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21 October, 2018

Korea highlights

Here’s Andrew’s blog about a memorable few days in South Korea.

“Having finally satisfied the good folk of TSA that we were carrying nothing more seditious than Ferrabosco, Dowland, and an ample supply of sleeping pills, we boarded our 0135 flight and settled in for the sixteen hour journey from New York to Taipei. Once there we had time for a quick shower and a change of planes, before heading onward to Busan in South Korea, as guests of the Busan Choral Festival and Competition.

“After three gruelling days in the US, a cool thirty hours of non-stop travel from Easton, PA to Busan, and eleven hours of time difference (not to mention an entire day skipped!), it was fair to say that we weren’t feeling our freshest. It was a relief to be welcomed with flowers and whisked away in our gaudy VIP bus (karaoke as standard!), and it soon became clear that the Festival, via our inimitable guide Simon, would make sure that we were very well looked after for the next few days.


“Our first stop was for lunch at a traditional Korean-style restaurant – quite a change of pace after three days of US comfort food!

“Then it was on to our hotel in the lively beachside district of Haeundae, where we tried to devise ways to keep jetlagged eyes open until a reasonable hour in the evening. An adventurous party opted to visit the local jjimjilbang (sauna).

“Preferring to keep my dignity intact, I headed out for a long walk along the beautiful coastline.

“Inevitably we woke early on Wednesday morning, and more coastal walks followed.


“After breakfast Simon met us for a trip to the Buddhist Haedong Yonggungsa Temple, dramatically located on the rocky coastline east of Busan.

“The wonderfully carved, brightly coloured buildings had us all reaching for our cameras.


“There was also plenty to see in the street markets lining the route to the shrine.



“All this sightseeing called for a spot of tea, and so off we went to a traditional Korean-style tea room (off with those shoes!) for some wonderful teas and frozen flaked pumpkin.



“After lunch it was down to business. We headed for the impressive Sohyang Theatre, home to the Festival, to rehearse our Queen of Muses programme again, this time with the addition of a traditional song to be sung in Korean!

“The audience for the concert included all the choirs taking part in the competitive rounds of the festival, including plenty of children and younger people, and singers from many different countries. No doubt our programme included a fair number of first Korean performances of the Elizabethan works we sang. There was a wonderful atmosphere in the hall (our Korean song was a hit!) and after the concert we were mobbed by audience members hoping for selfies and autographs.

“A lazy morning was in prospect for most on Thursday, but Matthew Howard, Eleanor and I donned our sturdiest shoes for a hike. Busan is full of pretty wooded mountains, and Matt had painstakingly researched a good route up the nearest to our hotel, Jangsang Mountain; the only downside, according to the online guides, was that a few areas were cordoned off due to land mines!


“Happily we didn’t encounter any unexploded ordnance, and the chief perils attending us were instead some rather fierce-looking green spiders, and our own navigational shortcomings. It turns out that making a ‘peak’ sign with your arms is a pretty universal form of communication, and the locals (mostly of retirement age, but amazingly fit, perhaps because of the amount of outdoor exercise equipment we found everywhere) helped us in the right direction.

“After a little over two hours of climbing, and 600m of vertical ascent, we emerged out of the trees onto the summit and were rewarded with spectacular views over the city and harbour.

We descended via a different route, which included an improbable staircase down a steep part of the mountain, rewarded ourselves with ice cream, and then joined our colleagues for lunch.


Our second and final concert in South Korea was at the Daegu Concert House – a wonderful hall with a very fine acoustic. The audience was entirely made up of children, probably hearing polyphony live for the very first time. We shared the stage with two other fine groups singing more modern repertoire, one from the Philippines and one from Korea, and enjoyed meeting them afterwards for a joint photograph and presentation.

“Our Daegu concert brought to an end a brief but memorable visit to this fascinating country. We hope we have the chance to visit again very soon!”