Among various stereotypes about Koreans, having great singing voices is probably a lesser known yet subtle statement. Nicholas Harkness, Associate Professor of Anthropology at Harvard University, explains reasons for the fact that there are so many great singers in Korea. Reasons listed in his paper, “Songs of Seoul: An Ethnography of Voice and Voicing in Christian South Korea,” include four factors, some based on general observation, others more scientific reasons.
1. They are just born to sing
Stewart Ring, who worked as a music teacher in Korea during the Korean War, commented, “Koreans are never afraid of singing with their voice,” surprised with so many great singers during the time. Some great singers from around the world agree that they are just born to sing.
2. Tight bond with neighbors
Throughout the history, Korean community was formed in units of village rather than single person or a family. Agricultural works were done with cooperation of all village members, requiring rhythmical movements for faster and more efficient works. Through songs whether sung together or sung by singers, Korean farmers in the past could work rhythmically. Such tradition, as argued by Harkness, is continued until nowadays.
3. Korea is Italy in Asia
Professor Harkness found some parallels between Korea and Italy, which is a country known for having a number of great singers. First of all, both countries are known for emotional expressions. Also, native languages of both countries are pronounced distinctively, which is a helpful characteristic for making lyrics.
4. Effect of Christianity
Christianity is the most popular religion in Korea. Due to its popularity, its effect is hard to neglect. Korean preachers are known to convey their emotions accordingly to the contents. Their ability to deliver emotions using voice is highlighted as a cause that affects Koreans’ emotional expressions through voice.
Professor Harkness argues that Church Choir, too, has affected development of singing in Korea. In the past, Korea was a strict Confucian nation where women were prohibited from raising their voices. In early 1900s when Christianity started to be spread in Korea, Korean women could legally raise their voices by joining church choirs.
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Translated by Heewon Kim