“I Came to South Korea because I Like Jazz”

“I like jazz. I came here in search for freedom of music,” says Kim Chul Oung (age 31, defected in 2002). As a North Korean pianist, Kim has an extremely busy life. Recitals, lectures, and preparation of graduate school in North Korean studies are enough to make his schedule tight.

Kim is busier than many famous people in South Korea. His greed is different from their also. His passion towards music made him to come all the way to South Korea.

– You are in many recitals recently.

I am very busy. I lecture at the Hanse University and I hold recitals of my own. I am also preparing to enroll into a graduate school for North Korean studies. I work hard to be acknowledges in South Korea. Even if I had ten bodies, I would be still busy. That’s how busy I am these days.

– Why would a pianist need a master’s in North Korean studies?

I have lived in South Korea for four years and I learned how much “degrees” are important in South Korea. For the things I would like to do, I need a degree in South Korea.

I set a goal after I came to South Korea. For the Korean unification, there must be effort put in first to unite the culture. Without understand of culture, how can unification take place?

Power of culture is great. The things you cannot change with force, you can with culture. You can change people’s thoughts. There would not be that many people who understands North Korean culture and art as much as I do. (laugh)

I felt the need of organizing knowledge of North Korea in order to let South Koreans students know about them. This is the reason why I decided to enter a graduate school of North Korean studies.

Love for Richard Clayderman

– You graduated from, Pyongyang Music School, the best music university in North Korea, and even studied abroad. Why did you decide to defect?

I simply though for music, I should go to South Korea.

Music is not for making living. It is no an occupation. It is my expression. Through music, I discover myself. In North Korea, I cannot do music the way I want to. I cannot play jazz, which I like.

I am especially fond of the Richard Clayderman’s music. I defected to do that music.

– What was the reason you started music?

There was a lot of pressure from my parents. The greed of parents to educate their children is the same as in South Korea. I took an exam of Pyongyang Music Dance Institute when I eight years old.

Not everyone can enroll in the Pyongyang Music Dance Institute. You have to be in top 1% in everything including your family tree, parents’ social status and occupation apart from talent.

You take sixteen exams to enter the Pyongyang Music Dance Institute. When I took the exam, there were 6000 applicants. It is worse than South Korea I had to show all my talent and they checked my parents’ occupation, family root, and even a medical check up.

– How was the education program?

I was trained for 14 years until I became 22 years old. I received standard education same as all the other schools and received individual music lessons from university professors.

At first it was pretty hard. I was young. Then more and more I learned music, I was able to build my own framework, and devoted myself into it.

After I graduated from the Pyongyang Music Dance Unviersity, I studied abroad in Tchaikovsky National Music Institute. There I was able to broaden my realm and knowledge in music.

No Extreme Measures for HR Awareness

– Tell us more in detail how you will spread North Korean culture.

I my perspective, the most important thing for the Korean unification is acknowledging each other’s differences and understanding it. Even the two do not know well of each other, the unification will not unification but social chaos.

Although people are becoming more aware of the reality of North Korea recently, I do not think it is enough. We have to make awareness of North Korean reality from the unemotional and third person perspective.

However, just because there is many bad sides of North Korea, it must not undermine or ignore the good sides as well. What I would like to do is to held South Korean university students to gain a perspective to look at North Korea with empathy.

– How could we increase more awareness on North Korean human rights problem?

It is important to increase awareness on North Korean human rights. It needs both interest and actual measure for improvement.

Furthermore, it also important to increase awareness among the North Korean people about the importance of “human rights” and how it is necessary for all the people. North only through music, but it must be done in many other ways as well.

– What is your personal wish?

I frequently imagine myself in an opera with South Korean singers with North Korean music. For the opera, I will play the music I compose. I would like to contribute to the cultures and art unification of the nation.