We left early after breakfast on January 5th for the city of Gunsan, a three hour drive south from Seoul. It’s a smaller, coastal town, right next to the US Air Force base. Our bus had a large, flatscreen TV, and during the first half of the drive, we watched K-Pop videos and a documentary about an isolated tribe that fished and hunted using bows and clubs, and roasted a monkey over a fire for food. We stopped to stretch our legs and use the bathroom after an hour-and-a-half, and people purchased a variety of snacks for the rest of the ride. I myself got a bag of walnut-shaped red bean cakes. They had a soft, golden brown exterior, and the filling had bits of walnut throughout.
When we arrived in Gunsan, we had lunch at a restaurant named “Arirang,” which is also one of the pieces we were singing in Korea. It’s a popular folk tune about a mountain pass, and most everybody in Korea is familiar with it. After lunch, we drove to the meeting point for our housing. According to the best approximate translation, we were going to be staying in Korean guest houses, sort of like a bed and breakfast joint. There were mats on the floor for us to sleep on, a spartan bathroom with a toilet, sink, and shower, and not much space for anything else. We just had time to say hi to our hosts and grab our music and tails before we were whisked off to the Gunsan Art Center.
The Art Center is a surprisingly expansive public work for such a small town. It was constructed in 2013, so its sleek, angular design was a bit incongruous next to the rest of the town, which was a bit smaller and more traditional. The other peculiar thing about the stage was that there was a large thrust, which made the audience seem far away. When we entered, we met the Gunsan Civic Chorale, a professional chorus, and rehearsed our joint pieces with them.
After the joint rehearsal, we had a bit of time to ourselves on the stage, and we went through our own set.
Next on the schedule was dinner, a buffet at a place known for their pork cutlets. All-you-can-eat is always a good choice for the Glee Club, and we filled up on all kinds of tasty food.
The Gunsan Civic Chorale performed first during the concert, and it was then that we realized how good of a choir they were. During our rehearsal with them, our singing mixed in with their singing, making it hard to hear their group sound. When they were in performance mode, they were astounding. Dynamics, phrasing, tempo, pitch, and energy were just right. They got the most out of every piece, and their soloists were quite impressive.
When it was our turn to go on, we knew we had to rise to the occasion. On the whole, we did. It was our best concert on tour so far, and during the football songs, the audience got in on the performance by clapping, albeit off-tempo.
Our finale, the joint performance of the Gunsan conductor’s arrangement of “Arirang,” was also received quite well.
After the performance, we attended a reception with the Chorus, during which time they gave us a plaque from the city of Gunsan, a framed commemorative poster from the concert, and food.
We mingled with the other chorus, and even took a couple of photos with them (kimchi!). At the end, there was a raffle, and several of us won fun prizes, like fans and paper crafts, which they claimed by doing some dance moves.
Afterward, we returned to our guest houses, where we were greeted by our hosts. Many of them had attended the concert, and they all praised our performance, which was a good way to end the day.
Author: Curtis Wu