The Sound of a Korean Classic
The gayageum “talent”, Cho Young Jae
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“As a child, I always hated playing the piano. Gayageum was a possible alternative at the time, and that’s how I started.” Amused by her recollection, Cho Young Jae (Department of Korean Traditional Music, ’03) added that her mother noticed that playing the gayageum was one of the few things that Cho never lost interest in. Recently beginning her career as a gayageum performer and actor, Cho answered that she felt exhilarated these days with her newfound dream.
A late bloomer
Before establishing a new career, Cho was a music teacher. She taught in middle and high schools, using her experience of having studied music throughout her life. “I was a very passionate student. I wanted to be just as recognized academically as I was musically.” Cho double majored in the department of media communications with the goal of becoming a producer for music programs. It was also a great opportunity for her to make new friends and study a new field. Although she eventually began studying to become a teacher at the will of her parents, the people she met and the things she learned became unexpectedly relevant with her new career. “It was a short, but very impactful part of my life.”
Cho stated that as an actor beginning in her thirties, she was freed from the pressure to look young and flawless.
During her days as a teacher, Cho realized that she always felt the urge to stand on stage. According to Cho, although she felt accomplishment from teaching, she always held more pride as a musician than as a teacher. “I realized how beautiful the gayageum sounded after I left the field. Throughout my high school and university years, I was only obsessed with becoming the best. The pressure to come in first blocked out the sound.” Cho recollected how she came across a video of a gayageum hobbyist and discovered for the first time how truly beautiful the sound was. “Freed from all the pressure, I could finally open my ears to the music.” Following her decision, she compiled her first album with the name “Gayageum Young Jae”. The name has a double meaning, as the Korean word “young jae” also refers to a talented person.
The Pyeong Chang experience
“After my debut, I had the chance to become part of a television program related to baseball. The team became one of the ambassadors for the Pyeong Chang Olympics, giving me the opportunity to feature in the Pyeong Chang Olympics theme song.” Cho summarized the Olympics as a “very tough experience.” As she was part of the cheering team, she had to perform cheer routines when there was no gayageum music needed. Furthermore, as no cars were allowed to park throughout the arena, she had to carry the rather large instrument herself. One of her most painful memories was a routine done during the alpine games. As she was not specifically informed about the routine, which took place in the middle of the ski slope, she had to perform in a short outfit with heels. Furthermore, the instrument was too heavy to carry down the stairs, so she had to come down on the slope. “I can still remember the gasps and murmurings on the way down. It must have been quite a seen, me coming down the slopes in short pants and heels. Looking back, although it was tough, my participation in the Olympics was a very meaningful and definitely unforgettable experience.
Cho’s musical path
According to Cho, most existing fusion music, aimed at popularizing Korean traditional music, is Western music played with Korean traditional instruments. However, she always placed more value on the traditional songs and style. “We could play Beethoven on the gayageum, but it wouldn’t have much profundity. It would be an interesting sight, but withoutmuch musical value.” As every instrument has an original chord and rhythm that goes along with it, a thorough understanding of the instrument is needed to play different types of music. Cho’s album contains tango and jazz on the gayageum, which required intense scrutiny of the genres’ melodies and chords. Cho also plans to experiment with electronic dance music (EDM) on the gayageum.
Although it is generally said that Korean traditional music is popular these days, not a lot of people listen to it in Korea asompared to Western countries where classical music is listened to much more frequently, Korean traditional music still has many obstacles to overcome. Musicians of traditional music also receive much more attention and better treatment in the Western world. To bridge this gap, Cho answered that she will continue to study the gayaguem to create a more general and popular genre of music. “One of the crucial elements of this plan is to gain the publics’ attention, and I hope to do so by establishing myself as a brand. I plan on acting and appearing on television shows to better gain influence.”
"I am thrilled every day, and am happy of my new path"
As a word of advice to students, Cho answered that students should invest more in themselves than in their future employment. Drawing on experience from her time as a teacher, Cho firmly stated that employment is not our goal in life. “We get carried away by these things, but what is truly important is finding who we are and what we want to do. With my newfound dream and career, I have troubling sleeping some nights due to thoughts of excitement and expectation.” Cho stated that the years as a university student are even more crucial, as the investments made in those years are returned several times over in the future.
Cho's musical pursuit can be followed through
Lee Changhyun firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos by Lee Jin Myung
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