THERE IS an old Korean folktale that has been passed down from generation to generation about a green frog who does not listen to his mother and does exactly the opposite of what she says. Here is a person who behaved like the green frog; pianist Yoon Hyo-gan. Yoon as a young boy questioned why everyone played the piano the same way, following the notations on the score as if it was a model paper. From then on, he practiced playing the piano different from how it was written on the music sheets. Although the behaviors of the green frog and Yoon are the same, the outcome turned out to be totally different. In the tale, the mother frog dies and the green frog is left with regret and pangs of guilt. In the case of Yoon, however, success was achieved.
About “Piano and Tooth”
Yoon Hyo-gan, who was inquisitive as a boy, became a pianist who did not pursue the perfection of music, but who wanted to play music for ordinary people. It was the look of their eyes that motivated Yoon to carry out his performances. The piano concert “Piano and Tooth” started off on May 12, 2006 and has been performed more than 450 times over 20 months, with over 300,000 audiences. Because of his affection towards people, desire to share music, and familiarity with the audience, Yoon thought of something that lasts long in humans for the title of his concert: “Tooth.” The “Tooth” also refers to the stories that he tells between the songs. The stories consist of topics from everyday conversations which are light yet sincere, such as Yoon’s past experiences, feelings, and thoughts. Relaxing the audience’s minds, these stories are the catalyst that enables the tune of the piano to flow into their ears more easily and touch their heart.
What seizes the audience’s heart
Yoon was seated so that the audience can all see him play the piano. He played the songs not only with his hands, but also his entire body and other senses. When he played songs with a fast beat, such as “Hey Jude,” he felt the exciting rhythm, moved his hands briskly, yet powerfully, along the piano keyboard and shook his feet up and down to the beat. When he played songs with a slow tempo, like dong-yo* such as “Mom, Sister (Ummaya, Nunaya)” and “Longing My Brother, (Oppa Senggak)” he leaned his upper body toward the keyboard and moved his hands delicately. Along with his dynamic expression that conveyed the feeling of every moment, Yoon fully controlled where to put in stress and where to press lightly in each of the songs, pulling along the audience with him and not letting anyone slip into a different thought other than the music itself. He hit the keyboard with his fist or elbow from time to time and produced music with the lowest and highest notes on the keyboard that other musicians hardly ever use.
For songs like “A Castle of Magic” or “Longing My Brother,” Yoon requested the audience to sing along; though they hesitated at first, most people eventually sang along to the sentimental songs. Yoon’s intention of the concert was to share the beautiful melody with people and find a common denominator with them. Through his music selections and motions, he succeeded in connecting with the audience and getting their participation.
*dong-yo: Korean children's song
The Tooth: The Message of Yoon
In between the songs Yoon talked about many things with his humorous Busan dialect, such as the history of “Piano and Tooth,” how he grew up, and so on. One of the stories was how Yoon got to include dong-yo as a fixed repertory in his concert. “In the past, I had a chance to perform in Germany. During the performance, I saw the tears of the Korean residents in Germany who moved there as nurses or miners in the 1960s and 1970s, and heard of their heartbreaking stories,” said Yoon. He wanted to help them and their children connect to their roots, and decided to make a record under the theme of dong-yo, called “Poongum Sounds from a Classroom.”
The second story was delivered through a special corner called “Information Sharing Period,” where Yoon Hyo-gan conveyed a message of encouragement to people. Yoon said that he played the piano since he was seven. He entered a musical contest in the sixth grade and realized that all the songs played by the 20 contestants were impeccable, yet seemed as if they were all played by one person. Afterwards, he started to experiment playing in a different style, following his own feelings; he played strongly where it was written to play softly, lightly where it was written to play heavily, pressed on the pedal at moments when he was not supposed to, and played the notes one octave higher or lower. “Making something of one’s own and having self-confidence and courage to do so is very important,” said Yoon. He wished that people who have seen his performance would escape from fixed ideas and prejudices, have wider, higher dreams and go through rough challenges to establish one’s own history.
Factors that can be improved
However moving the concert was, there are still a few points that seemed to be lacking from the audience’s point of view. One of the most prominent was the ending of the concert, which was too abrupt and insufficient. The beginning of Yoon’s concert was well established, represented by “Hey Jude”; in the end, however, Yoon Hyo-gan played a few songs, said a closing line and went off the stage without further ado. Ha Ji-youn, an audience member, said, “The ending of the concert was too abrupt. I did not realize that it was the end, and thought Yoon would appear again, but he did not. It was really the end.” In order to balance out the start and close of the concert and to prevent the audience from being confused, the ending and the composition of the story should be strengthened. Since Yoon is an artist who breathes along with the audience, he should embrace the points that the audience indicated about the performance and make alterations to embellish it.
* * *
In the concert, Yoon said, “You should not compare yourself with others. You should develop your imagination and challenge yourself to go in directions that others do not choose.” If one pays attention to what the others do not care about and make it into one’s very own, fruits will be borne someday that no one has ever tasted. Indeed, Yoon questioned what no one else has ever doubted and made changes with a passionate heart to create his own unique style. “As long as one has dream and hope, one will be able to endure any situation whatsoever,” said Yoon. No matter how lonely the road of forming his own style must have been, he saw the world with a positive attitude and accepted the situation as a chance to realize his goal. As Yoon Hyo-gan has proven and said, the best way to achieve one’s dream would be to “Let the body follow what the heart dreams of.”
Q1. You have performed for a long period of time. When do you feel the most fruitful?
A1. I always contribute 10% of the seats of my concert to The Beautiful Foundation*. Once, people with hearing difficulties came, so after the performance I asked them how they heard the music. They replied that they could hear the sound through vibration. At that moment, I realized that sound is not just audible through the ear, and that inaudible sounds exist which can be heard through the entire body.
Q2. You said that you wanted to perform overseas. Will the overseas performances differ from the domestic one?
A2. I am planning to perform around the world with my 20 staff members. In 2009, we are going to perform in Europe for 90 days, South America in 2010, Australia in 2011, and so on. If I perform in front of Korean residents overseas, the concert will be similar to the domestic one; nonetheless, I would like to show foreigners things of our own. I want to give them hope and courage through dong-yo.
*The Beautiful Foundation: A nonprofit foundation supporting public activity and donation for the neglected
“Piano and Tooth”
Ap-gu-jung Valentine Theater
Jan. 5, 2008 ~ April 27, 2008