Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Do You Know Where I Live? (26 November)

That's what I said...

My week always starts and ends with my favourite class.  They’re a very chatty group so it just makes the lesson so easy.  Today, they clearly feel like doing no work so we end up just chatting.  A student asks me if it’s true that I live in Solkkoji-village which is right next to the school; I thought they all knew that by now.  When they discover that I still can’t pronounce my address correctly after nearly two months, they take it upon themselves to teach me the proper pronunciation.  Of course, to my ear, I am saying it correctly but this doesn’t always seem to be the view of the Koreans. 

The 50 minutes pass far too quickly but it’s a great end to the day considering that my first lesson – my beloved second grade students who have very honestly told me that they prefer the previous waegook (the one who lasted only three weeks) – finally told me today, in their second last week of lessons with me, that I’ve been repeating work that the Korean teachers have already covered in the other English classes.  It’s not only me, however.  Both the Kiwis and I have been doing this since we’ve been working from the assigned textbook – we now understand why the second graders always look so bored in class!

By the end of the day, I’m eager to leave school and get ready for the Yeonggwan Girls’ High School Concert tonight at the Gunsan Cultural Centre.  The final bell is only minutes away from sounding when my co-teacher appears at my desk with a favour to ask of me.  I’m thrilled that she’s actually approaching me with tasks since I was really under the impression that she is not particularly fond of me.  It turns out, since stating that I actually enjoy editing and proofreading work, she needs me to proofread a doctoral thesis for a friend of hers.  He’s helped out the school with some or other program and has asked her to proofread the thesis for him but she’s finding it more difficult that expected (and her English is great) since the thesis is written in English.  I’m happy to do the editing – I just wish it could have been a week or two earlier when I hadn’t just been given 45 journals to review and provide detailed comments on.

A Cultural Experience of Note

Undeterred, I make my way to the apartment of the New Zealand couple with whom I’m attending the concert.  One of them used to teach at the high school that is hosting tonight’s performance and has told us that it’s quite an impressive show.  Impressive doesn’t even begin to cover it.

First of all, this school has a full orchestra.  Granted they’ve had to garner outside help – which explains the few male faces scattered in both the orchestra and on stage – but this is still an incredible orchestra.  In addition, these students are only performing in the orchestra so, what seems to be most of the remaining students, are all on stage singing in choirs, girl bands and traditional items too.  Second, the quality of the performances was outstanding and inspiring.  I attended a performing arts high school in South Africa and the standard of our orchestra was nowhere near that of the orchestra before me tonight – our orchestra wasn’t even as big as this one.  It’s yet another example of how, when Koreans commit to something, they always give 100%.  Third, considering the endurance test that constitutes high school in this country, it’s even more impressive that these kids have found the time to prepare an hour and a half show of this quality.  Apparently, they’ve been preparing for it for six months but they’re singing, dancing, and playing really complex pieces and then adding all of the technical aspects of which the Koreans are so fond too.

For example, the orchestra played a Shostakovich waltz in d minor.  This may not mean anything to many of you so to try and contextualise this briefly: Shostakovich is a modern composer; a waltz, as you probably already know, is a dance with a steady three count beat and can be played at various speeds.  In the animated movie, Anastasia, Anastasia heads to the Winter Palace in Moscow (or is it St. Petersburg) to find Dmitri.  While there, she sees a painting of herself as a child and her now deceased family and sings a song that naturally leads to her waltzing around the room with imaginary figures.  This is the waltz that this school orchestra plays. 

While they’re playing, the clip from the movie Anastasia is playing and the orchestra is accompanying the dancers on screen.  Since this clip is too short to fill the duration of the actual music, the clever computer people at the school blended it into a scene from a Korean movie that shows a couple waltzing.  What’s so impressive about this? Watching the clips carefully, I was overwhelmed to discover that the orchestra was playing in perfect time to the movement on the screens – it had been rehearsed so that it sounded like they were actually accompanying the dancers from these clips.  Anyone who has studied music can tell you that this is pretty impressive!

Wholehearted Commitment

Not to be outdone by the orchestra, there are a series of perfectly choreographed choral pieces, traditional Korean musical instruments including the breathtaking traditional percussion group, and the inevitable Korean pop dances.  Every move on stage is flawlessly executed and in sync; the students seem to move seamlessly from one movement to the next like a well-oiled machine.  I can’t help but admire the discipline of Korean students.  South African students could really take copious notes from Korean students where discipline and professionalism are concerned.

The instrument on the left is called a haeggum and has two
strings that are bowed.  The one next to it looks like a horizontal
harp and is also bowed. There was also a Korean flute and another
instrument that I don't recognise and can't identify.

Part of the traditional percussion group.

"Bad Girls" from Miss A's Good Girls, Bad Girls (K-pop)

Part of the finale.

The teachers and students share the stage - actions, song and all!

On top of several fantastic performances and glittering costume changes for every one of these performances, the final number is simultaneously mesmerizing, inspiring and just all-round incredible.  All of the Korean teachers joined the students on stage to sing several songs together.  Not only do these teachers sing wholeheartedly but they do all the silly actions too.  Watching this finale, I once again think of how grateful and fortunate I am to be teaching in South Korea – you’d never convince many teachers back home to do something like this which makes me a little sad to think of just how much enjoyment and relationship building SA teachers are missing out on….

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