A ‘fringe’ festival’s democratic ideals

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A ‘fringe’ festival’s democratic ideals

One of the exciting parts of a cultural festival, be it film or music, is what happens outside the theater, whether it’s the celebrities you run into in a restaurant or the street performances by “amateur” musicians ― amateur, of course, only in the sense that one doesn’t have to pay to see the show.
Indeed, one of the most meaningful accomplishments of the spring season’s Tongyeong International Music Festival, which ended Tuesday, was “Timf Fringe,” a program by more than 50 groups of amateur musicians. The groups ranged widely in age and musical style, coming from all over the country.
The fringe at Tongyeong was mainly organized to fulfill democratic ideals in music.
“Most of us play for real people,” says Kim So-gon, a programmer of TIMF fringe. “One day we go to a shipyard to play for local workers. The next day we go to a middle school. During lunch we play in the city hall’s hallway. Our bottom line for choosing places is that we play unless people don’t want us there.”
A need for the TIMF fringe came to the organizers’ minds when they realized that the citizens of Tongyeong were being isolated from the festival despite the venue’s prominent success among the international music community.
A “moving concert,” an important part of the fringe, was arranged for that reason. For most locals who don’t have the luxury of visiting concert halls during the festival, the idea of musicians visiting the audience and playing repertoires upon their requests is a way to meet the festival’s original motivation, which was partly to give back to the local community Tongyeong’s musical heritage.
As a sign of the program’s visibility, the number of fringe participants has been doubling every year, according to Mr. Kim. A number of local celebrities have appeared in programs in the past without a financial guarantee.
This year, participants ranged from a parents’ choir to a youth orchestra, from an 80-year-old conductor of an amateur jazz band to a young solo pianist with four fingers.
“We pay for their bus fees, which represents big progress for us,” Mr. Kim says. “Musicians come from afar mostly to enjoy themselves, to eat seafood and play a few gigs. That’s good for us.”
Although these groups may be called “fringe” in relationship to the dominant musical groups in the festival’s main program, some of them also represent musical styles that are based on an alternative spirit.
Funny Band, a college boy band that won the best prize award at last year’s fringe for parodying a Canadian brass band, was invited to other shows because of the popularity they gained during the festival. Tribu, a South American band, played country pop this year, using their ethnic instruments.
There are no rehearsals, and no dressing rooms in most places, but the shows are free, and visitors can mix with the greatest number of locals.
“I think the idea of spontaneity pulls in people,” Mr. Kim says. “All we do is pick a few communities every morning and make quick calls to see if their hallways or cafeterias are available. How could you say ‘no’ to that?”

by Park Soo-mee
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