Photo: David W. Preston
INTERKULTUR News

Dr. Hak-Won Yoon: A choral legend in Asia

Interview with the Honorary Artistic President of INTERKULTUR

The World Choir Games 2022 are being held in Gangneung, Korea. Prof. Hak-Won Yoon, one of the grand masters of Korean choir music, will have a significant share in the successful hosting.

Conductor Dr. Hak-Won Yoon, often called the godfather of the Korean choral world, has left a great mark on the music world, and he is especially known for his contribution to the birth and revival of the Korean choral scene.

The choirs he has led are internationally recognized: World Vision Choir, Daewoo Choir, Seoul Ladies Singers, and Incheon City Choir – they all have become world-class choirs under his baton.

His efforts were never meant to remain within the boundaries of Korea. Always reaching out, he is known for his engagement to introduce Korean choir music to the world. New original compositions, but also "Korean Style" arrangements, were always a hallmark of his work. Walton Music has acknowledged his impact by publishing the "Hak-Won Yoon Choral Series".

Love and loyalty have always been his guiding principles. He has led the Seon-Myeong-Hoe Youth and Children Choir for 32 years, and brought them to the international success that is known now under the name “World Vision Choir”. The choirs become his family. This applies to the Seoul Ladies Singers and the Incheon City Choir as well, which he has both served as conductor and art director for over 20 years.

He has been teaching younger generations the arts of composition as professor at Joong-Ang University for over 25 years, and has established the Seoul Chorus Center to keep in touch with all the students that followed his endeavor into the choir world. His son has not only followed in his footsteps, but even went beyond by becoming the current conductor and art director of the National Chorus of Korea.

It would be no exaggeration to say that almost every single choir conductor in Korea has come into touch with him at some point in their career, which illustrates the important role he has played for the Korean choir world. With the help of the other grand leaders of his generation, he has succeeded in unifying and spawning the Korean choir scene. He is internationally recognized for this, and currently holds positions in every major choir and choral organization, not only in Korea. All these years and all the generations he has inspired, Hak-Won Yoon’s creative power is still undiminished.

In Korea, he is also a well-known figure beyond the choir scene. His appearance in the TV show "What Makes a Man" has caused quite a stir in the public opinion. Gathering men over the age of 52 from various corners of Korean society and making them sing together in perfect harmony as a "Young Men’s Choir", showed the Korean public that singing in a choir was perfectly acceptable and fun, and at the same time dispelled the prejudice that choral singing is not a valuable and not very masculine occupation. The choral boom that followed is legendary.

Working with a choral legend: Hak-Won Yoon’s cooperation with INTERKULTUR

Dr. Hak-Won Yoon, who not only played a big role in the revival of the Korean choral world, but also made a successful step on the international stage, has built a deep friendship with INTERKULTUR over a long period of time, and has shared various activities based on the spirit of the World Choir Games, 'Singing together brings nations together'. It was in 2002 that Hak-Won first came to work with INTERKULTUR. In spring, he served as a judge at 'Concorso Corale' held in Riva del Garda, Italy, and in October of the same year, he served as the Honorary Artistic President of the 2nd World Choir Games held in Busan, Korea. During that international choral festival, then still called the ‘Choir Olympics’, Yoon managed the busy schedule of not only overseeing the overall event, but also took it onto himself to be an adjudicator for the competitions. After that, he contributed to the success of numerous INTERKULTUR events by serving as a juror at the World Choir Games held in Bremen (2004), Xiamen, China (2006), Graz, Austria (2008), and Shaoxing, China (2010). In 2009, again in Korea, he served as member of the Organizing Committee for the Asia Pacific Choir Games as well as adjudicator. The last INTERKULTUR competition where he actively participated was ‘The American International Choir Festival - St. Louis' in 2010.

Now, 20 years after holding the Choir Olympics in Korea for the first time, he is committed to the successful hosting of the World Choir Games in Gangneung 2022. Honoring his dedication and achievements, Hak-Won Yoon was named Honorary Artistic President of INTERKULTUR, the World Choir Games, and the World Choir Council last year.

Interview with Hak-Won Yoon

Dr. Hak-Won Yoon's passion for choral singing is in line with the ideals of INTERKULTUR President Günter Titsch, both believing that there should be no boundaries when it comes to 'participating and singing together'. The Korean edition of Choir & Organ asked Yoon about his thoughts on how to successfully host the World Choir Games Gangneung 2022.

Conductor Dr. Hak-Won Yoon, whom they met at the Seoul Chorus Center, which he runs from private funds, praised the colorful festivals that INTERKULTUR has held:

“INTERKULTUR is the most powerful organization in the world to host international choral festivals. I think Günter Titsch and INTERKULTUR have made a huge contribution to the choral world by successfully hosting a novel event with the World Choir Games. International choral festivals very greatly depend on who has organized them. There are many international choral festivals, but INTERKULTUR is unique in having a global organization. I participated several times and felt that the organization was good, and I also took part as a juror, and it was impressive to see a variety of different organizations being part of the big picture.”

"The World Choir Games, a representative choral event hosted by INTERKULTUR, is a festival full of fun and with a high level of perfection, so that once you participate, you will fall in love with its charm and want to continue participating. In addition, the balancedevaluation system established for the contests, which makes up the foundation for a fair competition along with the know-how accumulated over their 30-year history are also great advantages. The anticipation for the 12th World Choir Game to be held in Gangneung in 2022, 20 years after it was held in Busan, is very high."

“As a choir person, having the World Choir Games in Korea again is very meaningful and I have high expectations. Furthermore, I hope that this event will serve as an opportunity for a choral boom in Korea. The World Choir Games have enough elements to entertain the public. It's not just a stage event, it's a large-scale choral festival including a huge street parade in folk costumes. I hope that these merits will become widely known, and many choirs will participate and look forward to participating in the world-class choral festival in Gangneung for ten days.”

However, there is a difficulty in holding such a good event in a state where the choral world is facing severe obstacles due to COVID-19. What is urgently needed, is to withstand this period and motivate a large number of choirs to participate. Moreover, the World Choir Games is a competition for amateur choirs to participate. In other words, only a pure amateur choir that receives only support and no salary can participate, but there are a number of ensembles that have difficulties for this reason in organizing and mobilizing power. Therefore, he is trying to support and encourage the participation of amateur choirs from all over the country so that the hosting of this world-class festival can be successfully held in Korea. Hak-Won Yoon said it would be a good idea to use the rest of the year to create a choral organization to promote amateur choirs across the country. He stressed that it would be important to organize and revitalize each region, just like the choirs formed during his tenure as the director and conductor of the Incheon Municipal Choir.

“Currently, COVID-19 is blocking choral activities, but since vaccines are being distributed, I have great expectations that it will be wiped out quickly. We should try to get as many choirs in Korea as possible to attend. There are a lot of people who can't attend even though they want to, but they just don't know how. You can't do it alone. We have to get together to hold meetings and exchange information, to inform each region for the festival, and to use existing organizations or create new ones. If you work with each city, province, and county for the World Choir Games to be held in Korea, you will be able to activate the necessary means. There are many people who love choral singing in each region, and it is necessary to organize a network to hold meetings and help each other. Although each choral association is currently working on playing that role, it is not enough. We hope that choirs can be activated on a local basis, and we need to create and activate choirs for each city, province, and county. To achieve that, one key person is required. In particular, it has to be done on a regional basis. A good example would be the successful cooperation of neighborhood and village choirs in Incheon. Of course, there was backlash and a lot of hardship, but I did a lot of activities including the Incheon Neighborhood Choir Festival. It would be nice if a system could be established in each province, city, and county in that way. Then there is a choral movement.”

Dr. Hak-Won Yoon added that in order for the World Choir Games to be held successfully, efforts should be made for the participation of the church and church-related choirs, which are the most important ones in the amateur choir scene in Korea.

“The biggest power in the Korean amateur choral world is the church. Especially the church choirs are very important. In Korea, even during difficult times in the choral world, thanks to the church choirs, choral music has survived, and there are many people who have entered the choir and chorus through the church, so there are not a few people who consider themselves ‘a choir person’, based on their experience in church. Their activities should increase so that church choirs can also participate in this event.”

Currently, Dr. Yoon has also been carrying out various activities, including supporting secondary school student choirs, centering on the Academy at his Chorus Center. After serving as the head of the CTS Boys and Girls Choir for years, and the CTS organization being disbanded, Yoon gathered 17 of the remaining choirs and organized them into the Hak-Won Yoon Youth Choirs (YYC). As prominently shown during his engagement in the TV show "What Makes a Man", his desire has always been to broaden and popularize choral music. He believes that choral music and activity increases sociability and contributes to society’s well-being.

But, 'sadly, the interest in choral music has faded. The choral world has so much to do together'. He hopes that the successful hosting of the World Choir Games in 2022 will spark yet another Korean choral boom.

“A chorus is the basis of music. A chorus is something you do with someone other than yourself. If you want to be together, you naturally develop social skills because you think about other people and consider whether the balance is right. The best activity to develop character is choral singing. It is unfortunate that there are currently almost no choir activities at school level. I wish the Ministry of Education would encourage the choral movement. Just as a choir boom arose by activating the Neighborhood Choirs in Incheon, we need to create a system for another choir upswing. It is a difficult time for that, but we have to work together and work hard.”

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