Discrimination claims plague Seoul music contest

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Discrimination claims plague Seoul music contest


Music can be an expensive career path. Instruments can cost a fortune, and receiving lessons from competent teachers can run up to hundreds of thousands of won per hour.

But participating in international music competitions can help young musicians with funding if they are competent enough to win one of the prizes on offer.

Offering financial help is certainly one of the objectives for many of the global music contest across the world, which is why a 26-year-old violin student, who wanted to be identified only by her surname, Kim, applied for the Seoul International Music Competition.

Kim is Korean, but she currently studies in Los Angeles.

For Koreans who major in music, it’s become a ritual to study in Europe or the United States for at least a year or two, which helps them to expand their network and adds a line to their resume.

However, Kim was taken aback when she realized that the competition, which started on March 18 and specializes in violin this year, does not offer any kind of financial support to Koreans - despite allocating funding for international applicants.

Seoul International Music Competition, organized by the Dong-A Ilbo and the Seoul Metropolitan Government, states that travel expenses are the sole responsibility of the competitors.

However, the contest stipulates that “non-Korean competitors who do not reside in Korea will be provided with financial aid towards their international airfare,”

It also states that non-Korean competitors not living in Korea will be given room and board, that they will be provided with practice facilities for free of charge and that they will be offered an official accompanist if they do not bring their own pianist.

“Not offering airfare or lodging to Korean students is not fair. It’s an international music competition and such competitions must be open to all with equal conditions and opportunities,” said Kim.

“I heard that students who are in the rural areas are also having difficulties finding a place to stay during the competition.”

As for the accompanying pianist, Kim said she had a hard time finding one by herself.

“I live in LA and I have to get a pianist on my own who can accompany me in Korea,” she said.

“It’s really difficult to do that, you know, unless you are physically living there. Other Americans are all provided with a pianist.”

Kim said it would be understandable if the Seoul International Competition stated that it does not provide accompanying pianist for Koreans or non-Koreans, but only offering for those “non-Korean competitors who are not residents in Korea” is very discriminatory.

In the end, Kim decided not to participate in the competition.

“Such a shameful regulation has been carried out for many years, and I don’t think it’s right,” said Kim.

“The first prize winner gets $50,000. The total prize money altogether adds up to more than 100 million won [$90,400]. From the outside, it looks like a rich competition where everything’s provided, but actually, for Koreans, there is no support at all.”

Korea has three international music competitions under the World Federation of International Music Competitions, including Jeju International Brass Competition, Isangyun Competition in Tongyeong and Seoul International Music Competition.

The federation recommends that all its members “provide lodging for all competitors during the competition that reflects the highest standard of hospitality that the host city can offer.”

Competitors should also be provided with transportation within the host city, it adds, along with stipulating that the competitions should try to cover some or all of the competitors’ travel expenses and living expenses during their period of participation.

“As a member, I believe the Seoul International Music Competition should follow the federation’s recommendation and provide such support for all competitors,” said Kim.

The Cultural Promotion Department of the Dong-A Ilbo, which organizes the competition, said this is the best they can do with the limited budget it has.

“Seoul International Music Competition is an international competition, therefore it’s crucial for us to attract foreign students,” said an official from the department.

“But for many foreign students Seoul is a far away city, and we have to offer them a certain kind of support, otherwise they will not participate.”

The official added that Korean students usually have family that live in Korea.

“They have practice rooms at their schools,” the representative said.

“But there is nothing for foreigners living abroad. We do not provide support for foreigners living in Korea and we do support Koreans with foreign passports living outside of Korea.”

The official added that the federation’s recommendation is just that - a recommendation - and not a must, and added that the Seoul International Music Competition has been a member of the group since 2009, proving that it has met its requirements.

The final round of the contest takes place on Saturday and Sunday.

BY YIM SEUNG-HYE [yim.seunghye@joongang.co.kr]
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