my work and really helping my career.
One of the funniest stories, people always ask me how I ended up as artist in residence at the San Francisco Conservatory. It started out because I did martial arts. And it was the most random story. I was doing martial arts and practicing at a gym close to the conservatory, and I used to walk by the conservatory every day and look at it.
So I became aware that it existed when I lived there, and looked a little bit into their technology and applied composition department because I was interested in their work. Completely forgot about it. And then randomly, one day after training, I was sitting in a restaurant.
And a guy who worked at the conservatory who was coming out of work saw me, recognized me, and started telling me about how they would love to have me involved. And then that was route number one, through the martial arts connection.
And then the other side of it was, I am a huge foodie. I love restaurants. So during the pandemic when I was living in San Francisco, I was going to all these different restaurants. And there was one in particular where I became really friendly with the chef and the owner. And I would eat there all the time, and they started giving me tons of free food.
So at one point I told them, "I feel like I should do something to give back. Why don't I do a performance here in your space?" Because they had a stage setup. I did that, and one of the people in the audience happened to be a board member of the conservatory, and we started talking.
And I mentioned that I had met this employee, and I knew about their department. And one thing led to another, and I ended up artist in residence for two years.
Things like that. If I spent my whole life just locked in a practice room, I wouldn't be out in all these places meeting all these people. And so I always say things are very random in my life. I am on one hand someone who very much has a plan, and on the other hand, someone who's very flexible with uncertainty. I'm very comfortable with uncertainty and very flexible with going with the flow and changes to the plan. And I think that's how I've ended up in pretty much every situation I've ever ended up in.
Guy Kawasaki:
Because you are in so many disciplines and arts, is there a special way that you catalyze getting the muse?
Suuvi Bacelar:
I think ultimately what I've realized from working in so many different artistic mediums is that they all come from the same place. I always think of it as translating thoughts and emotions because all of us are going through this human experience, and we all actually share quite similar thoughts and emotions, you start to realize over time.
But I think what artists do, whether it's through painting or through film or through music or through literature, is that they are capturing those feelings and translating them into a form where other people can see them reflected back towards them.
And that I think helps society and helps people as individuals understand themselves better, because they see themselves in other people and they see those experiences that they're having in other people. And so I think art in many ways is one of the great community builders, and it also transcends pretty much every boundary.
Good art I think can be understood by everyone should be accessible to everyone. And I've always felt that for me, ultimately what I'm trying to do is bring people together. So whatever project I'm doing, I want it to touch people, and that's the impetus for me.
Guy Kawasaki:
Anything else you want to add?
Suuvi Bacelar:
Thank you. No. I just want to thank you again for the socks. I was actually thinking that I needed to get more fun socks because I am the kind of person who just has standard black socks. And the other day I saw someone with fun socks and then you sent me to Paris.
Guy Kawasaki:
I'm an investor in the company, just to be transparent. But we'll send you socks.
Suuvi Bacelar:
They are great socks. If this is the company you're investing in, it's a great choice because they have not only fun designs, but excellent support.
Guy Kawasaki:
Maybe someday you can take a picture of you playing the cello wearing the socks. We'll post it.
Suuvi Bacelar:
Oh. For sure. Absolutely.
Guy Kawasaki:
Okay. Madisun and I will take care of that for you. I hope you enjoyed this episode with Suuvi Bacelar. If nothing else, you learn that when you change your name, one of the first things you should do is check Google to see how common that name is and how things will work out for optimizing SEO. S-U-U-V-I is how you spell Suuvi.
Anyway, if there's a person who personifies the concept that to those who are given much, much is expected, it's probably Suuvi Bacelar. I hope you learned about parenting and about grit and luck and talent and trying a lot of things. Sampling, as Angela Duckworth describes it.
I'm Guy Kawasaki. This is Remarkable People. The first person I need to thank for this episode is the one and only Halim Flowers. Halim is an artist. Some say he's the next Jean-Michel Basquiat, and he introduced me to Suuvi. So remarkable people introduced me to more remarkable people. That's how this podcast works.
More thanks. Jeff Sieh and Shannon Hernandez, prodigies in sound design. The Nuismer Sisters, Madisun and Tessa, prodigies in research, producing, co-authoring, transcription, all that good stuff. And then, of course, there is Fallon Yates, Luis Magaña, and the one and only Alexis Nishimura, currently dominating Santa Clara University. This is the Remarkable People team. We're on a mission to make you remarkable.
Oh, yeah. Madison and I finished a book. It's called Think Remarkable, and the goal of that book is to help you make a difference and be remarkable. Please check it out, Think Remarkable. And to end, here's more Suuvi playing the cello. Until next time, mahalo and aloha.