A group photo from a past trip to Korea. Lehigh in South Korea focuses on the theme of "Historical Creativity and Contemporary Traditions in Korean Music" and allows students to learn about the culture and music of Korea. (Courtesy of Office of International Affairs)

New program, Lehigh in South Korea, offers a cultural music education


The Office of International Affairs recently announced a new summer program in Seoul, South Korea, that will take place from May 16 to June 3 this summer.

Paul Salerni and Tong Soon Lee, professors from Lehigh’s department of music, are co-teaching one course, “Korean Musical Culture: Historical and Contemporary Traditions,” for this program. The program is called “Lehigh in South Korea – Korean Musical Culture.”

Lee has never studied abroad. But while talking to Salerni about his experiences studying and teaching abroad, the two were inspired to create a program that would be a transformative experience for Lehigh students. 

“What is nice about this particular program, is that it does not require previous musical background,” Salerni said. “Anyone in any major can take this course, get four humanities credits, and learn about the musical and cultural atmosphere in Korea.” 

Lee specializes in traditional Asian music, while Salerni specializes in Western contemporary music. 

“By teaching this course together, we hope students will get a broader look on Korean culture, and how American and Korean music has hybridized,” Salerni said. 

This program will include activities like watching a classical music concert and a performance called Nanta. 

Lee describes Nanta as similar to a Broadway musical. This performance is a musical comedy that takes place in a kitchen, and while the performers are “making food,” they are playing traditional drum rhythms using pots, pans and knives. 

After watching this performance, students will learn these rhythms in a music workshop with professors and local teachers in Seoul. 

“We wanted to look at the historical and contemporary aspects of Korean music through this program,” Lee said. “The goal is to help students understand how traditions are constantly being changed and how that fits into a rapidly modernizing society like Seoul, Korea.”

Students in this program will also be looking at local professional musicians, students and teachers to get a better understanding of how they prepare for musical performances in their culture. 

Michael Hoben, ‘20, said as a musician, this is a great way for him to listen to different styles of music in a disparate environment. 

“I’m interested in this program because I’ve never listened to or seen Korean musicals before,” Hoben said. “ It allows me and other students to indulge in large-scale musical experiences, without feeling like we have to commit to a music minor or major to revive that same musical satisfaction.”

Lee said the program has the potential to have far-reaching impacts on the student-participants’ lives and expose them to new aspects of Korean culture. 

He acknowledged that despite it seeming like an intensive course, the experience is intended to stick with participants long after they return from Seoul.

“We want our students to transfer their knowledge and skills from what they learn in the classroom with us, and then integrate those skills into their lives,” Lee said.

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