Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Songs of Seoul

Songs of Seoul: An Ethnography of Voice and Voicing in Christian South Korea

Nicholas Harkness
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Pages: 320
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Songs of Seoul
    Book Description:

    Songs of Seoulis an ethnographic study of voice in South Korea, where the performance of Western opera, art songs, and choral music is an overwhelmingly Evangelical Christian enterprise. Drawing on fieldwork in churches, concert halls, and schools of music, Harkness argues that the European-style classical voice has become a specifically Christian emblem of South Korean prosperity. By cultivating certain qualities of voice and suppressing others, Korean Christians strive to personally embody the social transformations promised by their religion: from superstition to enlightenment; from dictatorship to democracy; from sickness to health; from poverty to wealth; from dirtiness to cleanliness; from sadness to joy; from suffering to grace. Tackling the problematic of voice in anthropology and across a number of disciplines,Songs of Seouldevelops an innovative semiotic approach to connecting the materiality of body and sound, the social life of speech and song, and the cultural voicing of perspective and personhood.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95740-4
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Note on Romanization
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-26)

    Pudae tchigaeis a bubbling, reddish stew consisting of chunks of processed meat, vegetables, spices, and red pepper paste. Often translated as “army base stew,” “GI stew,” or even “Yankee stew,” the dish takes its name from the way hungry Koreans in the 1950s boiled leftover food from U.S. Army bases—some donated, some pulled from the trash—to feed themselves and their families.¹ Although an unscavenged form ofpudae tchigaeis popular today and continues its fl exible model of culinary integration by incorporating contemporary consumer products such as ramen noodles and thinly sliced American cheese into its spicy...


    • CHAPTER 1 Transformations of Voice
      (pp. 29-47)

      An obvious point regarding the transformation of voice is that it involves a change in sound. For the analyst of such a transformation, sound is the low-hanging fruit. The far more difficult question asks: What is the relationship between a change in sound and a change in meaning? Another way—an ethnographic way—to ask this question is: Are groups that are mediated by changing vocal sound also changed by a new orientation to meaning? Is the change in sound significant for the group? Does it have consequences for groupness? While these questions might seem overly abstract, they are nonetheless...

    • CHAPTER 2 Voicing an Advanced Korea
      (pp. 48-79)

      As prayers begin at Somang Presbyterian Church on a Sunday morning in Seoul in the early twenty-first century, it is hard to imagine the chaos and tragedy that marked the recently concluded twentieth century in this country. For that matter, it is hard to imagine the recent history of this city, which changed military hands numerous times during the Korean War and now lies only about thirty miles from the demilitarized zone. While South Korea has undergone a number of radical transformations—political, economic, and social—the picture of a calm, serene, blessed, and stable Korea that is painted by...

    • CHAPTER 3 Cultivating the Christian Voice
      (pp. 80-111)

      In September 2008, I received an e-mail from a church soloist, a tenor, who was studying for his master’s degree in voice in Seoul. When I had received e-mails from him before, they had been generated from an e-mail alias that combined the name of the prestigious university he attended, the English wordvocal,and his birth date. This time, the e-mail was from a different account. The new e-mail address contained the English wordpraise,followed by his birth date. And the outgoing e-mail alias that appeared in place of his e-mail address was written in Han’gŭl as follows:...

    • CHAPTER 4 The Clean Voice
      (pp. 112-138)

      In November 2008, the South Korean tenor Kim Woo-kyung gave his first concert in Seoul after studying and performing abroad for nearly ten years. Unlike singers who return to Seoul from study and work abroad to begin professional careers at home, Kim was in Seoul for only a short time before returning to his international career. For this reason, the concert was billed not as a “homecoming recital” (kwiguk tokch’anghoe) but as a “first recital” (ch’ŏt naehan risait’ŭl) in Korea.

      The performance took place in the concert hall of the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts, in downtown Seoul. Predictably,...


    • CHAPTER 5 Tuning the Voice
      (pp. 141-174)

      Sŏngakpervades many of the explicitly Christian semiotic genres that form the basis of church sociality in Korea (e.g., praise and worship, missionary activity and evangelism). Anchored to the church in this way,sŏngakalso positions individuals in time and space. For most singers ofsŏngak,the Korean present—the spatiotemporalorigō,or deictic anchor point, from which they sing, so to speak—is understood in terms of a Christian narrative of the country’s dramatic social, cultural, political, and material change. This change is perceived in part through a Christian aesthetic of progress. The aestheticized qualia of the vocal channel...

    • CHAPTER 6 The Voice of Homecoming
      (pp. 175-200)

      During one of my first visits to South Korea to conduct early fieldwork on cultural conceptualizations and practices of voice, I traveled around Seoul to visit various colleges of music and performance halls. At both I found rows of glossy fliers and professionally designed posters advertising the solo recitals of musicians who recently had returned home from study and professional work abroad. Most of these posters were for singers ofsŏngak.The ubiquity of these fliers and the frequency of these recitals seemed to suggest a robust, thriving audience for this type of music.

      As I mentioned in the introduction,...

    • CHAPTER 7 Feeling the Voice
      (pp. 201-225)

      In 2009, when I returned to Korea for a follow-up research trip, the choir conductor at Somang Church invited me to sing a duet with her during the offertory(hŏn’gŭmsong)one Sunday during my stay. She had chosen John Rutter’s setting of “The Lord Bless You and Keep You.” The conductor had studied voice in Germany, and I had majored in German as an undergraduate, so we often switched back and forth between German and Korean in our conversations. After we had practiced with the accompanist a few times until we both felt comfortable with our notes, the tempo, and...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 226-232)

    The focus of this ethnography has been on Christian singers in Korea who strive to embody cultural ideals and social values through semiotic practice. Through performance and professionalization, prayer and evangelism, manipulations of sound and body, singers ofsŏngakin Korea try to exhibit the qualities of Korean Christian modernity in the qualia of their voices. Their voices become emblems of this state of striving, revealing both their successes and failures as they work toward this goal. As I have shown, this state of striving is organized by a chronotope of advancement. A voice, the emotions it expresses, the person...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 233-266)
  11. References Cited
    (pp. 267-288)
  12. Index
    (pp. 289-303)