Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Seoul Christmas Caroling Collective



We are a small collective, but we have big hearts.

Last night was the first official caroling day for our little singing group that we started-up about a month ago. It was grand.

I realize that the idea of Christmas caroling must seem like a truly odd one, unless you were born in Dickensian England. For me, the idea is a good one. It's been a few years now since the last time I sang Christmas carols at the Calgary Zoo with some of my theatre friends, but for a time, it really was a Christmas tradition for me. As squeaky clean as that sounds, at Christmas time, I don't mind the squeak.

So, some time last August, with the hint of summer coming to a close, I was on my way to the East coast if Korea to spend a beach weekend with some of my friends here when it struck me - summer is ending, fall is approaching, therefore - Christmas is coming. With me, it doesn't take much. Right there on the bus I decided to suggest that we get a group of people together to go caroling in Seoul. Apparently I found a group of friends this year for whom the idea of caroling at Christmas time is not too wholesome an idea. Score.

So, beginning in mid-November, we started meeting to practice. First, though - I needed some music. It is a challenge to find four-part sheet music online, and it's really hard to find English music in Seoul - especially if you try to get even slightly specific. So, a quick email to Carolyn Byers - a former musical director back home, I soon had 15 or so carols scanned and emailed to me here in Korea. When a Christmas emergency arises - even in November - look no further for help than Carolyn Byers.

Sung Sook found the rest and after some late night photo-copying and binding, we had our first meeting at our school. Three more meetings followed: Shirley's house, my house, Maria's house, and I must say - we got to the point where we were sounding pretty good. It didn't hurt to have Sung Sook and her friend, Hyun Jung there - both music graduates from Yonsei University. They tolerated our tin ears and got us sounding pretty respectable. I realize we are in it for fun, but we also wanted to sound somewhat on key when the night came.


I have to say, we sounded pretty damn good in the apartments. None of us are really singers, though I was able to remember most of the bass-lines form the traditional carols, which gave our group a little bit more depth. Hyun Jung sang alto and the rest did melody while Douglas joined me on bass form time to time. We sounded all right. It was really also just an excuse to get-together and get ourselves into the Christmas spirit. By our second practice, we were fully into the spirit of the season, and it wasn't even December yet.

So, last night, we met at the Starbucks outside of Anguk Station near Insadong and made our way towards the newly constructed Gwanghwamun plaza. We tried singing there for a few songs, but we were competing with cars, lots of people, and music from neighbouring events along the plaza. None of us were confident enough to really raise our voices as needed, and we ended-up sounding horrible - couldn't hear each other and we were all over the map in terms of timing and tone. Shabbiness ensued. And everyone was too shy to really be heard at all.


But, we wouldn't be denied. We bailed from the plaza and headed toward the head of Cheonggye-cheon, the stream in downtown Seoul. There, we met-up with Roger and Miranda who made it up from Suwon and after a coffee warm-up, we decided to gather under the hug Christmas tree and try our luck there. Much better. Take two was worth it and we sang out with enough Christmas cheer to put a blue-eyed Grinch to shame.


It was freezing cold though, so after a trip down to stream level, one more coffee shop visit, and one more tree-singing stint, it was time to head home. Really, just a festive night in every way. It wasn't perfect - some of our regulars couldn't be there due to other commitments and one of our key ladies had laryngitis, but hell - we all had Santa hats and smiles. There were cute tots wanting to get their pictures taken with us, and it seemed to us that most passing Koreans and foreigners alike were pretty pleased with our choice to stand there on a cold night and sing Christmas songs.

Sadly, today's caroling event was canceled - too many people unable to make it - hospitals and sickness and other realities get in the way sometimes. But, we are going to re-group for Christmas Day when we will be heading to TBS English Radio station in Chungmuro for an interview and to sing a few of our best carols. We might extend it a bit and take our little caroling troupe back to Cheonggye-cheon afterward as well - capitalize on our sense of Christmas Day merriment.

We are not the best sounding group in Seoul, but I think we might be the only group of foreigners who thought to get-together, but on Santa hats and sing a few songs of the season. At the very least, it was an evening to remember. It warmed the cockles.

No comments: