When Korean-American Sarah Park came to Jeju, she knew she would be teaching, meeting new people, visiting her relatives, attending church every Sunday, and having fun. What she didn’t know was that she would continue practicing her hobby: playing the cello for her church’s Praise Band and the Jeju Nanum Orchestra.
Sarah was born in Gangnam, Seoul, on March 24, 1988. When she was four years old she and her family moved to the United States, where she grew up in a small college town called Athens, Georgia.
Sarah’s first instrument was the piano. At the age of seven she began taking lessons from her mother. “She made me learn the piano like she made me learn [to speak] Korean,” says Sarah. It wasn’t until the fifth grade that she picked up the cello. “My mom gave me a choice, she said, ‘You don’t have to play the piano anymore. You can play the violin or the cello.’”
Sarah chose the cello because she heard it was easier to learn. “It’s just more natural than the violin.”
High school saw Sarah playing in the Athens Youth Symphony for three years. The hardest part, Sarah says, was practicing everyday, but, “My mom wasn’t training me to go to Julliard, she just said I would appreciate it later on.”
At the University of Georgia, where Sarah received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in drawing and painting, Sarah played in her campus’s ministry, as well as a small folk band called Atlas. “There was a guitar player, a djembe player, and me on the cello,” says Sarah.
After graduation, Sarah didn’t know what to do with her life, but she knew she wanted to live abroad. Initially, she applied to work in the Peace Corps. Her parents didn’t feel comfortable with her living in an “unfamiliar country,” says Sarah, “so my mom suggested I go to Korea.”
She applied to jobs on the mainland, but Jeju was the first to respond, so she came.
After eight months of living in Jeju, Sarah finally met the opportunity to play the cello in her church’s Praise Band, at Jeju Youngnak Church. A friend from Sarah’s Bible study was learning the cello, “but she rarely played it, so she said I could play it in the church’s praise band,” says Sarah.
She jumped at the offer.
“I missed playing the cello back in college, and when my friend offered to let me play her cello, I was like, ‘Heck, yeah!’ I was super excited.” Two months later, her friend also suggested she play for the Jeju Nanum Orchestra.
“It’s not challenging. There’s no try out [for the orchestra]. It’s a voluntary thing,” says Sarah. “It’s very open, and when you play it’s super laid back. The conductor is really laid back.” People participate so they can continue playing, says Sarah. “It’s an outlet to play their instruments.”
The concept behind the orchestra is to freely share music. The word “Nanum” means “to share,” says Sarah. The orchestra mostly plays at elementary schools. Its last performance was at a children’s band competition, and the performance before that was at the Jeju Culture & Arts Center. “It’s always for free, and the band members are volunteers,” says Sarah.
The orchestra plays a wide range of music. “Sometimes we play children’s songs, Korean songs, pop songs, western songs, and classical. We played ABBA one time!”
The orchestra generally performs once every two months. Sarah has been with the orchestra for three months. She is the youngest member and the only Korean-American in the orchestra.
Sarah first arrived in Jeju, July 2010. Having finished her contract a year later, she has decided to stay on the island for six more months. During this time, she hopes to find another temporary teaching job while looking into grad school and considering her future back in the United States.
As for practicing the cello, Sarah plans on continuing her passion to play. “I always want to find some kind of venue to play in, whether it’s a church band, or community orchestra, or even some rinky-dinky band like I did in college.”
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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