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The secret symphony of “Cow Island”Audiences clamber through caves to be thrilled by performance
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승인 2009.10.28  17:27:42
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▲ Jeju English teachers and natives perch themselves on rocks or sit on the cave floor to experience the powerful voices and expert musicianship from some of Jeju’s finest performing artists. Photo by Kim Gyong Ho

Jeju Island’s symphony orchestra plays a variety of venues throughout the year, from stadiums, to parks, to river festivals. None, however, are as unique as its annual cave performance on Udo- a small island located just east of Jeju’s Seongsan area. This year’s Udo Cave Concert took place on the afternoon of Saturday, Oct. 17.

Udo is endearingly referred to as ‘Cow Island’ in Korean, as locals insist the island is shaped like a cow swimming through the ocean toward Jeju. Locals on Udo make a modest living, primarily as Minbak (bed-and-breakfast type establishments) owners, farmers, or haenyeo. The small island, home to an Olle course, an elementary school, middle school, a lighthouse, two ferry ports, flat farmlands, a few beaches, and one large rocky hill, also encompasses a unique cave-within-a-cave.

Dongan Gyeong-gul is charmingly dubbed, ‘whale nostril cave’ because of its large nostril-like shape. This cave sits at the edge of a black sand beach on Udo’s southeast corner. One must cross the beach, climb into a small cave- lined with many piles of neatly stacked rocks which are used to make wishes, then climb through a narrow opening and onto some boulders, which finally lead to the entrance of Dongan Gyeong-gul.

The path is moderately difficult, but worth every slippery step, particularly if you make the journey on that special Saturday afternoon, once a year, when Jeju’s symphony orchestra performs inside whale nostril cave.

The orchestra consisted of three violinists, a cello player, an oboist, a flute player, and a base player, accompanied by a ten-member choir and three soloists. Though their numbers were small, their musical resonance was huge. One of the performers, tenor Hyun Haeng-bok, is well known across Jeju, and is particularly passionate about music in natural settings. The high pitched sounds of the violins, flute and soprano singers flittered gracefully through the cave, while low beats from base, cello and oboe powerfully echoed the musical composition’s counterparts. Each song reverberated through the cave despite the fact that microphones and all musical electronic devices were not used to intensify the music. The cave’s walls and innate structure stood as natural amplifiers.

The cave filled with excited Udo locals, Jeju islanders, and many foreign residents, who made the afternoon trip for the concert. Various dogs wandered the confines of the cave, while birds and bats flew overhead. Concert attendees sat on small plastic chairs, or on the cave’s cool floor. The orchestra and choir assembled deep within the cave, while soloists, when performing, stood on a naturally formed rock-stage for better viewing.

Undoubtedly, Dongan Gyeong-gul is a fantastic venue for concerts, with its natural acoustic qualities, and beautiful views over the deep blue of the Pacific Ocean. Udo is known for its intense bouts of wind, and the cave provides great cover from these gusting distractions. Dongan Gyeong-gul also naturally stays at a perfect temperature for visitors sit back, relax and enjoy the music. However, during high tide, the cave floods, so concerts and everyday visits must be planned accordingly.

The event could only have been improved if less professional cameramen had flooded the cave to cover the concert for media purposes. At times, it was difficult to see the performers, as the cameramen almost outnumbered the small orchestra. Nevertheless, the concert was an afternoon to remember.

The annual festival is a fantastic, unique way to listen to Jeju’s fantastic orchestra and talented singers. Unfortunately, it occurs only annually. For more information about Cave Sound Institute, Call 064-743-5438.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (
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