Old musicians can still learn new tricks

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Old musicians can still learn new tricks


The rain over the weekend was an ordeal for the flowers that had just bloomed. The wind and rain shook the magnolias and cherry blossoms from the trees. And even more rain is expected again soon, so the remaining petals will soon be gone.

To escape this depressing sight, I camped out at a cafe in Sinchon, western Seoul. There, I had the chance to listen to new music by 51-year-old singer Lee Eun-ha for the first time. The music playing in the cafe was from a jazz album titled “My Song, My Jazz.”

Just like almost everyone growing up in the 1970s and ‘80s, the owner of the cafe was a devoted fan of Lee Eun-ha. Throughout her career, Lee’s unique low voice grew more profound and her high pitch became softer and better controlled. Lee is famous for her husky vocal technique, but she has transformed herself into an excellent jazz singer, too. Many Korean jazz masters have contributed to her new album.

In total, Lee has been in music industry for 40 years now, and she was the most popular singer in the 1970s and ‘80s. When the military authorities ordered the closure of broadcasting stations on November 30, 1980, she sang “You are Still My Love” at the last broadcasted music program on TBS with tears in her eyes. Her performance was regarded as a protest, and she was suspended from appearing on television for three months.

On that rainy weekend, I enjoyed the jazzy versions of Lee Eun-ha’s old hits such as “Spring Rain” and “Sending Me off with a Smile,” and thought about the relationship between artists and time, between musicians and fans.

Just like many of my peers, I am not familiar with popular idol singers. I am ashamed to admit that the last idol group I can sing along to is Sobangcha, which debuted in 1987. A few years ago, I nonchalantly asked how many people were in the group Se7en, without ever thinking that it could be a stage name for a singer.

So of course, I am very pleased to see that a familiar singer like Lee Eun-ha has made a successful transformation to the present. Of course, she has had her share of ups and downs in her career. In “My Song,” she sings, “I have come all the way here, just like a petal blowing in the wind,” and I thought she was singing about my story. Just as the leaves grow only after flowers fall, Lee Eun-ha has come a long way since her heyday. I will be sure to follow her in the coming years to observe how her music continues to change.

* The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Noh Jae-hyun

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