NYT ’17, Korea Day 3 : Concert with the Gunsan Civic Chorale

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.

The restaurant “Arirang” which we stopped at to eat delicious bibimbap

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 Gunsan Arts Center – quite a sight!

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.

Gleeks rehearse amid the members of the Gunsan Civic Chorale

After the joint rehearsal, we had a bit of time to ourselves on the stage, and we went through our own set.

We rehearse our repertoire for the concert

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.

Two gleeks enjoying the amazing dinner buffet

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.

The Gunsan Civic Chorale performed the second half of their set in tradition garb

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.

The Glee Club as it starts its concert
The Small group performs Glorious Apollo
We sing the football songs: “with crimson and triumph FLASHING”

Our finale, the joint performance of the Gunsan conductor’s arrangement of “Arirang,” was also received quite well.

The two choirs combine to sing both American and Korean traditional songs
The two conductors salute the crowd

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.

The mayor and Gunsan officials along with the two conductors cut the afterparty cake

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.

We rejoince after the concert
Gleeks await tasty food at the reception after the concert
Quincy and others took the opportunity to take pictures with members of the Gunsan Civic Chorale

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

NYT ’17, Korea Day 2 : Day of Activities at the Korean International School

Today we had very unique and special day of exchange with the students of the Korean International school (a K through 12 Anglophone school based in Seoul). We were all assigned to lead workshops that were attended by the students of the school; a golden opportunity for us to talk about our interests, learn from the Korean students, and try our hand at teaching kids – and indeed, it is not that easy! On their side, the students from KIS were able to learn about Harvard, new challenging or fun topics, and meet and interact with us all.

The morning we all rose from our bunk beds and congregated for an 8am breakfast in one of the Korean International School cafeterias. The place was already bustling with students from the school receiving their meal; but though the line was long, the service was extremely efficient: we received a hodge-podge of items including cereal, juice, mushroom soup, ham, toast, salad, and fruit, all in one tray with slots of various shapes in sizes. Made me realize I miss high school cafeteria!

Gleeks at breakfast

Immediately after breakfast we were shown around some the school premises by Javier, our liaison at the school. We were grateful for the tour: the campus was decently big (I myself managed to get hopelessly lost later on in the day, only to be saved by the personnel around). As we went along the tour we dispersed into the rooms in which we were to give our workshops. Half of the Glee Club was assigned to a morning session, while the other half was free to roam and prepare an afternoon session, and after lunch break the groups switched.

The leaders of a “Life at Harvard” workshop

The workshops included more musical activities such as singing, composing, sight-reading, but also a broad variety of other topics including Logic and Reasoning, Basics of Computer Science, Applying to an American College, Basketball, and explanations about Life at Harvard – the latter being by far the most attended.

One group taught a workshop on music composition, and had to improvise quickly when their pupils were much younger than expected. Thanks to the elementary school’s music facilities (xylophones and drums) they still had a fun time.

Students of varying age at the workshop

My group broached the topic of logic and reasoning. We gave them various puzzles, showed them the AND, OR and NOT tables, and even showed them some mathematical magic card tricks to make them work out the mechanism.

A final group including our conductor Harris Ipock gave a vocal performance workshop. It was fun and interactive for the kids, and a small impromptu performance was given.

Students feel their diaphragm in action during the voice workshop

After the workshops, we congregated for a rehearsal in the school auditorium. We prepared for a shorter evening recital, and then had our second dinner in South Korea: pizza!

The group in rehearsal

After the more intense experience of the first concert in Taipei, we felt rather relaxed about the second concert, and we had a lot of fun in the process.

A highlight: our president Quincy Cason, upon announcing his role, is hailed by a general “oooo!” from the audience, and is then immediately hit by a spotlight; President of the Harvard Glee Club has an impressive ring to it for sure.

The spotlight hits our president

A few minutes after we stepped off the stage, we were surprised by a person telling us: “the audience is still clapping, they are waiting for an encore!” Lite was frantically reassembled and performed one more song to the cheers of the crowd.

The Glee Club performing their recital

We mingled among the crowd as it left the hall, providing an occasion for many selfies and group photos. Finally we were greeted by the school officials including the founder of the school, for whom we sung our domine as a thanks for the fantastic exchange.

After the recital, a sizeable portion of gleeks went to the Gangnam district to hang out and try chicken feet stew and soju (for the adventurous).

A group celebrating the day at Gangnam

As a close to the evening, we retreated to dorms, played cards, did our laundry chatted, and prepared our suitcases for the early departure next morning. We were coming back to the dorms in a few days (and looking forward to it!) so we thankfully could pack lighter.

Author: Jeffery Durand

NYT ’17, Korea Day 1 : Travel to Seoul and Korean BBQ

After a memorable (or maybe not so memorable for some) night at Party World karaoke in Taipei, it was time to head out for the next city on our trip — Seoul, South Korea. After a smooth check-in process at the Taoyuan International Airport, we were all set to board our Air Korea flight to Incheon International Airport. Aboard this flight we had our first experience with Korean hospitality – although the flight was short, the flight attendants took very good care of us. I was impressed by the frequency with which we were offered food and drink, as well as the fluency of the flight attendants in English, Chinese, and Korean. Our trip concluded with pleasantly short wait times for customs and baggage claim at the airport in Seoul.

Our reception at KIS came with a banner [I am currently hunting for the group photo that followed]

On the way to our accommodations in Korea, it became obvious how cold it was outside as the glass began to fog up on the interior of the bus. Though this blocked our view of the landscape, it provided an opportunity for some to begin planning for tomorrow’s workshops at the Korean International School, and for others to rest. We took some time to rest at a Korean barbeque restaurant on the way – this was to be our first meal in Korea. I was with the group that was given floor mats to sit on, but one could immediately notice that the floor mats were heated from underneath – how nice is it to be able to sit on the floor without being cold!

KIS led us to an excellent Korean Barbecue restaurant for our first meal in Korea

We were given sheets of meat to cook and cut ourselves (though we were aided by the waiter); served with an assortment of condiments and side dishes, the delicious meat was aggressively seasoned and definitely the highlight of the dinner, eaten alone or in a lettuce wrap (I was told that the vegetarians enjoyed their meal too). The servers at the restaurant were attentive and accommodating of the obvious language barrier; however, it soon surfaced that a number of the servers were Chinese-Korean and spoke fluent Chinese, and some fun conversation followed.

Shenanigans at the dinner

Soon after we re-boarded the bus, we arrived at the Korean International School and were shown our accommodations. The majority of us were to be housed in spacious four-person dormitory rooms’ bunk beds. Though more modest than our Taipei accommodations, these rooms will certainly allow us a comfortable stay in Seoul; however, we noticed a few interesting quirks as soon as we arrived. First, the floor was again heated! This made going barefoot in the bedroom quite comfortable, making it easy for us to respect this aspect of Korean etiquette. Second, Wi-Fi was not available in the bedrooms! This forces students to congregate in common areas for web access, promoting the social scene at the school in a manner both clever and astounding. That night, we engaged in various activities, including planning for the next day’s workshops with the Korean International School students, an outing to Gangnam, a poker night, and a Sherlock (the TV series) watching party.

Overall, a fantastic first day in Korea.

Author: Jimmy Jiang

NYT ’17, Taiwan Day 6 : Concert at the National Concert Hall

On the day of our first concert of tour, January 2nd, we had a free morning to do as we wished. Some gleeks decided to go hiking up elephant mountain, others took a visit to the Taipei City Mall, and still others took a trip up to the top of the famous Taipei 101 building with some of the fastest elevators in the world.

Several hikers with the Taipei skyline behind them.

We met after lunch to take the buses to the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial. We took group photos both inside and outside the beautiful National Concert Hall Conveniently we all coordinated and wore our great tour shirts (designed by the talented Dennis Zhang). Here is the full group on the steps of the Taipei National Concert Hall:

The Full Glee Club in front of the Taipei National Concert Hall

The Concert Hall had an incredible pipe organ taking up the wall behind the stage, and the room had wonderful acoustics: one of the best in the country, we were told. Here we are on the stage:

The Glee Club on the stage of the National Concert Hall

At long last we had a sound check to prepare for our concert in the concert hall. We ran through the critical parts of the repertoire and made sure we had everything under our belt.

The singers take a break during the rehearsal

After the sound check, we had a dinner consisting of a box with sushi rolls. The people in charge of our dinner learned only after they ordered that we were headed to Japan next! We changed into our clothes and prepared to perform in the concert hall at 7pm.

Overall, it was a fantastic concert. Since it was both the first concert on tour and a high profile concert hall, we were all a little nervous, but the adrenaline gave energy to our music. However we were a bit put off by the icy cold silence after our first piece; unbeknownst to us, an announcer had before our arrival on stage asked the audience to keep their applause until the end of a section! But as the concert unravelled, it was clearly a success. Lite’s A Cappella was beautiful; and probably the single moment that garnered the most applause was Jasper Johnson’s translations of announcements into Chinese. It was a great concert to start off the tour.

The Glee Club during the first tour performance

We were all very excited in the backstage to have performed our first concert: I for one was most nervous about this concert in particular, and we had risen to expectations. It was then time to say goodbye to the concert hall.

The Taipei National Concert Hall, the night of the concert

That night after the concert, we were taken to a karaoke event at Party World, where we were treated by Albert Ting himself to two large reserved rooms, as well as food and drinks throughout the night. The gleeks enjoyed themselves in the singing and drinking, a joyous end to a strong first concert day.

Raucous singing during the karaoke party following the concert

Author: Sean Park and Jeffery Durand

NYT ’17, Korea Day 7 : Travel to Japan

[A quick note: sincere apologies for the big delay in the blog updates. We will be updating all the previous missing days very soon in addition to the upcoming days]

The morning was spent busy packing in the KIS dormitories, along with a final breakfast in the busy highschool cafeteria for those that had the courage or energy left to wake up. Some, including myself, were a bit late to laundry process, and had to resort to laying out socks, underwear and shirts on the heated floor to make them dry faster than on the racks! Finally we met at 10:30am and loaded the two buses, and bid our farewell to the amazing KIS staff with our traditional “Domine Salvum Fac.” We set on the final leg of our journey: to Japan, the land of the Rising Sun!

The Glee Club sings their farewells to KIS

The travel to Japan – with a bus ride to the airport, plane ride to Osaka KIX, and bus ride to Osaka – was itself uneventful, many of us using the time to catch up on sleep. We all unanimously enjoyed the quality of the Korean Air service, with on-flight entertainment and quality snacks served despite the flight being about an hour long. The club was hailed at the arrival gate by a team from the Shin Osaka Youth Hostel, where we were to spend our night. We were surprised at the length of the bus ride to the hostel, and so were grateful to finally make it to our small yet confortable hostel rooms: our first bedroom in Japan!

The group dispersed for dinner, with a contingent following Taggart Murphy (who was in the Glee Club during the Europe tour of ’73, was now living in Japan for almost 40 years, and had played a critical role in the planning of this tour) to the lively area of Kita-Ku. Back at the hostel, despite the very spotty wifi, we all enjoyed games (especially card games), conversations, and the manga library before setting to bed, with tomorrow’s explorations and concert in mind.

[More pictures coming soon!]

Author: Jeffery Durand

NYT ’17, Taiwan Day 5 : New Year’s Day in Taiwan

We were given a fantastic gift for New Year’s day: the Glee Club had the day off. I can’t imagine a better way to start the New Year.

The group split into a great variety of trips throughout Taipei. Here are but just a few:

Outing to the Taipei Zoo:

A group of just around ten gleeks woke up early in the morning to go to the Taipei Zoo; it has the reputation of being the biggest zoo in Asia, so our expectations were high! We were not disappointed. We started with animals native to Taiwan, among which was a collared bear (Formosan fauna), then spent time in the insect house trying to catch butterflies! From there we hurried to the Panda house to catch a glimpse of the furry bear: we was eating bamboo near the back of his cage! Finally we ambled around, stumbling on the African and Asian elephants, orangutangs, and many others animals. These sights were made unique by the lush sub-tropical backdrop unique to Taiwan.

Some of the Gleeks near the entrance of the Taipei zoo

Hike into Elephant Mountain:

Around 20 Gleeks used New Year’s Day to go hiking in the ‘Four Beasts’ region, just outside of Taipei. The area is renowned for its beautiful landscape, temples, and spectacular views of the city skyline, especially Taipei 101. Beginning at Elephant Mountain (象山) , we were surprised by both the endless stairs and the sheer volume of selfie-stick armed tourists. At the peak – the main tourist destination – the group separated; some descended back into the city, others hiked a temple viewing trail, while the most adventurous pushed on towards the 9-5 peak (九五峯). Although the sunset forced us to turn back prematurely, we were still rewarded with an amazing view, and our tired souls were somewhat soothed by the melodious tenor notes of a local farmer.

The view from Elephant Mountain

Bike Ride toward the ocean:

Another contingent of 10 gleeks went on a biking trip along the Tansui river that afternoon, with the goal of going all the way to the ocean. I had been told by Albert Ting himself that the sightseeing was incredible and that the riverside had a pathway specifically for bikes; parts of this trail were alluringly called the “Golden Shore.” So after some searching, we found a good quality bike shop that miraculously had the perfect amount of bikes for us. We joined the very well maintained and beautiful bike path; the wide, open views of river branches and mountains beyond were unforgettable. But due to its popularity there were a lot of bikers other than ourselves, so we unluckily got split at a turn. But a rescue party successfully reunited us, and we a witnessed a breathtaking sunset from the river shore. After a final push north we arrived at a train station that we took back to our starting point, tired but proud of the 20ish kilometers covered.

Connor and Ben with their bikes

We made our way safely back by subway when night arrived. Once we gave our bikes back, we walked to the nearby night market and had dinner at a restaurant with Hakka ethnic food, and shared duck, noodles and beef dishes to celebrate a day well spent exploring the formidable landscapes of Taiwan.

The biking group meets after their outing for dinner

[more pictures coming soon!]

Authors: Jeffery Durand and Constantin Arnscheidt