A harmonious life of music and monkhoodLim Dong-chang is considered a rarity among Korean musicians. Starting out as a pianist, he moved on to become a composer who mixed Western instruments with traditional sounds.
At age 21, he became a Buddhist monk, but later abandoned that calling and got married. He ran a classical music program at EBS-TV, but called off the show after four years, announcing to friends and family that he’d spend the next couple of years concentrating on composing.
And compose he did. For three years he stayed in his home in Anseong, Gyeonggi province, working on his soon-to-be-released material.
The JoongAng Ilbo recently spoke with Mr. Lim about his work.
JAI: You are considered an eccentric musician to a majority of Koreans. Even so, there are some high-profile figures in this country who sponsor your work.
Lim: I haven’t produced anything miraculous; I am rather embarrassed that my name is exposed to the world. It’s about time that I show them the results.
JAI: You mentioned earlier that you were captivated by “the piano ghost” when you were young.
Lim: I was born into a poor family in Gunsan, and spent most of my high school years fighting other boys at school.
One day I was fooling around during music class, and something was pushed into my stomach. It was a piano ghost. To this day, I can remember every note that my music teacher played at that time.
JAI: That’s a bit hard to believe. Was this some sort of shamanistic spirit?
Lim: Something like that. After that class I went up to the teacher and told him that I wanted to play the piano. Then I sat on the piano stool, and played every tune that I’d heard, even if I had heard it just once. I practiced for 15 hours a day for a few years.
JAI: I heard that your grades weren’t too good during those years.
Lim: I completely ignored my grades and classes. I focused on playing the piano so much that I haven’t grown a centimeter since high school.
JAI: When did you start composing?
Lim: In high school. Melodies started leaking out through my body nonstop. They just came to me, and I was just busy writing them down.
I started buying up all the sheet music at record shops. When I showed some of my compositions to Baek Byeong-dong, a professor at Seoul National University, he looked at me and said, “The music is good. Now focus on technique.”
JAI: How would you explain your musical work in connection with your Buddhist beliefs?
Lim: When I lived at my music teacher’s house, I awakened to a clock whose bell struck three times. But when I asked my teacher if it was three o’clock in the morning, he said the bell had rung 12 times already. That hit me.
JAI: What do you mean?
Lim: Let me just put it this way: Sounds enter through the ears. But my soul is hearing the sound from a different position. If you can’t figure out where it’s coming from, you’ll never be able to create your own sound. Mozart was like that. As soon as I figured that out, I decided to become a monk. I even have a religious name, Bolim, which means “treasure forest.”
JAI: Do you expect people to believe you?
Lim: Well ... Ever since middle school my life has been dedicated to the pursuit of music. But who cares if it’s music or not? What’s important is that I’ve lived a fulfilling life.
by Jo Woo-seok