IN 2009, the entertainment program Qualifications of Men went viral, especially in the choir series, where they recruited singers—both celebrities and civilians—to form a choir under conductor Yoon Hak-won. One of the contestants, and highlight of the show, was singer Bae Da-hae, but not many know that Bae graduated from the Yonsei College of Music as a voice major (Class of ’02, Dept. of Vocal Music). In an interview with The Yonsei Annals, Bae reminisces her journey as both a student in Yonsei and a singer, and shares some advice to her juniors.
Bae’s experience at Yonsei
Annals: Why did you apply to Yonsei University’s College of Music as a voice major?
Bae: To be frank, there was no critical epiphany that inspired me to join the College of Music in Yonsei University as a voice major. Yonsei was renowned for producing some of the most adroit musicians amongst all of the music schools in South Korea, especially those majoring in voice, so I had started honing, and later polishing my skills to apply to my dream school since middle school years. All bias aside, Yonsei University was the sole destination I had in mind growing up, and I am nothing but proud to call it my alma mater.
Annals: What kinds of clubs and activities did you do as an undergraduate in Yonsei? What was the most memorable experience during your studies?
Bae: It was an unwritten law in my major that students were prohibited to participate in extracurricular activities outside of the music field. In our department, the relationship between juniors and seniors was critical, and being involved in other non-music-related activities was considered as a possible distraction to the valued sense of community amongst the students. Despite this rule, I could not help but join the billiards clubbecause I was so curious. Though I did not stay for long, it was a sweet experience.
As an undergraduate, the Yon-Ko Games were the highlight of my university experience. The event is, I find, exclusive, as it is an iconic season exclusively reserved for students in Yonsei and Korea University. The heat, energy, cheers, music, and performances in blue and red are still fresh in my memory even to this day. I am pleased to have graduated from a school with such an emblematic culture.
Annals: I saw that you have been highly involved in activism and community service since your college years. Could you expand more on this?
Bae: Since childhood, I had always been within the walls of music, but there is one thing I had grown a passion for purely out of my personal interest: protection of animals’ rights and volunteer activism. I have been involved in such activism for 16 years since my sophomore year of college, and it all started after haphazardly coming across a documentary on the treatment of animals in the meat industries.
Also, I collaborate with a variety of non-profit organizations. For instance, I am an ambassador for the Snail of Love, an organization that supports and funds cochlear implant surgeries for children in need, and I am currently sponsoring about ten groups of children.
Annals: How was your overall college experience?
Bae: I did not enjoy much of my years before entering university as I was too occupied with preparing for college applications in terms of both academic studies and vocal practice. After being accepted to such a prestigious school, I wanted to reward myself, so I prioritized leisure and self-discovery over grades. At that age, I thought time spent alone was all I needed, but looking back, I feel light regret in not “getting the full experience” as a college student. I wish I could have gone to more meetings* and taken part in more school festivals other than the Yon-Ko Games. Yet I would like to emphasize that these are minor regrets; I still consider my days in Yonsei the happiest and most satisfied, ever.
Bae’s experience in Qualifications of Men
Annals: You gained popularity from the entertainment program Qualifications of Men. Why did you decide to participate in the series?
Bae: When I first applied for the audition, I had just become a singer under a label—I made the decision to participate barely two months after my official debut. Many of those who watched the show may think that I auditioned as an inexperienced singer in search of an opportunity of exposure and experience, but I confess, I had not done much research on the details of the program before I sent in my application. I did not know that the producers were also searching for debuted artists, and I had no idea I would have to audition in front the cast members of Qualifications of Men. In fact, as you can tell from my audition clip, I entered the audition room as a non-professional, without wearing much makeup and simply ready to sing “Think of Me” from The Phantom of the Opera.
I applied as a non-professional, because for me, I was still inexperienced and I was the same person I was two months prior to my debut. I never considered myself a celebrity then, and so much has changed after that single audition.
Annals: Would you consider this event as a turning point in your life? If so, why?
Bae: Yes, of course. I believe that my experience in Qualifications of Men is the most significant event that has ever occurred to me. Although I still consider my acceptance and academic life at Yonsei a meaningful chapter of my life, I think that the show truly transformed my considerably static life narrative to a meaningfully dynamic one.
Prior to the show audition, I debuted as a member of Vanilla Lucy, a four-person band of a different musical genre other than classic—electronica—because I wanted to explore and grow as a versatile musician. I had future plans as an artist mapped out in my head, but the show opened new paths I had never considered before—it made me take a step back and refocus my lens to the initial path of classical music. I am incredibly grateful and honored for the opportunities and the level of attention that the show has shed on my music career.
Bae’s singing career
Annals: What is singing to you?
Bae: Singing... this is a challenging question because it may easily bring out a dull and shallow response. As cliché as this may sound, singing is conventionally, my life. I developed a passion for singing at the age of 12, attended an arts high school, and eventually continued this path onto university. Now I am—what you can call, a professional singer—and this is what I do for a living. I have experienced a turbulence of highs and lows, but all within the frame of my music career. I have felt, and still feel, happiness, satisfaction, exhaustion, and dissatisfaction, all as a musician and solely a musician.
Annals: Are you currently working on any projects? Could you describe your current career as an artist?
Bae: As of now, I am trying out different things: I have been working on albums—deleting, reframing, and reconstructing demos and instrumentals—and singing in various festivals. Sometimes I appear as a guest in TV programs and radio shows to promote my songs, take part in interviews, and sing along with other artists. Once in a while, I perform in musicals as well. The repertoire is not heavily dynamic, as you can tell.
Annals: Do you have any words of guidance for the students in Yonsei University and our readers?
Bae: Words for my juniors... this is a lot of pressure. I personally think that there is no single correct answer to anything. Many of us regret with thoughts such as, “I should have known better,” or “I could have done this differently.” But truth is, you would have never known and you will never know. We are inevitably oblivious of the better options, so we might as well do what feels right. New paths may arise unexpectedly, just like how I was given the opportunity to star in a broadcasting show, so my advice is to keep an open mind to possible changes.
*Meeting: Korean version of double, triple blind dates prevalent in college culture