In step with their culture

A Korean group helps bring their traditions to Carroll

June 25, 2006|By LAURA MCCANDLISH | LAURA MCCANDLISH,SUN REPORTER

The students paraded in, clanging brass gongs with bamboo mallets and beating hourglass-shaped, high-pitched janggu drums.

In white pants and silk tunics with yellow, red and blue sashes, they danced in a kaleidoscopic circle. The younger children wore red "Go! Korea 2006" T-shirts in support of their World Cup soccer team and whacked bass barrel drums, called buks.

It wasn't your everyday lunchtime entertainment at the Westminster Senior Center.

A Korean Hanpan team, composed of 30 elementary through high school students (most of them from Howard County), recently performed Korean folk songs, dances and plays for the elderly Carroll County residents at the Westminster Senior Center for a Korea Day program.

The Korean instruments, traditionally played during spring planting and autumn harvest festivals, mimicked the sounds of wind, rain and thunder.

A cultural festival on this scale had never before been staged at the county's senior centers, organizers and attendees said.

But Korean food couldn't be featured at the event, because the county lacks a Korean restaurant. Chinese food (egg rolls, fried rice, stir-fried shrimp) was served instead.

County residents - young and old - sat in tight rows around the perimeter of the center's multipurpose room.

For the seniors, it was a chance to learn about a culture with little presence in predominantly white Carroll County and a country most had never visited.

Sung Hee "Sunny" Moon, a South Korean native, Westminster resident and case manager with the county's Bureau of Aging, organized the event. She described Korea as the size of Indiana, with a climate similar to that of Maryland.

"I like what I saw here today," said George Miller, 85, of Westminster.

He fought in the European Theater during World War II, but never made it to Asia.

"At my age, I ain't going to travel much," Miller said. "But we should all understand the different countries, even if we don't speak the language."

For the performing students, some of whom were born in the United States, it was an opportunity to embrace their native culture without worrying about what their non-Korean peers would think.

Playing with the Korean Hanpan team reminds the students to be proud of where they come from, they said.

Most of their families hailed from Seoul, the capital of South Korea, the students were quick to explain.

"People get confused about which one we are," said Paul Kim, 9, of Ellicott City. "Like they think there's only one Korea."

His sister, Agnes, 11, chimed in.

"South Korea is democratic, but North Korea is republican, kind of like Republicans," Agnes said, growing a bit confused herself. "They have this wall, guarded by the U.S. Army, so people don't really know anything."

Bridging the gap between the performers and the seniors were two Carroll County families with children who were adopted from Korea.

Chance Jae Yeong Barnhart, 3, sat in his mother's lap, plugging his ears as the drumming grew thunderous. He loves music, but doesn't like it loud.

Chance's mother, Liz Barnhart, had longed to adopt a Korean child, ever since she worked as a nanny for a family in which the father was adopted from Korea.

Chance, born in Seoul, has lived with the Barnharts in Finksburg since he was six months old.

"We've been blessed," Barnhart said. "He's very good."

Soon, the "quiet" music began, and Chance stopped covering his ears.

An ensemble, with a cello, violin and a keyboard played the American song, "Home on the Range," accompanied by a vocalist.

"It's very interesting," said Shirley Hoff, a Westminster resident who would only admit she was over 60. "I like the more peaceful music."

More soothing rhythms followed from the 5-foot-long, hollowed out wooden guitars (called kayagum) that the students laid down on the floor to play. One haunting melody explored the theme of love.

Paul Garver, the manager of the Westminster Senior Center, said the Korea Day program benefited all the residents who attended.

"I've never seen anything like this before," Garver said. "Hopefully, it will become an annual tradition."

laura.mccandlish@baltsun.com

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.