We left early after breakfast on January 5th for the city of Gunsan, a three hour drive south from Seoul. It’s a smaller, coastal town, right next to the US Air Force base. Our bus had a large, flatscreen TV, and during the first half of the drive, I watched K-Pop videos and a documentary about an isolated tribe that fished and hunted using bows and clubs, and roasted a monkey over a fire for food. We stopped to stretch our legs and use the bathroom after an hour-and-a-half, and I purchased a bag of walnut-shaped red bean cakes. They had a soft, golden brown exterior, and the filling had bits of walnut throughout.
When we arrived in Gunsan, we had lunch at a restaurant named “Arirang,” which is also one of the pieces we were singing in Korea. It’s a popular folk tune about a mountain pass, and most everybody in Korea is familiar with it. After lunch, we drove to the meeting point for our housing. According to the best approximation, we were staying in Korean guest houses, sort of like a bed and breakfast joint. There were mats on the floor for us to sleep on, a spartan bathroom with a toilet, sink, and shower, and not much space for anything else. We just had time to say hi to our hosts and grab our music and tails before we were whisked off to the Gunsan Art Center.
The Art Center is a surprisingly nice public work for such a small town. It was constructed in 2013, so its sleek, angular design was a bit incongruous next to the rest of the town, which was a bit smaller and more traditional. The other peculiar thing about the stage was that there was a large thrust, which made the audience seem far away. When we entered, we met the Gunsan Civic Chorale, a professional chorus, and rehearsed our joint pieces with them. After the joint rehearsal, we had a bit of time to ourselves on the stage, and we went through our own set.
Next on the schedule was dinner, but I took a small detour before that. My wisdom tooth operation had left me with some holes in the back of my mouth, and the bottom right side had gotten infected. Our contact at Gunsan graciously offered to take me to the dentist to get examined, and so I, the tour doctor, the host, and the one Korean speaker in the Glee Club piked in a car and went to the dentist.
Even though I didn’t have an appointment, I was able to be seen fairly quickly. After a few x-rays and poking around in my mouth, the dentist confirmed that I had an infection, put some gauze in my mouth, and put me on a course of antibiotics, which I picked up at the next-door pharmacy. Total cost: 40,000 won, or 33.28 dollars. I was happy that I didn’t have to pay an outrageous amount to be treated. We even were able to catch up with the rest of the group for dinner, which was a buffet at a place known for their pork cutlets.
The Gunsan Civic Chorale performed first during the concert, and it was then that we realized how good of a choir they were. During our rehearsal with them, our mistakes masked their singing, but when they were in performance mode, they were astounding. Dynamics, phrasing, tempo, pitch, and energy were just right. They got the most out of every piece, and their soloists were quite impressive. When it was our turn to go on, we knew we had to rise to the occasion. On the whole, we did. It was our best concert on tour so far, and during the football songs, the audience got in on the performance by clapping, albeit off-tempo. Our finale, the joint performance of the Gunsan conductor’s arrangement of “Arirang,” was also received quite well. After the performance, we attended a reception with the Chorus, during which time they gave us a plaque from the city of Gunsan, a framed commemorative poster from the concert, and food. We mingled with the other chorus, and even took a couple of photos with them (kimchi!). At the end, there was a raffle, and I won a paper lantern craft project, which I claimed by performing a rudimentary moonwalk dance move. Afterward, we returned to our guest house, where we were greeted by our hostess. She praised our performance at the concert, gave us the wifi password, and welcomed us inside. After moving some of our luggage around to make room, we all fell asleep.