In my previous post I talked about singing a Korean song on a radio station in Korea. This is the story behind that.
When I first went to Korea, the music caught my attention right away. Whenever a specific song “grabbed me”, I would go into the little record shop and ask what the song was and I’d buy the song book that had that song in it, and the tape (what??) or later, the CD.
I wanted to learn to sing it but I couldn’t speak Korean. So I took Basic Korean classes at the Education Center on base and I began learning the alphabet and the pronunciation right away.
Learning the alphabet was the easiest part and I got a kick out of being able to write in Korean. Of course, I didn’t know what I was reading, writing or singing about but at least I was learning to pronounce the words so I could sing the songs I liked.
So the first song I learned was “Han Bon JJum” by Song Chang-Sik. The second song (which became one of my favorites over the years and is relevant to this story, and is one song I always sing now when I do Korean karaoke) was “Ae Su Ui So Ya Gok”. It’s a Golden Oldie by a singer named Nam In Su.
However, my friend, Kim Tae-gon, did a cover of “Ae Su Ui So Ya Gok”, and his version is the one I like to sing. It is a modern version of it but he had his band back him on it and they play traditional Korean instruments on it. (Kayagum , for example)
“Ae Su Ui So Ya Gok” (Serenade of Sorrow):
I never get tired of listening to this version. It’s got soul. “If you can’t find soul in that, you’ve got a hole in your soul”, says me!
So I pressed on and soon I had learned about ten songs by various artists. I was also learning to speak a little bit. Just when I thought I was making a little progress in the language my one-year tour was coming to an end.
I had mixed feelings about leaving so one day I wrote a song called “Farewell, Korea” and the Armed Forces Korean Network radio station on base asked me to sing it live at the station. So I did. To listen, click below:
Then I left Korea and I arrived in St. Petersburg, Florida, for my next assignment. While I was there, I went to a Baptist church and it just so happened that a very popular Korean singer, named Cho yong-nam, and his wife, attended that church too. He was studying theology at the time.
So I introduced myself and told him I had learned a couple of his songs while I was in Korea and I enjoyed listening to him sing in the church that day. I told him I was going to Monterey, California, next to study Basic Korean for one year at the Defense Language School (DLI), and then I would return to Korea.
He said after his studies were over, he would stop in Marina, California (and other cities), to do shows for Koreans living in the States, before he headed back to Korea. I told him I would be at the show when he came to Marina (it was close to Monterey).
So a few months later, I heard he was coming to Marina, just like he said he would. I went with a couple of good friends (they were also students of the Korean language) from the language school to see him perform.
He started to sing a song but stopped and scanned the audience and asked, “How many foreigners are here tonight?”, meaning anyone other than Korean. We kind of stood out. There were only a handful of us among about 500 Koreans.
So he continued, “Would you stand up your hands?” We raised our hands and then he said, “What are you doing here?”, in a slightly joking manner.
Everyone slowly lowered their hands. But I stood up and spoke what little Korean I had learned so far. I said, “I came to listen to you sing “Pul Ggo Jin Chang”. It was a beautiful ballad but the song was about jilted love and finding your girl loves someone else.
At the time, the Korean government censored a lot of things and that song was banned because it didn’t promote good virtues.
I was a little far away from the front so he couldn’t hear me well. So someone told him what I said. He said ok and then started to play it but he stopped and explained that he had forgotten some of the words since he hadn’t sang it since it was banned.
So I stood up again and exclaimed, “I’ll sing the words!” So he played guitar while I sang the words.
He was surprised and the crowd liked it too. After the song, he interviewed me a little and told me when I come back to Korea, to come and see him backstage, were he would be rehearsing for his “Cho yong-nam returns Home” Special on Korean TV. I said I would.
I took him up on his offer. I went to the TV station and reminded him of Florida and Marina. I said hello and told him that it looked like a lot of fun up on stage. In that instant he thought I was saying I’d like to do that too. (Maybe subconsciously I was.) He rubbed his chin and said, “Well, you might have some problem with the language barrier.”
I surprised myself by replying, “Well, you didn’t have any trouble communicating with others and singing in the church.” When I said that, I thought to myself, “What possessed you to say that, Mr. Adams?” He paused for a moment and then said, “Wait here just a minute.”
A couple minutes later he came back with the Assistant Producer of the show, Lee Nam-Gi, and introduced him to me. Mr. Lee asked me what songs I know. I had just happened to learn a couple of new songs the night before I went up there. The songs were new songs by a singer I liked called Kim Tae-gon. So I started telling him the songs and he said, “You know those? Follow me!”
He lead me to an office full of desks with about half of them occupied. He pointed to a Korean guy sitting at one of the desks and asked me if I knew him. I said I didn’t. He said that’s Kim Tae-gon. Then he introduced me and within 3-4 minutes the two of them decided I would sing “Song Hak Sa” with Kim Tae-Gon, in full Korean traditional clothing, on “Show Show Show” on TBC (Television Broadcasting Corporation).
The show went well and after that Kim Tae-Gon and I became good friends and he frequently asked me to sing with him or by myself on Korean Radio and TV programs.
So in the previous post I mentioned Kim Tae-Gon had picked a Cho Yong-Nam tune for me to sing in the little radio booth that day because he knew I knew that song. I don’t think he knew that Cho Yong-nam was responsible for me meeting him (Kim Tae-gon).
So I have to ask myself, “Did all those events happen by coincidence?” I don’t think so.
I believe that God helps those who help themselves. Sometimes we make a good effort and sometimes we don’t. But when we reach out, when we show the Universe what we sincerely want, the Universe responds in unexpected and fascinating ways.
I think the lesson here is we have to know what we want. Then we have to show what we want. Then we make an effort to get it.