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Chamber Singers in South Korea

By Hannah Huckins; For the Clock
On February 9, 2017

Chamber Singers in the bamboo forest outside of Gwangju, South Korea.

Interested in Korean pop songs, fried chicken, bamboo forests, college students lost in Seoul, and Betles music?

Every year the Plymouth State University Chamber Singers, directed by Dan Perkins, embark on a tour to study and perform in a new place in the U.S. Every four years, they travel internationally. The destination this year was South Korea.

Perkins and the group of 17 students, coming from a variety of majors, stayed in South Korea from Jan. 13 to Jan. 27. Each student payed $2,000 of the total cost. Plymouth community members, and ticket sales from a few performances, helped to offset some of the costs.

On the way to South Korea, the students’ flight was delayed. Chamber Singers spent the night in San Francisco. “It was sad, because we missed a concert that we were meant to perform in Korea, but the group definitely made the most of the delay by seeing an orchestra that night,” said Zoe Kay, a member of the group.

Chamber Singers finally arrived at the Cheongna Dalton School in Incheon, South Korea. Completely jet lagged, they heard the applause of the students, and things began to look up.

During their travels, Chamber Singers visited the Korean War Museum, the May 18 Democratic Uprising Memorial, the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone), a snowy bamboo forest, and the Joint Security Area, where they walked in a tunnel the depth of a 25-story building.

“Hopefully this has allowed seeds to be planted for a life-long love of travel,” said Perkins.

In the middle of Seoul, a taxi dropped three singers off at the wrong location. It was only thanks to a kind local couple, who offered the singers a ride, that they found the rest of the group once again.

Chamber Singers sang a few Korean folk and pop songs on the trip, and students at the international schools gave them some much-needed help with pronunciation. Chamber Singers sang a variety of music including Johannes Brahms, The Beatles, Stills & Nash, and Rachmaninoff. They sang Christmas songs at the Taejon Christian International School and the U.S. Embassy Center.

After singing, sometimes Chamber Singers would play a game of soccer with the children at the schools. The kids wanted all the tall Americans on their teams, until they found out height doesn’t exactly correlate with skill.

The food in South Korea was a source of constant curiosity for the singers. They ate at Korean barbeques, had some kimchi, tried Korean Cheetos (or Meatos as the group called them, since they were meat and salsa-flavored), and occasionally enjoyed some Mexican food.

On the Mokpo Islands, they had some really good fried chicken. So good, in fact, that all 18 singers performed for the owners inside the little shop. “I was very lucky to have been on this tour,” said Kay. “What really changed me was learning more about

the culture, and the resilient people of Korea. They have been through so many hardships that I was not previously aware of.”

On the way home, Perkins’ passport was denied, and he was temporarily detained on the holding floor of the airport. This took place during the initiation of the controversial travel ban. Perkins said the experience made him appreciate his white privilege, and it showed him what the world looked like from the perspective of someone who was being denied.

A lot of Chamber Singers’ music is politically fueled. It shows how music can ha ve a deeper meaning that connects to the lives of people all over the world. While their singing can be an uplifting, overpowering harmony of voices, the music inspires people to experience all they can in this culturally diverse world. 

COURTESY PHOTO / GIL TAEK LIM

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