Songs of homeland describe new diaspora


An original choral and orchestral piece by a Korean American composer was recently commissioned and performed by the Minnesota Center Chorale (MCC), a community music organization located in St. Cloud. The theme of the work was the longing of people for their homeland, entitled Song of the Diaspora.

The composer, Yourng Hwa Son, wished to commemorate her father, songwriter Mohk-In Son, by incorporating elements of a song he wrote in the 1930s. The song, entitled “Ta-hyang Sal-ee-ui Noreh,” became a popular song throughout the country, evoking nostalgia for a Korea before the Japanese occupation.

The MCC performed Song of the Diaspora on May 7 at St. Cloud State University in a concert which also included choral pieces by Chinese and Japanese composers. Soprano Juyoung Kang performed two Korean folk songs. The group also performed for several high schools in central Minnesota.

J. Michele Edwards, music director and conductor of the MCC, said she met and became friends with Son more than 10 years ago, and the two kept up an acquaintance which was renewed in 2003, when they met in Korea. Edwards presented a paper in Korea about her research on Asian women composers. Son, who lives in California, was spending a year in Seoul at the Korean National Traditional Performing Arts Center, composing new works using the traditional musical instruments of Korea.

Next, Son was commissioned to do a work for the Calliope Women’s Chorus, which Edwards also conducts, in February 2004. It was performed in a concert entitled Music from the Pacific Rim. After that, the board of the MCC invited Son to write a work for that group. It was the MCC’s first commissioning of a major work, Edwards said.

In addition to the choral part of Son’s work, which the chorale sang in the Korean language, there were other elements about the work that revealed a Korean style. “One characteristic of Korean music is the use of quick embellishments that are much more significant to the character of the music than the same element would be in western music,” Edwards said. “That quick note, we think of it in western music as not important. In Korean music, that’s the important note.”

There are other more subtle characteristics that, taken together, create a Korean-style melody and rhythm, she said, which were also evident in Song of the Diaspora.

The idea of diaspora had a different meaning during the Japanese occupation than it does today, Edwards said, and Son successfully bridges that gap. There is a wider meaning of diaspora which reflects the idea of the lost homeland as well, she said.

Edwards said the Song of the Diaspora, performed only once so far, should be of interest to other musical groupa. Her friend Dr. Son, in true artistic tradition, is always more interested in going on to create the next thing, rather than finding a new home for her existing pieces. “But we hope that this piece will be performed by others,” she said.

Information about the MCC is available “here”: