Aspiring musicians get a chance to fulfill a long-held dream

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Aspiring musicians get a chance to fulfill a long-held dream

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Sisters Jang Sin-haeng, left, and Jang Ga-haeng practice at a rehearsal room in Mokpo, South Jeolla, to prepare for a meeting in August with their longtime idol, renowned cellist Chang Han-na. By Oh Jong-chan

Jang Sin-haeng, 12, had once been given a school assignment to write about her dreams. She stayed up all night writing and the next day she handed a picture of renowned cellist Chang Han-na to her mother and said, “Mom, this is my dream.”

This was not the first time Jang’s mother, Kim Gyeong-ran, 41, had heard about her daughter’s aspirations, but she had previously encouraged her to become a judge, a lawyer or a teacher. This time, however, she saw a new resolve in her daughter’s eyes.

Musical talent runs in Jang’s family. Her elder sister Jang Ga-haeng, 14, also aspires to become a famous violinist.

Unfortunately, however, Jang’s mother had some heartbreaking news to deliver. The family would have to sell the father’s taxi in order to keep the children in lessons and that was an impossible hardship they could not afford. During the Asian financial crisis, the father’s business had gone bankrupt and he secured a loan to purchase a privately owned taxi. Since then, the family, which lives in Mokpo, South Jeolla, had eked out a living from that. For a while, the girls’ aunt had chipped in to help pay for Ga-haeng’s violin lesson fees, but it wasn’t enough.

Upon learning that they might not be able to continue with their lessons, the two girls were devastated.

But last year, the girls came closer to realizing their dreams when they were accepted into a music program for underprivileged children administered by Child Fund Korea, an international organization that funds education for children from low-income households. Under the organization’s young talent program, talented children like Ga-haeng and Sin-haeng are given musical instruments and private lessons with a volunteer teacher. The girls were even given a chance to perform with the South Jeolla Symphony Orchestra.

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Cellist Chang Han-na

Jang has wanted to become a cellist like her idol ever since she first touched the instrument four years ago.

She would get excited imagining a future career as a musician, saying that she had the same surname as the famous cellist (though the spellings are different) and would even mimic the facial expressions of her idol while playing the instrument.

But the girls’ parents were not wealthy enough to provide their children with music lessons.

Luckily, they were able to participate in music lessons through a program at a local elementary school in Mokpo.

Although the program only offered lessons for five minutes, three times a week, both girls excelled at their respective instruments and were soon better than their peers, even the ones who were lucky enough to take private lessons.

Both girls practiced day and night with no complaints, and they continued to improve.

Friends and relatives told the parents that they could even enter prestigious universities in Seoul if they were to find a teacher to guide them.

Now, it looks like they will have one.

As soon as the girls heard the news that they would be able to study music again, they wrote a long letter to Chang, their longtime role model, asking her to become their mentor.

“Our hearts are pounding as we write this letter,” they wrote. “Teacher, your performances are extraordinary. We want to become great musicians like you. Please be our mentor.”

Last Wednesday, the girls received a reply from Chang via e-mail. The 29-year-old cellist invited both girls to participate in an orchestral concert that she will conduct in August.

“I’m so proud of your efforts to make your dream come true,” Chang said in her reply.

She advised the girls to study music, even outside of their lessons, and offered her encouragement by saying that success comes from more than expensive lessons and great teachers.

“Try to listen to music by world-renowned musicians,” she wrote. “I, too, listened to great musicians and promised myself that I would try to emulate them.”

Chang also shared her motto with the girls: “Play sincerely, practice sincerely and share sincerely.”

The girls said they are excited to have received a reply from Chang and promised to follow her advice.

The concert in which they are to appear with Chang is part of Absolute Classic, an annual series launched by Seongnam Arts Center in 2009. The orchestra they will play with is comprised of world-renowned musicians younger than 30 who come together to practice for three weeks to prepare for the concert. The girls will practice with the musicians and will also have an opportunity to meet Chang.

Experts say that connecting children with a mentor is a proven educational strategy that keeps children motivated.

“Children who are not well off have a lower chance of meeting famous people,” said Jeon Sang-jin, a sociology professor at Seogang University. “This kind of program will no doubt be a positive opportunity for the children to realize their dreams.”


By Kim Hyo-eun [enational@joongang.co.kr]

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