September 2, 2012 by travelinggrits
I had been invited to sit in on the class on Thursday, and by Friday it had morphed into a decision that I would play my clarinet. When I arrived on Saturday, I realized that I would be expected to perform a solo piece. The vice principal made some opening remarks, and once again, hearing my name was my cue to come forward.
Good thing I stuck a music book in my suitcase. Here’s where countless hours practicing classical repertoire as a high school student came handy in a pinch—I flipped to Weber’s Concertino and played an abbreviated version. I was repulsed by the idea of having to play such a serious piece on my plastic clarinet, and I mentally berated myself for every mild squeak or poorly articulated phrase. But as the music continued, I felt comfortable with my audience, and by the final page I was ripping arpeggios and trills with a near-normal level of confidence. I figured the worst the teacher could do was ask that I not come back, right?
My last notes faded, and there was a brief pause before the applause began. But the audience was satisfied; afterwards, many approached and asked how long I had played and marveled at my many hobbies (see tennis playing, previous post).
During our training period, we were well acquainted with the Korean emphasis on building community and relationships (jeong – 정), and this class was a prime example. The class took photos in front of the opening ceremony sign, then heaping plates of cookies and ddok (똑) appeared. The vice principal had the honor of blowing out the single candle on the Paris Baguette cake. A toast was made with paper cups of assorted juices. Everyone went around the table and introduced themselves, including me. The students asked me many questions out of kind curiosity for my home and my time in Korea, and I responded as best as I could.
Approximately an hour passed before the flutes were brought from their cases. My co-teacher explained that the music students would practice individually (but all in the same classroom) for the remainder of the class. I wasn’t sure how that would work, but I decided to stay, thinking I would hole up in a corner of the room and work on some more clarinet melodies from days gone by.
But individual practice time turned into a group of about eight or ten flautists lined up in front of what amounted to a karaoke machine of electronic sheet music. After watching them play in unison for a few practice rounds, I joined in. It was actually a terrific mental exercise to transpose on sight in order to accompany them—a skill I’d always wished I’d developed better. After a few more rounds, I started transposing the chords and doing some basic arpeggiated accompaniment.
After an hour or so of songs of varied difficulty levels, the flautists showed signs of tiredness; their arms drooped and they sank into chairs. They also expressed a desire to eat something else—I guess the sweet treats from earlier had burned off. The class was winding down, so I took my cue to pack up.
The music teacher came over and grasped my arm, smiling and motioning to convey her thanks for attending. She asked me to return, and I indicated that I wouldn’t be there every week but that I would try to make an appearance sometimes. Then she excitedly explained that everyone was going out to dinner—would I come?
My host family had already planned to take me out to dinner, so I politely declined and expressed my regrets. Next week! the music teacher urged.
Despite being the oddball in the music class, I had certainly felt welcomed. The flute students smiled and waved as I bowed out the door.
The song the flautists were playing during the first practice round: “Eidelweiss,” the Sound of Music classic. That sweet melody about the fresh, pure flower is still stuck in my head, and it brings to mind the sweet faces of the people I met. South Korea and its people, may you bloom and grow forever.