Monday, May 26, 2008
South Korea has around forty professional choruses, which is amazing if you think about it. How can fifty million people stuck on a penile extrusion jutting into the Yellow and East seas support that kind of professional choral activity?
With local taxes, that's how. I met the mayor of Bucheon just prior to performance last Thursday; he is very proud of his city's chorus and orchestra, believes they do a lot for the lives of his city's people--and he's right, they do. What an amazing thing that this small country that didn't have four connected standing walls left in 1954 has put together an economic powerhouse garnished with government-supported arts organizations in just fifty short years. What a sad thing that our immense, 250-year-old country does not boast one single government-supported arts organization, while we spend $5000/minute occupying Iraq and God Knows How Much money bailing out and/or supporting failing and/or corrupt corporations.
For some reason, Asians like me, especially Koreans. In fact, I was told by Sources Close to the Administration that Koreans in the Bidnizz consider me to be the finest American guest conductor.
Perhaps this is because they claim I look like Sean Connery and can do a killer James Bond imitation. Who knows?
This was my second time with the Bucheon chorus, and that was a result of the fact that the singers were polled as to who they would want to be their guest conductor for their 20th Anniversary Season, and that person was me. I was honored to be their choice and flattered that so many of the forty-eight singers remembered me fondly from my time with them in 2001. Their conductor had a bit to do with it also, of course, and he treated me like a visiting emperor, as did the teachers and students in the master classes I led. (The chorus gave me my flowers at the dress rehearsal rather than after the performance, which followed a couple hours later: see the pic above--also note the omnipresent sweat towel and ManPurse).
This is in part because teachers and the elderly are highly respected in Korean culture and I am both, so I get bowed to and served first in any crowd. I had a couple dozen young people--including two little boys who barely came up to my waist--clamoring for my autograph in the lobby afterwards. I gave it to them. Most of their English consisted of "how are you?" and "I love you." Boy, I can take that. What a change from a culture where teachers are either suspect or considered lazy fools. As for the elderly, well, ahem . . .
So it was great, but I was glad to come home to someone who loved me and to speak fast English secure in the knowledge that I would be understood, even by the Pakistani taxi driver who brought me home from LAX.
And I made a few shekels, too. I would probably do it for expenses only but I wouldn't want that word to get out there. I only have enough retirement money to last until I'm 90 or dead, for one thing, and for another, I almost consider my fees to be compensation for time spent in Economy on 10-12-hour plane flights. ( Korean Air is awfully nice, though. Sure beats United. Just don't want to spend my entire fee on Business Class in either. So I either charm desk staff into an exit row seat or endure. Groan).
But the twelve wonderful days on the ground more than make up for the two miserable days in the air.
Until next time, to my host, fellow conductor Sang-Hoon Lee, and to former students Soon-Jung Kim (my very adept translator, who appears in the pic above), In-Gi Min, Yoseob Lee, Soo-Jung Jung, and Eunsil Kim:
anyonghikeseo, kamsahamnida, friends.