One weekend, I thought it would be fun to go with my friend Ji Heon to a concert. It was winter, so it was difficult to explore Seoul without my Texas body freezing. I learned the hard way that snow does, in fact, melt when it sticks to your coat, face, or hair; who knew you needed an umbrella?! After this horrible realization, I preferred indoor activities. This led me to find the all-female drumming troupe, Drumcats.
I seriously had no idea what to expect from this show. All the reviews I found were incredibly positive and raved about Drumcats. The group of women drummers was proclaimed to be one of the best female drumming troupes in the world. Naturally curious, I bought tickets for Ji Heon and me to attend a Drumcats performance.
Upon entering the venue, I instantly felt deja vú, from when I saw Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas. The theater was filled with tourists, excited to see the concert. The room went black. Then appeared six petite Korean women playing marching drum-line instruments, clad in tight leather and lace lingerie. Now it made sense why the raving reviews I read online were from older men. The show consisted of lots of high-pitched giggling, four costume and set changes, and repetitive drum cadences.
Although this show was by no means a stroke of musical genius, these women have tapped into a very difficult market with a show that leaves people wanting more. I admire that they are making people excited about music, recognizing that is the goal for most musicians.
Seoul is an amazing metropolis where one night one can see Drumcats; the next morning one can attend daily traditional Korean music concerts at the cultural center. Seoul has made traditional music accessible and affordable for the entire population. Although seats for traditional music performances weren’t filling up as fast at a Drumcats concert, I was amazed that South Korea has kept their traditional music from being more than displays for tourists. Unlike Korean pop music venues, tourists rarely discover the unforgettable concerts at the National Gugak Center that focuses on Korean music and composers. During the many concerts I attended there, I was one of maybe a dozen or so non-Koreans present. The other non-Koreans were ex-pats or fellow musicians.
Another thing I noticed about Koreans is their love for live music. The people seemed to thrive on experiences of live performances, regardless whether concerts of K-Pop, western classical music, Pansori folk music, or interactive drumming shows. I was impressed by the respect audience members had for the performers.
I became close with Elisandra Fabregas, a Spanish-American composer and professor at Kyung Hee University. She used teach at the University of Texas at San Antonio Department of Music, in my home community! We met in Seoul through mutual contacts. Elisandra was nice enough to expose me to great concerts, both Korean and Western classical music, while I was in Seoul. We discussed cultural differences between being a musician of traditional and classical music in Korea versus the United States. One thing that particularly interested me was the respect Korean students show their professors. Before a lesson, it is customary for the student to bow to the professor, as a sign of respect. Although I only knew Elisandra for a short time, she was incredibly helpful and opened my eyes to a completely new world of music that I continue to study and play. To Elisandra Fabregas, I bow and offer my most enthusiastic gratitude – Thanks!
And so ends my month in Korea, where I have learned a total of ten Korean words, how long to grill meat at a Korean BBQ restaurant, and how to properly swirl and open a bottle of soju (video of soju-opening instructions below).
I know this guy seems weird, but the video is really informative and even teaches your how to properly pour and receive soju.
Now onto warmer weather and sweaty clothes: BALI, INDONESIA!