Muriel Hom? Don’t throw bouquets at her!
“Throughout my life, I’ve gotten these awards,” said Hom, who received the 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award at the County Executive’s Awards for Excellence in the Arts and Humanities in November for her work as an artist, teacher, producer and founder of Opera International. “But whatever I have accomplished, it’s with everybody’s help.
“It was nice, my family and friends were all there and I enjoyed the evening,” she added. “But it’s not necessary.”
Not necessary, maybe, but accolades are hard to avoid when you live life serving others the way 90-year-old Hom does. A self-described “very busy person,” she still takes Cantonese lessons at Montgomery College—part of her duties as a cultural icon of the Washington, DC-area Chinese-American community and the matriarch of a “very big family.” Hom, who has raised funds for a diverse portfolio of good causes—from the Wounded Warrior Project to the Puerto Rico Hurricane Relief Fund—is a devout Christian who is ecumenical in her good works, teaming up with a variety of charitable organizations —Adat Shalom Congregation, Hermon Presbyterian Church and the Organization of Chinese American Women—to put good into the world.
All the world, although at heart the Bethesda resident is a child of China and a citizen of Washington, D.C. “I do have contacts with other people, not just my Chinese community,” she said. “I was born in Washington, and when I was married, we lived in the county, here.”
Despite being raised here, Hom was raised by her grandmother and experienced a hardscrabble immigrant life that combined culture, religion and hard work in equal measure.
“My grandmother would say, ‘Would you go down to Aunt and Uncle’s?” she said, recalling how as a child she would sing and play piano to make money to help pay the rent. “I’m used to always doing things—I’m used to running things!”
And as a woman before her time—“I was already ‘liberated,’ she said, when pressed to explain her success—Hom balanced family, the arts and education, earning an associate of arts degree in political science from George Washington University after she married and looked for ways to use it. Always in her mind, she said, was the first live opera performance she ever witnessed: Mozart’s “Cosi Fan Tutte,” which she saw at the Lisner Auditorium when she was 11.
“I didn’t understand the language, or the music that much,” she admitted. “But I just loved it.”
And now, eight decades later, that love of opera is still going strong, garnering for Hom one of the most prestigious honors conferred by Montgomery County on an individual. In November, Hom stepped up to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award from County Executive Ike Leggett at Round House Theatre in Bethesda. She may downplay its significance—Hom is a champion self-deprecator—but the County Executive’s Awards single out and pay tribute to individuals and organizations that have made a difference in Montgomery County through the arts and humanities.
Hom believes in making a difference one person at a time. Opera International, she said, grew out of the interest she took in Chinese singers who came to her church; she started as its accompanist and in 1994, founded an organization to foster appreciation of opera and give world-class opera singers a venue in which to perform. A tireless fundraiser, Hom finds donors wherever she goes—and at 90, she’s still an avid piano teacher.
“I just want them to learn,” she exclaimed. “And all of my students play very well.”
For information about Opera International, visit http://operainternational.org.