May 17 – 12:01 AM, Seoul, Korea
I slept some on the two hour 10 minute flight from Narita and am in fairly good shape. I’ve just ordered scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and chives. For the last few days I’ve been eating only one meal per day.
I noticed quite a change in the appearance of my fellow travelers. The businessmen particularly, are on the whole, a very different breed. On our flight to and in China, the Westerners were conservatively dressed, subdued in their demeanor and tentative in conversation and eye contact. By comparison, these fellows on their way to Seoul are sharks. They are out to score in an environment with which they are familiar. The hustlers are reving up for the game. I haven’t seen this many unique characters since my last viewing of “The Godfather”.
To compliment this cast of characters are Marines, Army and Navy personnel returning to their posts. It’s been a long time, perhaps my tour with the North Carolina Symphony, (Ft. Bragg.) since I’ve been on and I’ve been this close to the regulars of the United States Armed Forces.
A lot of young mothers and wives, some with children – heading towards their reunions with spouses. Two empty seats away from me is a young, but quite tall and big boned wiry blonde in shorts. About 45 minutes out of Seoul, she makes her third trip to the bathroom – returns to her seat and puts out a make-up kit on her folding airline tray. Eyebrows – cheek blush – lipstick. Then contact lenses fluid – removes her lenses – douses them with the fluid (too much, her palm is dripping with the stuff)- replaces them. Then a large bottle of skin cream – arms thighs – knees – calves. Come on sister, you got a guy over here that hasn’t been laid in two weeks. A few minutes before we land our eyes meet and she smiles. That’s okay for her. As Amaryllis once remarked, “She’s gonna fuck until the top of her feet are raw”. I want to follow her off the plane and see if she is met at the airport and by whom.
I have to let that go because we are met just inside the arrival lounge by our Korean consul – David Hutchinson and his Mr. Fix-it – the amicable, but impatient Mr. Park. They are both in a hurry and by the time we cleared Customs and Immigration, I stopped counting the number of times they had looked at their watches.
I can understand Mr. Park’s attitude. It is obvious that harried is his normal operational mode. But David is pissing me off. He seems rather laid-back and we seem to be inconveniencing him. Finally I pulled the plug and give him the good ole boy routine. “Ya got a tight schedule tonight Dave”? He doesn’t fluster and tells me that a couple of old friends dropped by tonight unexpected, and he and his wife were entertaining them. He wants to get back to the party. That’s straight ahead – and I give him a few points but he looks kind of slow and when he speaks Korean to the immigration officer the guy doesn’t seem impressed. If we are lucky we won’t have to deal with him too often. He doesn’t need five drummers in his life, who does? – besides he is shipping out in a few months.
To say that Seoul is uptight is to understate the feeling at the airport. Everything is handled by the Army (Korean) – and these guys let you know they are not kidding around. The airport looks new and clean. It could be Toronto Malton airport.
A bus is waiting for us and we could take right off except for Bill. He had his scissors confiscated at Narita because they were too long. He remembers at the last minute and runs back into the terminal to find the Northwest Orient office where they should be holding them in an envelope. 15 minutes go by and Bill returns empty-handed. He says he will call the airport tomorrow and perhaps take a cab to pick them up. The damn scissors cost 2 or 3 bucks at the most!
It’s dark as we drive into Seoul but it feels like New York and we arrive at the Seoul Hilton International. Marble, brass, stainless steel, carpeting, and classically subservient bell boys and desk clerks.
Dong-Wook Park, Mr. Percussion of South Korea, and a really warm, dedicated guy has met us at the airport and arrived just ahead of us at the hotel. It is late but we speak with him for a few minutes. He greets me by name and I feel strangely out of kilter because it seemed so natural. I spoke with this guy for 10 minutes – 2 years ago in Dallas, Texas. Our official hosts – Korean Broadcasting System – have three representatives at the hotel and we are given are per diem checks – some ridiculous sum, like 200,000 won which equals about $250 US. I cash mine at the hotel desk. The hotel manager introduces himself to us and says “Room service – money exchange on 24 hour services – and the bar is open until 3 AM. There are 100 people on duty to provide you with any service. Welcome to our hotel”.
Welcome to capitalism. I love it. We walk towards our bags and pass the elevators. Hold on – who is that silver haired image from our past? Well, holy shit it’s Sprio T. Agnew, conviccted felon, former Vice President of the U.S. of A. with a few cronies. A fallen angel and he’s in Seoul – still wheeling and dealing. I wonder if he’s paying his own way and who he is working for now? He surely isn’t looking the worse for wear. Taller than I thought.
After I walked in my room I realize I would like to close the door and not come out for a week. We’re not fooling around here – Triple A first-class. No curtains on the windows, sliding screen Korean style, TV in a very expensive Korean chest. Full bar, refrigerator, folding Oriental closet doors with solid brass handles. Expensive hardwood desk with real brown marble top with matching coffee table, glass topped. Shoehorn, brush, shoe bag, shampoo, skin cream, bath foam, lint remover. Brass lamps, ceramic lamps, brass rose vase, couch, easy chair, full-length dressing mirror with soft yellow brass lamp. Upholstered trash cans, bathrobe (good quality), two pairs leather slippers. Marble and hardwood bedside table with built-in digital clock and state-of-the-art controls for every electrical fixture in the room. High powered shower with big plush towels – not Howard Johnson – but Bloor Street boutique plush. Adapter plug in a wicker basket on the full-length green marble vanity. All lacquered Kleenex box – silent, perfectly balanced and adjustable air-conditioning. Hip print in brass frame and touch tone phone in olive. Rattanish wallpaper and enough pillows to keep a Girl Scout troop happy. The telephone information book and all the hotel service books – usually in vinyl or clear plastic – are stitched leather. The bar is inset and lined with mirrors.
My eggs come in two portions drowning French pastry shells perfectly made – you could count the layers. The salmon, chives, capers, horseradish, lettuce leaf could only be better at home. 4 cups of coffee in a beautiful shape stainless steel pot. Real butter, salt and pepper shakers – China – good quality linen napkins – lemon wedge – two rolls nice and crisp and flaky outside – good consistency inside.
Before ordering, I put on a shirt and tie, jacket and slacks before looking for some ciggs. This joint is big and all marble and brass. Whatever happened to China? Austrian gourmet show downstairs. Cabinets are empty now but they are selling sausages, truffles, pate – all kinds of fancy stuff.
This morning, or rather this afternoon, we had a rehearsal at the KBS studio and a reception at the Canadian embassy residence. Got to put the “Do not disturb” sign on my door. The Chinese do not have a word for privacy. Somehow I feel the sign in this hotel is going to work. PS – found a flashlight, for Christ’s sake, on my bedside table! Well I’ll retire with my Hong Kong edition of the International Tribune. Whoops, almost forgot – the brass desk lamp switch which is a reostat and earlier, when I took a hot shower, the bathroom did not steam up.
May 18 – 9:40 AM
KBS is deja vu of NHK in Tokyo -post World War II architecture. In the control room of the studio where our videotape is being made, a disc jockey is churning out US hits from the 60s.
The Canadian Embassy party is at Mr. and Mrs. L.A.K. James’ home – 330 – 363 Sungbuk-Dong, Sungbuk–Ku – telephone 741 1980. A beautiful view from their backyard – down a mountain over one section of Seoul – ours. He explains that originally he assumed he was seeing the city from here, until he drove over his hill and came upon another vista. The city sprawls.
Bill Bauer is the ambassador and his humor and good sense attract the entire group. He has a large Gallic nose on a rather thin face – small eyes. He reminds me very much of the man from whom we rented a cottage on Canning Lake for a few summers – Kurt Morlock. We discuss traveling to Thailand, Burma – his experiences there. Then he says, with the perfect inflection of Michael in Tokyo* – “It’s a living!” We all toast him with true affection and good humor. Later I explain why we were so moved by that expression. *(Michael Craden, former member of Nexus who died in 1981.)
One comment he makes is interesting,”A secret is something you keep in your back pocket until you put it on the table out of desperation”. “Desperation is the operative word” he says to me when I later, repeat the phrase to him. We are the first Canadian group to play Korea. There are a lot of people on the lawn by now, up. Must be 60 or 70. I ask one of the embassy wives to explain the interests they represent. Korean English paper – Canadian bank – KBS executive – a lot of Koreans she does not know – embassy staff and the Korean folk group in traditional dress, What colors and interest their costumes add to the gray western suits!
11 AM after calling Eleanor
I talked to the President and VP of KBS. They tell me directly that we should have sent them a videotape of Nexus (they are sponsoring us partially). I realize that we had been of little help to them and they are concerned about profit and loss. I am then very direct and tell them we are sorry – we owe them and that besides guaranteeing our concert will be a success, we will make it up to them if we ever come back. They respond very positively to my bluntness in my apology.
After the reception we return to the hotel to have a group birthday dinner for John at the Japanese restaurant. We go to the coffee shop for dessert – ice cream in brandy and chocolate cake
Tonight the president of KBS is giving us a dinner. Overweight, slightly disheveled, ashes wafting on to his suit, perspiring and eyelids pinched shut, he looks like a rather dull, but dangerous owner of a wonton fast food chain, fronting for cocaine trafficking. His VP is the perfect foil. Short, thin, bespectacled -neat -, warm, smile, good sense of humor, comfortable conversationalist. I so desire an end to reception dinners, tours and organization in general.
My spirits are lifted by my call home. So good to hear Bryce’s and Eleanor’s voice. Time to “Shawn-Lay-Bah”.
PS – As we departed the Canadian Embassy reception there is a large circle of flowers on a stand with a sign welcoming Mr. …., President of Hyundai Motors. Placed directly on the front walk, it was not there when we arrived. Who is the honored guest at this reception? I look at my invitation and it says “In honor of the Canadian percussion ensemble Nexus. Mr. and Mrs. etc. request the pleasure etc. etc.”
Seems the James’ are doing double duty tonight. As we leave the next shift comes in, either way we lose. There was no bouquet for us. Ah, Vanity, Vanity, thy name is ego. Hyundai makes the Pony automobile that is being imported into Canada next year. There are priorities in this world.
Our rehearsals are turning into taping sessions. More videotaping, more interviews. I think KBS is more interested in the gate then whether or not we are properly rehearsed.
The dinner at Korea house was spectacular – very traditional Korea. I think it is second only to the meal in Kyoto given us by the executives from Seibu department store. We discuss the powers of ginseng and the recommended brand is deep red. I was guaranteed its restorative powers, given usage for at least one month.
We leave the table and go into a large wing that is a theater. A traditional Korean orchestra is seated on either side of the stage and the performance begins of mime, fan dance, drumming, scarf dance, instrumental pieces. Some of the most incredibly powerful, exciting theater I’ve ever seen. What in God’s name do they want us for?
The building in which the meal and the theater performance takes place is in the former house of a nobleman and is very beautiful. Even more beautiful than the Chinese structures we saw – because of simplicity, to my eyes, a lack of gaudiness. Less painting – more dependence on natural wood grain use of wood design.
May 19 – 12:03 AM –
Miss Korea was chosen tonight. She gasped and cried. The presentation was an exact copy of Miss America. The American TV channel is run by the Armed Forces. Very few commercials and they are designed to warn the service personnel against loose talk and drugs. As Miss Korea was being interviewed they show Bob Barker announcing Miss USA – a girl of New York and Oriental ancestry.
NEXUS WORLD TOUR – 1984 – A DIARY, Part 12. KBS Concert and Hanyang University.
May 19 – 8:56 AM
I woke at 7 a.m. Still getting up early. Had breakfast for the first time since the tour started. Eggs and corned beef hash, toast, butter and jam. Today is one concert.
May 20 – 12:47 AM
Terrific concert. Good feeling from the time we step out on stage. Huge hall, 3200 people, Canadian ambassador there and his wife, all of Dong-Wook’s students and Salmunori, the Korean folk group. Standing ovation – lots of autographs. KBS televised the show. Great performance of Mather, Cage, Takemitsu,Improv, Drum line, Kobina – two outbursts of applause in Birds and great Rags.
Dong-Wook is ecstatic. “We did it, we did it!” he cries. Embraces all around. He has been a dim light in the forest preaching percussion in South Korea for 10 years and finally has been vindicated for all his preaching. We have done it for him. A lovely moment.
All his students help us pack up under the supervision of his former students who are now professionals. One of his former student’s wives presents us all with a rose. This morning we take a bus with his students to a Korean folk village. By taking this trip we miss the telecast of the fifth game of the Stanley Cup from Edmonton. The Oilers could win it with this one.
May 20 – 9 AM (watching television)
Obviously a modern piece for c’hung (c’hing) solo and traditional orchestra with conductor! Flutes with the pieces of bamboo from the inside joints posted over a hole below the blowhole thus producing a buzzing quality. An instrument that looks like the player is blowing into the stem end of a small pear. This is a gourd flute with finger holes around the surface.
Percussion includes a marktree (western) and a large Paiste tam tam. Here the c’hung are played with the with a wooden bow (traditional), a string bow (western) and plucked. One model of c’hung had individual bridges under each string and another type has violin like bridges which many strings pass over. Another technique is to play with a small stick in the right hand.
A not too good percussion quartet playing traditional instruments. A crane dance – costumed dancing chorus of women singers. Probably this is Sunday morning folk shlock but some of it is interesting – taped in the same hall as our concert. On the US channel is an interview with a rock star. The men’s comedy singing reminds me of scat. I had the thought at Korea House that Louis Armstrong would have fit right in.
I must remember to bring some Fisherman’s Friends with me on the European part of the tour. Three fifths of the group has developed a minor flu and sore throat.
We’ve gone to the Korean Folk Village. A Pioneer Village but larger – very nice to walk in – beautiful walls. Dong-Wook complains of the use of Western instruments in traditional orchestra. We have lunch in the market square – a large space under tents supported by poles. The food is grown and prepared by the people who live and work in the village. Lots of people – children, parents, grandparents – a very friendly atmosphere in the shade – delicious food. First course is a fritter – pancake thickness – with scallion greens in the batter. Reminds me of Eleanor’s oyster fritter batter. A soya type sauce with seasoning for dipping the pieces.
Kimshi is a beautiful dish of pale radish cubes with some kind of orangish red hot liquid and pepper flakes. Very refreshing. Trays of brownish cubes of bean curd and made from chestnuts. Very good with the relish with which it is served.
A sweet rice liquid served cold with grains of white rice floating in it. The grains are the consistency of Rice Krispies and are white. Desserts for us are inedible. I tell Dong-Wook this is the first meal I had where the main courses were like desserts and the desserts were like medicine. Another aspect of the meal was that it was vegetarian. The entire meal was served by Dong-Wook’s students who otherwise sat in a group at the end of the table and showed that usual distance a student has from their master.
Before lunch, there was a performance of peasant village drumming and dancing. And oboist stood to one side and played a simple melody accompaniment. Very exciting stuff – some of the players wore hats with wands from which long ribbons flowed. They would move their heads around and the ribbons would twirl in large circles and undulate in various patterns. The leader of the group was an older fellow who would signal the changes with a small, handheld gong. The drums are shaped like large western military drums, suspended from a strap that is attached to either end of the drum and over the player’s shoulder. One head is struck with a curved mallet, the other head is struck with a strip of bamboo. The drumheads are held over shell of the drum with a rope which is tensioned by pieces of leather, exactly like our rope-tensioned military drums in the west.
In one of the Village homes is shown two women kneeling on either side of a low table each with a small club, the size of our hammer handles but shaped like a long flat shoe horn. Dong-Wook collects these and uses them in his music. The women pound clothing that had been washed and dried in order to stretch and smooth the cloth. Similar to ironing. They would pound very fast and play highly intricate rhythms and variations, much like jazz.
A candy maker nest to a large tray of rice confections is playing the scissors he uses to cut the long strands. The blades are very loose and shaped similar to large tongue depressors and rattle easily against each other. Bill said he had heard these “scissors” in the city as far as a block away. The fellow played a few licks for us.
One of the country gentleman’s home complex has an interesting heating and ventilation system. All the smoke from the various fire in the complex is vented under the floors for heat and the excess smoke from all the fires is vented underground to a smoke stack in a corner of the compound.
Carl Rustrum mentioned a similar technique on the much smaller scale which he learned from an Indian tribe in northern Canada. When snowbound, and their tent is closed, the Indians would dig a tunnel under the floor to the outside and the smoke was invented down and out rather than the opposite.
At Korea House, the floors were heated with hot water run through pipes. I did not learn the system for moving the water but it was continuously re-cycled and reheated. Mr. Li said that this would heat the entire room and the only inconvenience of having to be careful not to step on the floor with bare feet.
Also at Korea House, we tasted the Korean rice wine – milder then Japanese sake and slightly thicker in consistency. We were introduced to the Korean dry white wine –”Majuang””. This wine is certainly competitive and could be imported with good chances of being popular. It reminded me of the Greek wine Appelia – woody flavor, very smooth with a reasonable body. The grape from which it is made is the Seibel. It is almost twice the price of an imported white Burgundy. 5800 won as opposed to 3400 for the burgundy. In fact, it is more than twice the price because the 5800 is for a half bottle. A little over eight dollars US.
Another practically full day of the guys spending money and having lunch with hosts. We leave in a few minutes to give our concert clinic. Early day tomorrow with a 10 AM flight to Tokyo.
Salmunori gave us lunch at a fine restaurant on a very tiny street near the traditional music shop where we purchased instruments. The street and the restaurants reminded me of Tokyo. I began to get a rather severe headache soon after lunch began – perhaps an MSG rush. Salmunori is starting to get jobs in the West and will make their first trip to Europe this summer.
After our drum shop experience one of the members presented each of us with an autographed hand-drum of the type used by the farmers in the dance we saw at the Korean folk Village.
Back at the hotel, I ran into one of the embassy staff who teaches English to the staff of the Hilton Hotel.
One thing that has become abundantly clear, is the tradition of ensemble music performance without music and non-playing conductor. We have heard incredibly complex and lengthy compositions involving 2- 20 players, all memorized and played without conductor.
The first thing that struck me about the composition for c’hung which I heard on TV the other day was the tentative and stilted way in which it was played. The close up shots of some of the ensemble performers gave further proof to this.
The level of ensemble playing here and in China is far superior to most of our symphony orchestras and chamber groups. Usually, when we get a piece together in terms of intonation and rhythm, the performance lacks the final quality of spontaneity. Only with the finest orchestras and conductors do we have a chance of hearing a really convincing performance and even then, only once in a while.
Seoul is very hilly and Hanyang University is on top of one of those hills. The lecture concert is given before a full house and is very well received. We played music for” Pieces of Wood”, Cage “3rd Construction and three rags and “Imbira” There are questions from the audience – music students,Dean of Music, composers and various teachers.
After the performance there is beer, soda pop, and nibbles in the lobby with a couple of hundred students and faculty. Many autographs and questions. A girl approaches and wants to question me about the Cage. I call over our lecture’s translator and the girl wants to know what the title “3rd Construction” means. That one’s easy enough, but then she asks how she, as a Korean, should react to the piece. Both the translator and I smile at this one and the translator explained that Orientals – she is oriental – must know first before they can react. whereas Westerners feel first and then react. I tell her of my conversation with Kwang Chao in Shanghai concerning friendship and Kwang’s reaction to that as being abstract. The translator relates this story about our improvisation and the girl says also that friendship is abstract. In China, I was told that audiences required the music to have a story, be programatic, and know the story before a performance.
As we’re talking, a young girl who plays percussion in the Pusun Symphony asks if there is anything I can tell her – any advice I can give her – a student of percussion. I tell her to trust herself and concentrate on sound. She asks if there is a different between European and North American percussionists. I say that generally European percussionist are concerned with percision.
Russell now has our flu. Bob and I are very flushed – sore throats, headaches. John, Jean and Bill go to dinner with Dong-Wook and some faculty and we returned to the hotel. I just had seafood gumbo, tenderloin steak with noodles carrots, zucchini. Perfectly prepared, very rare.
I’m all packed except for my shaving kit. 7:40 AM bus to airport. Despite my touch of flu, I’ve been fortunate in the main concern of travel. Good bowel movements. I’m still waking up at 6:30 AM. Christ, I wish I could sleep late just once. Speaking of Christ, Dong-Wook Park is a devout Catholic. He gave a long speech after one concert. I think he was making as much political hay as possible for the percussion department. He went down the line shaking our hands and giving each of us a big hug. I felt a little uncomfortable with that kind of display under such public circumstances but, what the hell he’s the one who has to stay behind.
PS – Students wearing masks and holding hands over face as we drove on campus. Yesterday a student demonstration was tear gassed. 15 hours later, the smell still hangs in the air.
Posted by robinengelman on November 27, 2015 in Articles, Commentaries & Critiques, History
Tags: Dong-Wook Park, Salmunori