We flew back...

by Curt Ebersole, Music Director of NVRHS in Old Tappan, NJ


We flew back to the mainland from Jeju Island yesterday, arriving in Busan. We drove to the Catholic Boys and Girls Home there, where I was scheduled to rehearse and perform with their boys' orchestra. I had no idea what I was to conduct (sight-reading a score is every conductor's nightmare) and didn't have high hopes for the experience because the orchestra does not have a director or music teacher of any kind -- the boys practice on their own. Apparently they had no high hopes for this. American who was coming to spend less than an hour in rehearsal with them, then attempt to conduct one work on their concert that evening. We were both dead wrong. What I experienced in Busan is what every musician hopes for: an exciting and heartfelt experience, where the musical communication transcends language barriers. From their folder, I chose the von Suppe, Light Cavalry Overture, for which I had a pedestrian knowledge. We rehearsed for about 50 minutes, and in that time I was completely impressed with their musicianship, technique, and intonation, and they gave me their full attention and superior effort. The resulting performance brought the audience to their feet, and afterwards Mother Superior invited me to return to work with the orchestra again at some time in the future. The group played on the level of an all-state orchestrat was simply amazing. And I was so happy to hear that the nuns in charge remarked about a clear difference in their performance after our rehearsal. The boys crowded around for photos and handshakes afterwards, and it was very difficult to leave these orphans, who clearly have a healthy balance of academics and co-curricular activities in their lives, as well as an extraordinary and positive self-image. The remainder of the program included traditional Korean dances performed by the girls' and children's dance ensembles, and a performance by the girls' drum ensemble. It was a phenomenal performance, on any standard. We have photos and video, but the computer in the hotel is accepting neither from our cameras. Those will have to wait till I return. It was a pivotal musical and emotional experience I will remember the rest of my life.

Today (Saturday) was busy and exhausting. We were up and out of the hotel by 8:00 am. We had an early morning walk around an island park in Busan with beautiful views of the harbor (and you can see Japan in the distance!), and had a quick visit at the Shinsaegae Department Store, recently named the largest department store in the world by the Guinness World Record team. From there we traveled to Gyeongju, the capital of the Shilla Dynasty for about 1000 years. There we toured the Cheomseongdae Observatory (7th century stone structure), the Gyeongju National Museum, the Seokguram Grotto (6th century Buddhist temple) and Bulguksa Temple (6th century temple and surrounding buildings; although most of the wooden buildings have been rebuilt over the centuries, the stone bridges, stairways and pagodas are original. We then drove to Daegu, where we checked in for the night.

This trip has had a major impact on my life. It wasn't just a sightseeing trip. It wasn't even simply a cultural exchange. In many ways, it was a diplomacy trip, to bring America and Korea closer together by making connections on a very personal level. It was very exciting and emotional for me, especially in Busan at the orphanage where I rehearsed and performed with their orchestra. I saw beautiful mountains, waterfalls, and coastlines. It was exciting for all of us to see the adoptees who traveled with us as they explored the country of their heritage. Three adoptees had life-changing experiences: one saw her mother for the first time in many, many years, and two met their birth mothers for the first time. We were all moved by these events.

My thanks go to Hyae Kyung Jo for leading this trip, to Julia Park for inviting me, to Korean American parents in Northern Valley HS in Old Tappan for support of this trip and to Grace Park and Karen Mok for making me feel so welcome all along the way.