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CelloGayageum bridges music of East and West

CelloGayageum's cellist Sol Daniel Kim performs during Jeongdong Theater's Korean music incubation program. Courtesy of Jeongdong Theater
CelloGayageum's cellist Sol Daniel Kim performs during Jeongdong Theater's Korean music incubation program. Courtesy of Jeongdong Theater

By Kwon Mee-yoo

The cello and gayageum (Korean 12-stringed zither) are representative string instruments of Western and Korean music, respectively. CelloGayageum, a duet of Austrian cellist Sol Daniel Kim and Korean gayageum player Yoon Da-young, pursues an extraordinary collaboration between East and West featuring the two similar yet different instruments.

Yoon, who majored in gayageum at the Korea National University of Arts, had a chance to teach the Korean zither at the Korean Cultural Center in Berlin in 2016.

"Though I attended an art university, there was not much exchange between the School of Music and School of Korean Traditional Arts. It was the first time I listened to chamber music so closely in Berlin and performed with a cello," Yoon said during an interview with The Korea Times, Oct. 5.

"We thought the sound of the cello and gayageum went well with each other and suggested collaboration without a specific purpose. That's how our first song Dreamlike Fantasy was born."

Kim said they both liked the fresh approach to the instruments they have been playing for over a decade.

"I only played classical and contemporary music and Yoon only did Korean traditional music. We were attracted to the differences of the string instruments of East and West," he said.

Yoon played "sanjo," a solo performance, for Kim and Kim played a variety of classical music for Yoon, broadening each other's musical horizons.

Yoon Da-young of CelloGayageum plays gayageum (Korean 12-string zither) at Jeongdong Theater. Courtesy of Jeongdong Theater
Yoon Da-young of CelloGayageum plays gayageum (Korean 12-string zither) at Jeongdong Theater. Courtesy of Jeongdong Theater

They had to tune up the fundamental differences between classical music and Korean traditional music.

"The biggest difference is breathing. In classical music, breathing is to count the beat like a metronome, but in Korean music, breathing progresses the music. Yoon has this traditional rhythm ingrained in her, but I tend to count them in Western time signature," Kim said.

The two work in a tech-savvy way, using smartphones to record their ideas.

"In the past, composers did not have recorders so they had to sketch their ideas on manuscript. However, in the 21st century, recording is a better way to document musical ideas, without loss of nuance," Kim said. "We play the recorded sketches and attempt to add layers of bass line or melody to it. We don't have written music scores for our songs."

They released CelloGayageum's first album "South Wave, North Wind" in 2018, including "Sound of the Ocean," "F.A.E." ('Frei aber einsam' in German, which translates into 'Free but lonely') and "Fly High."

CelloGayageum explored beyond the collaboration of the two instruments by bringing in haegeum (Korean two-stringed vertical fiddle) player Mun Saehanbyeol.

"We first invited him as a guest artist for our concert and the collaboration received positive responses and led us to a new song for the three instruments," Yoon said. "Typically, people think that high-pitched haegeum will play a melody with gayageum and cello accompanying it. We wanted to break such prejudice, showing that a cello or a gayageum can be the main instrument as well."

"We approached to make a harmonious sound using all three instruments. It was challenging to create something new with the two-stringed instrument, but it was interesting to compose never-been-played combinations," Kim said.

From left, gayageum player Yoon Da-young, haegeum player Mun Saehanbyeol and cellist Sol Daniel Kim perform
From left, gayageum player Yoon Da-young, haegeum player Mun Saehanbyeol and cellist Sol Daniel Kim perform "Play" at Jeongdong Theater. Courtesy of Jeongdong Theater

CelloGayageum opened up a new world for the performers as well as listeners.

"I rediscovered the charm of gayageum through CelloGayageum. Before this, I was keen to polish up my skills such as plucking the gayageum as fast as possible. However, now I am more in love with the sound of the gayageum, full of affection," Yoon said.

"Studying Korean traditional music also helped me understand classical music from a new angle. I also composed my own music and started to understand music from the perspective of the composer, fathoming the composer's intention. After CelloGayageum, people often tell me that my cello performances have become more touching," Kim said.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, CelloGayageum's international schedule has been canceled and the two have been working on their second album.

"I acquired the overseas Korean visa to stay in Korea. Though I was born in Austria and grew up in Germany, CelloGayageum reminded me that my roots are Korean," Kim said.

Most recently, the duo won an artist of the year award in a Korean music incubation program hosted by Jeongdong Theater.

"I recognized the importance of promotion as I perform as CelloGayageum. We need to make more people know about CelloGayageum, so they can listen to our music," Yoon said. "Participating in such programs gave us the publicity we needed."

Kim also appreciated programs and awards to support traditional Korean music. "Such programs provide motivation for musicians to continue and develop Korean music. With many of our gigs canceled due to the pandemic, rehearsing and writing a new song for the Jeongdong Theater competition kept us pushing forward," he said.


CelloGayageum's cellist Sol Daniel Kim performs during Jeongdong Theater's Korean music incubation program. Courtesy of Jeongdong Theater
CelloGayageum's cellist Sol Daniel Kim performs during Jeongdong Theater's Korean music incubation program. Courtesy of Jeongdong Theater

By Kwon Mee-yoo

The cello and gayageum (Korean 12-stringed zither) are representative string instruments of Western and Korean music, respectively. CelloGayageum, a duet of Austrian cellist Sol Daniel Kim and Korean gayageum player Yoon Da-young, pursues an extraordinary collaboration between East and West featuring the two similar yet different instruments.

Yoon, who majored in gayageum at the Korea National University of Arts, had a chance to teach the Korean zither at the Korean Cultural Center in Berlin in 2016.

"Though I attended an art university, there was not much exchange between the School of Music and School of Korean Traditional Arts. It was the first time I listened to chamber music so closely in Berlin and performed with a cello," Yoon said during an interview with The Korea Times, Oct. 5.

"We thought the sound of the cello and gayageum went well with each other and suggested collaboration without a specific purpose. That's how our first song Dreamlike Fantasy was born."

Kim said they both liked the fresh approach to the instruments they have been playing for over a decade.

"I only played classical and contemporary music and Yoon only did Korean traditional music. We were attracted to the differences of the string instruments of East and West," he said.

Yoon played "sanjo," a solo performance, for Kim and Kim played a variety of classical music for Yoon, broadening each other's musical horizons.

Yoon Da-young of CelloGayageum plays gayageum (Korean 12-string zither) at Jeongdong Theater. Courtesy of Jeongdong Theater
Yoon Da-young of CelloGayageum plays gayageum (Korean 12-string zither) at Jeongdong Theater. Courtesy of Jeongdong Theater

They had to tune up the fundamental differences between classical music and Korean traditional music.

"The biggest difference is breathing. In classical music, breathing is to count the beat like a metronome, but in Korean music, breathing progresses the music. Yoon has this traditional rhythm ingrained in her, but I tend to count them in Western time signature," Kim said.

The two work in a tech-savvy way, using smartphones to record their ideas.

"In the past, composers did not have recorders so they had to sketch their ideas on manuscript. However, in the 21st century, recording is a better way to document musical ideas, without loss of nuance," Kim said. "We play the recorded sketches and attempt to add layers of bass line or melody to it. We don't have written music scores for our songs."

They released CelloGayageum's first album "South Wave, North Wind" in 2018, including "Sound of the Ocean," "F.A.E." ('Frei aber einsam' in German, which translates into 'Free but lonely') and "Fly High."

CelloGayageum explored beyond the collaboration of the two instruments by bringing in haegeum (Korean two-stringed vertical fiddle) player Mun Saehanbyeol.

"We first invited him as a guest artist for our concert and the collaboration received positive responses and led us to a new song for the three instruments," Yoon said. "Typically, people think that high-pitched haegeum will play a melody with gayageum and cello accompanying it. We wanted to break such prejudice, showing that a cello or a gayageum can be the main instrument as well."

"We approached to make a harmonious sound using all three instruments. It was challenging to create something new with the two-stringed instrument, but it was interesting to compose never-been-played combinations," Kim said.

From left, gayageum player Yoon Da-young, haegeum player Mun Saehanbyeol and cellist Sol Daniel Kim perform
From left, gayageum player Yoon Da-young, haegeum player Mun Saehanbyeol and cellist Sol Daniel Kim perform "Play" at Jeongdong Theater. Courtesy of Jeongdong Theater

CelloGayageum opened up a new world for the performers as well as listeners.

"I rediscovered the charm of gayageum through CelloGayageum. Before this, I was keen to polish up my skills such as plucking the gayageum as fast as possible. However, now I am more in love with the sound of the gayageum, full of affection," Yoon said.

"Studying Korean traditional music also helped me understand classical music from a new angle. I also composed my own music and started to understand music from the perspective of the composer, fathoming the composer's intention. After CelloGayageum, people often tell me that my cello performances have become more touching," Kim said.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, CelloGayageum's international schedule has been canceled and the two have been working on their second album.

"I acquired the overseas Korean visa to stay in Korea. Though I was born in Austria and grew up in Germany, CelloGayageum reminded me that my roots are Korean," Kim said.

Most recently, the duo won an artist of the year award in a Korean music incubation program hosted by Jeongdong Theater.

"I recognized the importance of promotion as I perform as CelloGayageum. We need to make more people know about CelloGayageum, so they can listen to our music," Yoon said. "Participating in such programs gave us the publicity we needed."

Kim also appreciated programs and awards to support traditional Korean music. "Such programs provide motivation for musicians to continue and develop Korean music. With many of our gigs canceled due to the pandemic, rehearsing and writing a new song for the Jeongdong Theater competition kept us pushing forward," he said.


Kwon Mee-yoo meeyoo@koreatimes.co.kr


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