Amateur musicians strike a chord

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Amateur musicians strike a chord

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The Mint Orchestra, an amateur orchestra based in Bundang, Gyeonggi, consists of housewives with a passion for classical music. [JoongAng Ilbo]

With the rising popularity of “Beethoven Virus,” a hit drama about classical musicians, enthusiasts are flocking to join amateur orchestras. Housewives, engineers, students, you name it. They are enjoying to the full the privilege of playing an instrument for the sheer enjoyment of it.

One good example is the Mint Orchestra. At 10 a.m. every day, the basement of a residential building in Bundang, Gyeonggi is crowded with about 60 housewives ranging in age from the 30s to the 60s. After seeing their husbands off to work and their children to school, they pack their instruments and come to this practice room to indulge their musical passion.

The orchestra was launched in 2000 by several housewives who met at a music class in a cultural center. Since then, they’ve played together, seen each other’s kids grow and rekindled their enthusiasm for music. The orchestra began with people living in Bundang only. Today, there is even a member who comes here by train from Chuncheon, Gangwon, northeast of Seoul.

“After my son entered middle school, I felt that I needed a life of my own. That’s how it began,” said Jeong So-hyeon, 45, the orchestra’s leader. Jeong used to play the cello in an amateur orchestra in college, but found no time to practice after she got married.

“Even when my son was preparing for the university entrance exam, I never missed practice. Had it not been for the orchestra, I would’ve been really obsessive and intrusive. I think it helped me to keep my cool.”

The Mint Orchestra is now pondering ways to politely reject requests from people keen to join. In particular, they have enough violin and cello players. Those who play wind instruments like the horn and the clarinet can still get a spot.

The Tehran Valley Orchestra, another amateur ensemble, is based in - you can guess from its name - Tehran District in Gangnam, which is filled with IT and business firms and financial institutions. In 2001, about 40 professionals in those sectors formed the group in the hope of finding peace of mind in music amid the busy, bustling environment and daily grind of work.

Regular practice and concerts in the past eight years have led to a flood of applications from others seeking similar respite in music. Today, the Tehran Valley Orchestra has 150 members who are doctors, accountants and entrepreneurs by day. One of its members began to play the cello as a hobby, and was so inspired that he later switched jobs to making musical instruments.

But playing in an orchestra isn’t all fun to some.

“In the beginning, putting up posters to find members was more important than practicing,” recalled Choi Wu-rak, 36, a founding member of the Guro Digital Valley Orchestra, first launched in 2006. “Some joined thinking of it lightly. About 20 quit in less than three months. It’s not easy for workers like us to get used to starting practice at 8 p.m. sharp every Monday.”

The oldest amateur orchestra around is the Seoul National University Medical School’s, which celebrates its 80th anniversary this year. The orchestra performed with conductor Chung Myung-whun last month in a charity concert to help North Korean and South Korean children.

Hailing the orchestra, Chung remarked, “Its passion for music exceeds that of a professional orchestra.”

The Seoul Community Orchestra, another amateur group, appeared in a fringe performance at this year’s Tongyeong International Music Festival, receiving a Rising Star Award at the festival.


By Kim Ho-joung JoongAng Ilbo [hkim@joongang.co.kr]
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