Korean A Cappella – an interview with Zenith and Sung-Mo Han

Origin From : Vocal Blog
Author : Juliana Baron
Date : 2015.09.11

Due to travels and holidays with some delay, the fourth blog post about Korean a cappella development and a very hard-to-get interview with winners Zenith as well as some insights on Korean a cappella education by Sung-Mo Han, the president of the Korea A Cappella Education Association.

Introduction to Zenith

The vocal band Zenith, founded in 2008, is a mixed a cappella group of five.

Soo-Yeon Erika Lim (Soprano)

Since early childhood, Soo-Yeon participated at many children‘s song competitions and took vocal classes. After becoming a primary school teacher, she graduated at a music academy in order to follow her dream of singing.

A-Ra Ko (Alto)

Influenced by her parents, from early age, A-Ra studied singing in church. Then, she wanted to study pop music and graduated in vocal pop music from Korea’s best practical music university Seoul Arts University.

Min-Goo Kim (Tenor)

School, sports, arts, Min-Goo was always a talented and diligent student in many different areas. In high school, he fell for playing the bass guitar. After stepping into the music world, he attended vocal classes and graduated in singing from Paekche Institute of the Arts.

Eric Kim (Baritone, Vocal Drum)

Since he was young, Eric was participating at versatile music activities from Korean traditional music performance to children’s choir. At university, he specialized in piano and before starting with Zenith, he was already very active in several a cappella groups.

Dae-Hwan Hwang (Bass)

Since early childhood, Dae-Hwan learnt to play the piano. Still, as a hobby he is giving musical performances while studying engineering at university.

Eric, Soo-Yeon, Min-Goo, A-Ra and Dae-Hwan are the five members who have been active together for about 3 years now. They took part at the TCMC competition (Taiwan Choral Music Center), went on concert tours to Taiwan and Singapore, participated at this year’s and overcame difficult challenges and enjoyed the happiness of success of every moment together.

Interview with Zenith

Juliana: Congratulations, Zenith! Golden diploma in two categories Jazz and Pop, the Silver Ward Swingle Award in the Jazz category and the Golden Ward Swingle Award in the Pop category! What a successful journey to Graz! How do you feel? What does it mean to you? (Which of the prices do you value most?)

Soo-Yeon: First, it took us a very long time to decide whether to go to the competition or not. The long distance, the tremendous amount of money needed, and then the difficulty for all members to get off and free their time. After evaluating all pro and contra, we finally made up our mind and decided to go to the competition.

Eric: Because of the difficulties to go to Europe, when we arrived at the competition place, although none of us spoke it out loud, everyone was so tense. Because so many people were cheering for us, it was giving us strength but at the same time also a lot of pressure. But when we saw all the other participating groups and a cappella friends, before all went for the competition, we started to enjoy the atmosphere of this international festival where the citizens of the world seemed to gather. Through the competition we made many good friends and like at the TCMC competition, we could feel the chance to grow by ourselves. Most likely, this was a week, each of us will never ever forget in our lives.

Juliana: I was following your very first performance on the live broadcast of on Youtube. Your first song was stopped in the middle of the performance by the moderator. What happened?

A-Ra: It was in the Jazz category competition. We were the 4th team out of 6 going on stage. We were slightly nervous as the team right before us showed a very good performance. After we started singing we suddenly recognized that the first microphone of Eric didn’t work. But we thought it would be a fatal mistake to stop in the middle of the song, so despite the missing sound of mic 1 we continued, until the moderator came on stage to interrupt the song.

Soo-Yeon: Only after the competition, we learned that the sound engineer had some problems with the related cables of mic 1. Before we went on the competition , we received a lot of advise from our senior from the Korean group Maytree. Maytree as well, when they participated at a competition, faced a sound problem – but he advised us to never let the atmosphere for the audience drop whatsoever. That’s why we had a lot of thoughts about what to do on stage beforehand. Luckily, amongst the judges, Lauren cheered us up „You are still looking good“ to cheer us up, not to get the atmosphere too heavy. An hour later, we went for the second start. When I look back now, although we tried not to be nervous, but still the previous sound problem had an impact on us.

Juliana: Do you think there is a difference between the audience in Korea, in Singapore, Taiwan or Europe?

Dae-Hwan: We didn’t experience a big difference between the different countries. But amongst the countries, Zenith went to, we could feel during the performance that Taiwan’s audience is silently enjoying our music, in Austria, the whole audience was quietly paying attention during our performance, but when we finished they gave us powerful hand. In Singapore and Korea, we had the feeling of a combination of Taiwan and Austrian audience. When we sing a song they know, they enjoyed with lots of fun, when we sing an impressive or emotional song they quietly enjoyed. We are always thankful towards everyone who loves the Zenith songs, regardless of how the audience enjoys our music.

Juliana: What was your favorite team at this – besides you?

Min-Goo: Before we came to Graz, we took part at the event „Out of Graz“. It was a street concert event, one hour bus drive away from Graz, and we went there together with the group Tuuletar from Finnland and Hörband from Germany. Especially amongst the song of the group Tuuletar there was a song with repeating lyrics, the words indeed sounded like Korean. Talking about this, we become really close. And after the event, on our way back on the bus we improvised together, truthfully enjoyed a cappella together and also became friends with Hörband. It is for sure that those two groups both have admirable performance skills and fascinating colors. Hopefully once, we will meet again? It was very sad to leave apart.

Juliana: So, now, what are your next plans? What do you want to achieve with your music? What is Zenith’s zenith?

Eric: Zenith just about started to spread the message that the human voice is the most beautiful instrument. Because up to now, also in Korea, a cappella is no mainstream music, in the mass media it might just appear in a chorus of a famous singer or being used as an instrument in a comedy program, only appearing very short. It is our target to make Zenith’s a cappella music being loved for what it is. Although we think, this target is just about to start to come true, but we would like to let even more people listen to our music.

A Cappella Education in Korea

An interview with Sung-Mo Han, the president of the Korea A Cappella Education Association

Profile of Sung-Mo Han

Sung-Mo Han is the president of the Korea A Cappella Education Association. He is teacher since 2003, mainly for 5th to 6th grade students, recently teaching at Injenam Elementary School in Gangwon-Do, Korea. Until last year, he was the Korean representative of Vocal Asia and from 2015, he became educational consultant of Vocal Asia.

Juliana: Few weeks ago, in Graz, the Korean group „Zenith“ was impressing the European a cappella audience and won first prize in the Pop and second prize in the Jazz category. Another group called The Present from Gwangju, Korea won the second price at this year’s Asia Cup A Cappella Competition. More and more Korean a cappella groups are arising and starting to appear in the international a cappella world.

Sung Mo Han: That’s true. Like Maytree who had their first international success in 2010, now being very popular in Korea and Asia. I am looking forward that Zenith will have good opportunities as well.

Juliana: How did a cappella develop in Korea and what were the drivers?

Sung Mo Han: Small size a cappella groups started in Korea in 1992 when two groups have been introduced in a TV show: The Solists, singing Korean traditional music, and Ingongwisung, an a cappella group from Korea’s best university. In 2000s, many amateur clubs were founded via internet communities. They hold meetings in Seoul. And then, from 2003, many clubs started under the name of „MONO“ in different cities in Korea, gathering a cappella singers. From 2006, many amateur aca-lovers made various concerts, festivals and joined TV shows etc. But the initiatives shrank after 2011.

Juliana: I see. What forms of education contributed to the development of a cappella in Korea

Sung Mo Han: Korean a cappella has developed from 2002 through professional a cappella groups and organizations like clubs, research society, association. And currently, is combined with education: much education have been carried out in form of company education, cultural education, prison/school/welfare center/military education, etc.  I, personally, am focusing on developing educational programs, and raising teachers because I think good musical education can be achieved through many teachers teaching a cappella well.

Juliana: You are contributing a lot to a cappella education in Korea. How does it look like and what is the receipee and the secrets behind?

Sung Mo Han: It is not only me alone, I have to thank everybody who tries hard and give their best for a cappella education. Koreans have  much interest in a cappella education. I try to change teaching a cappella to music class by teaching in the form of developing cooperation and creativity with a cappella.

Juliana: How many children in your school are learning / singing a cappella? How does the teaching concept look like?

Sung Mo Han: It depends. Normally, I teach the school club which consists of about 10 students, or it can be 20~30 persons in a class. I consider the attitude very important. I always tell my students that it is very important to hear their own voice, feel the tone and volume of other friends who sing the same part, feel the difference of key with other parts, and feel the whole music – and of course to sing. We do not sing A Cappella to sing very well, but it is much more important to feel the other person, listen to others’ voice and know the joy of making music. And it should be fun.

Juliana: How many a cappella groups did you bring to life so far?

Sung Mo Han: It is hard to tell exact number of the groups that I started or the groups that I helped when they made their first steps, but it is about 30.

Juliana: Korea has great singers, I don’t know anyone in Korea who doesn’t have a beautiful voice. Thinking of my many Karaoke evenings with friends and colleagues… What is the history / secret behind Korea’s singing skills?

Sung Mo Han: It is said that Koreans are people who love to drink, sing and dance since old times. And that karaoke culture is also derived because we love to sing. First of all, there is a little societal atmosphere that think highly of expressing emotions honestly and artistically.

Juliana: Also, the Korean music industry is very strong in exporting, thinking of K-Pop and the many Korean idols being famous in whole Asia. Do you think Korean a cappella groups will have similar chances in getting popular in other Asian countries or even worldwide?

Sung Mo Han: Definitely there is an influence by K-pop. But I think the reason Korean a cappella gives a good image to Asia is the nice quality Korean a cappella groups achieve.

Juliana: Thank you very much for this interview.



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