Belmont Chorale, led by Conductor and Professor in the School of Music Dr. Jeffrey Ames, hosted a joint concert with “Souls of Seoul,” a semi-professional choir from Seoul, South Korea, on Tuesday, February 20. Led by Jihoon Park, the Souls of Seoul choir, known as SOS and with a tagline of ‘Saving our Souls,’ is made up of 47 traveling vocalists.
Ames and Park met in 2016 when they were selected to participate in the American Choral Directors Association’s International Conductors Exchange Program. As part of the program, Park visited the US in March 2016 for two weeks and spent time in Los Angeles and Nashville, participating in conferences, facilitating workshops and hosting lectures for Belmont students. Months later, in July, Ames visited South Korea for two weeks and spent time working alongside Park and SOS.
In the time since, Ames said he and Park have developed quite a friendship–one he would describe as familial. “We are brothers,” Ames said. “We are kindred spirits. Our families have become close, even though we’re 7,000 miles away. Thanks to technology, we talk once a week and share holidays. My life has been deeply enriched through Jihoon and his choirs. It’s truly a ministry between ourselves and our ensembles, because once you meet someone of kindred spirits, they’re family. And we are.”
Tuesday night’s joint performance included individual performances by both choirs, as well as combined pieces. The night ended with Park introducing SOS’s goodbye song to Belmont Chorale, a piece they sang in English and then finished in Korean. Chorale completed the event by singing an Irish blessing that was first read aloud in Korean by Belmont student musician Christine Chong.
“Before I knew it, I turned around and both choirs were holding hands and swaying to the music,” Ames said. “It was truly, truly touching. So many people have since sent me messages saying how special the night was for them to watch. It was such a blessing to us all.”
As student musicians, it’s incredibly valuable to have the chance to sing alongside seasoned, talented musicians, Ames said. And this opportunity was filled with such musicians. “As writers like to read great stories, it’s so powerful for musicians to perform with those who have a quality product–and both of these choirs produce high quality products. It builds your own musicianship, it builds your respect for other high quality performers and it leaves you in awe.”
Senior Liberal Studies student and Chorale Member Shantal Francis said the best part of singing alongside SOS was the energy they brought to the performance. “Their passion for music was immeasurable and they were so unified,” Francis said. “You could truly tell they were a team. We all went along for this journey that filled the room with love, depth and beautiful music.”
Beyond her musical experiences, Francis said she’s looking towards a career working with international nonprofit organizations after graduation, and the opportunity to engage with professionals from another country was incredibly meaningful. “This experience makes you realize that there is a common foundation among people,” she said. “I don’t speak Korean and many of the members of SOS did not speak English, but that just did not matter. When you have a common goal, in this case, a musical exchange and inspiriting one another, you can find ways to cross cultural borders.”