Retrospective concert to honor Korea’s percussion pioneer

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Retrospective concert to honor Korea’s percussion pioneer

Strange sounds floated through the air of Kukmin University last week, as a group of music students played various instruments like xylophones, gongs, Marimba, vibraphones and tamtam in the school rehearsal room.
They were finishing last minute preparations for an upcoming concert at the Seoul Arts Center on Tuesday, a retrospective of the musical works of Park Dong-wook. The event will also celebrate the 70th birthday of the famed musician, who has devoted his life to percussion music.
Mr. Park, 70, a composer and honorary chairman of the Korea Percussion Association, was overseeing the rehearsal, along with musical director Kim Hun-tae.
“I was inspired to compose this song after watching a group of marines hammer a ship, trying to break the rust off the bottom,” says Mr. Park of “Mast I,” a piece that recalls a navy experience in 1979.
“Mast II: Into the World of Sea,” which depicts a similar subject, is a brass band ensemble Mr. Park composed in later years.
Mr. Park, a veteran composer who spent many years as a senior timpanist in the Korea Symphony, was the first Korean musician to hold a solo percussion recital in 1983. His pioneering work elevated the reputation of percussion in Korea. As a result, the percussion ensembles were moved from the corner to sit in front of the band.
As a musician who foresaw the possibilities of traditional Korean instruments, Mr. Park also helped organize a major samulnori concert led by Kim Deok-su, a famed traditional percussionist, in New York. That concert was staged in 1982, and earned a favorable review in the New York Times, who referred to the concert as having a “mysterious rhythm.” He also led the percussion ensemble “Daebi” as part of the repertoire by the Korea Symphony at Carnegie Hall in 1979.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that almost all professional percussionists (there are about 400) working in Korea were former students of Mr. Park at some point in their studies.
Though percussion is still categorized as a “special major” at music schools in Korean universities, Mr. Parks efforts have enhanced the reputation of percussion a great deal. There are three full-time professors in Korea who specialize in percussion, along with several percussion ensembles, including the Seoul Percussion Ensemble, Academy, Focus and 4-Plus.
Veteran composers of traditional percussion such as Won Il approach Mr. Park for advice on contemporary rhythm.
“There is nothing more primitive than percussion as a method of moving the listener’s spirit,” Mr. Park says.
Until recently, Mr. Park was very busy trying to set up the country’s first percussion museum, called the “Percussion Arts Center.” He wanted to house various kinds of percussion instruments and allow the visitors to feel the sound by actually playing them.
Mr. Park’s intention was to awaken the young generation in Korea to the importance of a “spiritual culture” that exists outside of the Internet and computers.
However, he found that setting up a museum on his own proved a difficult task. He recently decided to leave that to his students and concentrate on more compositions.

by Lee Jang-jik
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