Jazz legend Dave Brubeck died today, just one day before his 92nd birthday. I have had the privilege of having been absolutely mesmerized by his performance at the Toronto Jazz Festival a few years ago. I remember hearing about how Mikhail Gorbachev was seen tapping his fingers to Mr. Brubeck’s “Take Five”, when Mr. Brubeck and his quartet performed at a US-Soviet summit meeting in 1988. Mr. Brubeck is said to have commented afterwards, “I can’t understand Russian, but I can understand body language”. That music transcends language, time, politics and culture sounds like a regurgitation of clichés but is no less true.
Last night at the opening ceremony of the 50th Anniversary of Canada and Korea’s Diplomatic Relations, I was once again reminded of how the power of music rises above barriers. The Zion Mission Women’s Choir, a 80-member choir from Vancouver, performed at the ceremony that included the speeches by the two Prime Ministers. The clarity and range were remarkable even if you didn’t know that the choir members’ average age stood at 50 with the oldest being 86. Their modern and experimental rendition of the traditional Korean folk song “Arirang” was particularly memorable. Under Stephanie Chung’s direction, the relatively short melody turned into a soul-searching, heart-wrenching homage to Korea.
“Arirang” is often considered the unofficial anthem of Korea. Although you did not need to understand the language to appreciate the music last night, here is a rough English translation of the lyrics:
Arirang, Arirang, Arariyo
Crossing over the Arirang Pass*
My dear who has forsaken me here
Lame (s)he grows even before walking 10 li**
* Arirang Pass is an imaginary rendezvous of lovers in the land of dreams
** Unit, roughly equal to 5 kilometers