ANNAPOLIS- Mozart and Rossini didn’t write parts for grunts and groans, but during the Washington Youth Symphony Orchestra’s performance at the Korean American Day Celebration on Thursday, sounds of human exertion punctuated the soft tones of strings and woodwinds.
As the orchestra’s melodies greeted Maryland politicians and community leaders, fifteen youth members of the Korean Tae Kwon Do Association of Maryland prepared their performance outside the legislative conference room here where the celebration was held.
The group’s shouts floated above the conversation and classical music, as traditional Western and Korean culture interacted throughout the presentations of Maryland’s second annual Korean American Day held in the Miller Senate Office Building.
“We want to emphasize our commonalities with other cultures and show our cultural uniqueness,” said Kim B. Kim, executive vice president of the League of Korean Americans of Maryland, the main organizer of the event.
California is the only other state to designate a day of Korean American recognition, Kim said. Kim added that resolutions in Congress to make a national Korean American Day are in the works.
According to Kim, 55,000 Korean Americans live in Maryland with 1.5 million across the United States. Although the event was to commend the cultural richness of Korean Americans, Kim said, holding the event in the Senate office building provided the opportunity to demonstrate “our willingness to participate in politics and civic process” and “to make more friends.”
High-ranking officials, such as Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and South Korea’s ambassador to the United States, Tae Shik Lee, spoke briefly as legislators and members of the public trickled in throughout the early afternoon, lunching on Korean dishes such as fried rice, kim chee and dumplings.
Based on the number of programs distributed, Kim estimated that 500 to 550 people attended.
Maryland’s event focused on the contributions of Korean Americans to American arts, education, business, science and government since the first Koreans immigrated to Hawaii 103 years ago, Kim said, but the program focused mostly on performance arts.
A Korean dance and music group from Rockville’s Asian American Arts Center preformed the Puk Eu Jae Jun, or festival of drums. Dressed in vibrantly colored traditional costumes, the members pounded with speed and precision. The heavy beats were later balanced by the graceful coordination of the groups’ elaborate fan dance.
Paintings by artist Bok Kim also sought to highlight various dimensions of traditional Korean art. The Ellicott City resident said she combined the compositional emphasis of Korean painting with bold colors, a Western tradition.
“I want to explore what is the Asian culture compared to the American,” she said.
The students in the Tae Kwon Do group said that their study of this traditional martial skill had become a way to learn about Korea. Before the demonstration, students bounced down the stairs outside the conference room and several screamed excitedly that they had learned some Korean words in their studies.
Master Chang Oh, who directed the students’ practice, said they were asked by the organizers to include a lot of wooden board breaking with kicks or hand hits because this tradition “shows the basics: strength, flexibility, focus and ability. ItÕs the best way to give everyone a taste or sample of Tae Kwon Do,” he said.
Chang Oh added that Tae Kwon Do is a good example of Korean achievement because of its positive impact on young people.
“[Tae Kwon Do helps develop] discipline, self-confidence, respect for elders, all things that matter,” he said.
Student Dylan Day, 11, added that “[Tae Kwon Do] helps in school, better behavior.”
The Tae Kwon Do demonstration, replete with flying kicks and synchronized punches, is a well-known Korean contribution to sport, Chang Oh said. Dr. Young Kwon Choi, the musical director and conductor of the Washington Youth Symphony Orchestra opted for “mainstream” classical selections instead of obvious Korean compositions.
“In Korea, the Western music is strong, therefore; we like to bring to attention that in Korean culture, Western music is very important,” Choi said. Choi noted that some Korean music is even making its way into American musical education. For example, he said a Korean folk song Arirang is a popular performance in American schools.