DISCREETLY TUCKED away in a corridor on the third floor of the Student Union Building is a wooden door that mysteriously beckons your attention. In contrast to the modern, metal doors on the same floor, it flaunts a uniquely vintage style with its low, timber doorframe. The entrance renders a dreamy impression, as if it leads to another realm. As dramatic as this may sound, this door does, in fact, lead you to a different world—a mellifluous one filled with classical music. Officially called the Classical Music Listening Room, this snug space in Room 314 of the Student Union Building is a hidden gem of Yonsei University. Unfortunately, not many students seem to be familiar with its existence as of now. The Yonsei Annals paid a visit to this room to explore its wonders and acquaint itself with the world of classical music.
What is this room for?
Founded in the 1970s, the Yonsei Classical Music Listening Room has been a part of the campus for a considerably long period of time. Despite its lengthy history, no official records can identify the founding date, which adds to the mystery of the room. During a visit, the Annals engaged in an intriguing conversation with Lee Sung-eun (Soph., Dept. of Comp.), the president of the student club Yonsei Harmony, and discovered fascinating stories regarding the history and purpose behind this facility.
“This space, which is currently in the Student Union Building, was built in 2001, but the history of the Classical Music Listening Room actually dates back to sometime around the 70s,” said Sung-eun. In the 1970s and 1980s, music cafés, also known as music Da-bangs, were extremely trendy and prevalent in college towns. People in their 20s, particularly university students, would gather together in these Da-bangs to enjoy their relaxing atmosphere, listen to music selected by DJs and socially engage with each other while drinking coffee.
“Sinchon was apparently a mecca for these kinds of DJ Da-bangs. The Classical Music Listening Room in Yonsei seems to have emerged at that time as a response to the immense popularity [of Da-bangs] among youths,” remarked Sung-eun.
Lee Chul-jae (Class of 1974, Dept. of Philosophy), a former member of the Yonsei Harmony, reminisced, “When I was an undergraduate in the 70s, the Classical Music Listening Room was so popular that more than 200 students would apply to be a part of the student club because they wanted to work at the DJ booth.” Unfortunately, this popularity does not appear to have continued to this day.
“Now that there are myriads of other music genres, university students are not as interested in classical music compared to those of the 70s and 80s,” said Sung-eun. This points towards a critical drawback of the shared space: the Classical Music Listening Room, as its name indicates, only plays classical music and does not present any alternative music genres. When asked about the reason behind this restriction, Sung-eun explained, “We wanted to continue the tradition. In the 70s, Da-bangs played only pop songs while Gam-sang-sils [the Korean name for a Listening Room] only played classical music.”
The change in music trends and the overall lack of promotion perhaps explain the decrease in popularity and awareness of the Classical Music Listening Room among students. In fact, the room had once been under the danger of being destroyed because of its mediocre usage. “In 2009, when the Student Union Building was being renovated, the school was planning to remove the room and replace it to fulfill another purpose. Fortunately, the Vice President of Yonsei is a former alumnus of Yonsei Harmony and the room was maintained for nostalgic purposes,” mentioned Sung-eun.
Sung-eun expressed her wish that more students would utilize this space, or at least become aware of its existence. “The Classical Music Listening Room welcomes all Yonseians who want to come and use it. Students can come and go freely during the operating hours, which is from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is a great place to spend your free periods in, because it is relatively less crowded and classical music enables you to fully focus on whatever it is that you came to do: whether that is working on your assignments, reading, or just relaxing,” she added.
A tour around the room
The Classical Music Listening Room can be largely divided into two sections: the sitting area and the DJ booth. The sitting area is quite spacious: numerous couches are aligned in straight rows at the center and in columns against the walls. There are also black patent leather loveseats, which provide an adequate amount of cushioning and a perfect environment for lounging around while absorbing the classical tunes. Long wooden desks are positioned in front of each couch, making it convenient for visitors to engage in productive tasks such as studying or reading. The room is also equipped with a large framed TV, which is occasionally used for playing DVDs of classical music concerts and operas. Overall, the sitting area maintains a noticeably cozy and private air, an impression aided by its relaxing couches and soundproof walls.
The DJ booth, as the name suggests, is a small, enclosed space beside the sitting area where all the records, CDs and sound equipment are placed. This booth is closed behind a wooden low-frame door similar to that of the main entrance. When you walk through the door, overwhelming stacks of dusty vinyl records and CDs are immediately visible, creating a strong retro vibe and a surge of nostalgia of the past. Despite its compact space, there are four stereos and even a turntable on which the DJs still play old vinyl records on an occasional basis. According to Sung-eun, “all of these records are genuinely vintage. They have been passed down for generations by our former alumni, so some of the oldest ones are from the 70s.”
Yonsei Harmony, the club behind the management
As previously mentioned, Yonsei Harmony is a student club that manages the Classical Music Listening Room in the name of Yonsei University. Though the room does not officially belong to the club, its members operate the room by doing numerous activities such as working as daily DJs and creating promotional advertisements on social media.
“Our DJs create weekly playlists, sometimes based on a central theme, and post them on our Facebook page to attract students,” informed Sung-eun. From time to time, the playlists are created in consideration of particular composers and their anniversaries, and on other occasions there are no particular themes involved in the selection of music. These weekly playlists can be found on the Yonsei Harmony Facebook page. Apart from the fixed playlists, students can also personally request songs by writing it down on a small paper form and handing it to the DJ through a small glass compartment that connects the sitting area and DJ booth.
When questioned about future plans regarding the room, Sung-eun admitted, “There are no specific future plans because our only current goal is to keep this room alive. To achieve that goal, more students have to utilize this room, so we are working on making the Classical Music Listening Room a more attractive and inviting environment.”
Continuing its 42 years of tradition, the student club Yonsei Harmony voluntarily manages this school facility on a daily basis. Its members do not expect anything in return and work solely to share the culture of classical music with fellow Yonseians.
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A miniature musical world is present in our campus, yet not many are aware of it. The Classical Music Listening Room is the ideal space to newly acquaint yourself with classical music, or reconnect with it if you have grown apart from it over the years. Next time you need a break and all of the good spots in the library are occupied, why not pay a visit to Room 314 in the Student Union Building where you can absorb yourself in Debussy, Chopin, Schubert, and many more virtuosos?