Interview with Jee Seo

After an incredible first concert in September, on October 7th Kaleidoscope will continue its third season with a concert featuring three new chamber works by three different winners from our Call for Scores. Jee Seo, one of the composers, will have his World Premiere of his work 4 Pieces for 2 Violins alongside Julia Adolphe’s Veil of Leaves and Saad Haddad’s Takht. Generously donating his time, I was able to sit down with Mr. Seo and his translator, Ms. Kim and not only talk about the inspirations and influences that went into writing 4 Pieces for 2 Violins, but how as a native of Korea he hopes to bridge traditional Korean music with various types of music from around the world.

Carrie Rexroat: Mr. Seo, how did you get started with music?

Ms. Kim: He says that there are two reasons. When he was young he was raised in the Christian faith and spent a lot of time in church. Here he was always listening to a lot of music and instruments, like piano and choral music, so he learned about the Western music heritage this way. The second is that his mother is a teacher and she loves music, so he developed a love of music through her as well.

CR: I see. So do you play any instruments?

Jee Seo: Yes, I play piano, flute, clarinet, guitar, violin and cello a little bit. But, I am only good at the piano, everything else I don’t sound very good on.

CR: Wow, that’s a lot! So where in Korea are you from?

Ms. Kim: He is from Seoul.

CR: Great. How does music play a role in life in Seoul?

Ms. Kim: He says Gangnam is very similar to Manhattan, so classical music is really accessible in Seoul. But, he says there are three music styles in daily life in Seoul. There is traditional music that you find in a traditional place, such as a palace. The second type is K-Pop, which is very familiar type of music for all Korean people, and the third type is classical music but it’s more contemporary classical music. We have different festivals in each season, so there are many classical music concerts in Seoul.

CR: Great! So when did you start composing music? Why pursue it as a career?

Ms. Kim: He says that he started composition when he was eighteen and when he was twenty-one he decided that it was the way for him. For him there was no turning point, he just decided he was going to compose.

CR: What kind of music do you compose, what sorts of things do you find you write a lot about, in terms of musical inspirations or non-musical inspirations?

Ms. Kim: He says he tries to compose music with attractive rhythmic styles, and that these styles of music are his inspiration that he hopes to share with others in his own unqiue way. He has studied Korean traditional rhythms, Indian rhythms, Latin music rhythms and funky rhythms from Pop and Disco music, and he likes to apply these kinds of rhythms into his pieces. The piece that will be performed by Kaleidoscope is his rhythmic interpretation of various rhythmic styles from around the world.

CR: Awesome! How did you learn about those styles of music? Did you learn them through travel?

Ms. Kim: He says no, that he just spent a lot of time researching different styles on the internet and by listening to different CDs. He just listened to so many types of music and the ones that he found interesting to him are styles and rhythmic structures that he wants to continue to use in his pieces because, firstly he loves it, but he also he believes the most important thing has to do with groove. This is why he focuses a lot on rhythmic structures.

CR: Very cool! Specific to the piece that’s being played with Kaleidoscope, which styles does he utilize in 4 Pieces for 2 Violins?  

Ms. Kim: He says he there is a mixture of Indian, Korean and Latin rhythms. In the second movement it focuses on Indian and Korean rhythms, and in the 3rd movement the piece focuses on Funk and Disco rhythms.  

CR: That sounds great! Do you mind talking about traditional Korean music? How is it unique?

Ms. Kim: He says that in the Western style of music there are very short rhythmic units. For example,  3 / 4 is one unit of 1,2,3. In Korean traditional music, sanjo is a traditional Korean music form, which is similar to the Western sonata form, but there are several different types of rhythmic styles. For example, one rhythmic line may have 47 beats, which is a very long phrase and obviously much longer than most Western rhythmic styles. These kinds of structures inspire him to unify and blend with the Western music style, as well as with the other cultures with mixed meter style, to create something new.

CR: Great! What are some traditional Korean instruments ?

Ms. Kim: One traditional Korean instrument is the kayakum, which is a string instrument. One of the more rhythmic instruments in Korean traditional culture is the Janggu, which is two sizes of a drum; it’s a very special instrument to the Korean tradition.

CR: Awesome! Are you going to be able to go to LA to hear your piece?

JS: Yes, I will arrive in LA on October 5th.

CR: That’s great!. How did you hear about KCO’s Call for Scores?

Ms. Kim: He was searching for Calls for Scores on the internet and it came up. He applied because he wanted the chance to have his piece performed in the United States.

CR: Gotcha. What’s the orchestration of your piece?

JS: Only two violins.

CR: So more about you as a person, what are some hobbies that you have outside of music?

Ms. Kim: He loves literature, especially stage plays. He can get ideas from the stage, meaning how something is performed and directed, and from the authors themselves and the story that they’re trying to tell.

CR: What’s your favorite play?

Kim: His favorite is Don Quixote, that’s first and foremost his all time favorite. He also loves Hamlet, but he likes watching it because there are a lot of different styles of Hamlet in which he can get different ideas and compare and contrast them.

CR: Have you ever been to anywhere outside of NYC before?

JS: No, just NYC

CR: What did you like about NYC?

Ms. Kim: He felt like it was very familiar because it is it has the same temperature as Seoul. He also says that the trees were very similar *laughter*

CR: *laughter* well I have never been to NYC! Where do you recommend I visit if I ever go?

JS: Manhattan

CR: Awesome! Well do you have a favorite quote, especially if you like reading literature?

Ms. Kim: He says that he doesn’t have a specific quote, but he would like to live without regrets, He hates regretting things in the past, so he wants to live every moment being entirely awake and in the present.

CR: For sure. My last question is that when your piece is performed do you have anything that you want to say to the audience through this interview?

Ms. Kim: He says he still hopes the audience enjoys his piece and develops a deeper appreciation for the various types of music that the world creates.

JS: Yes, this piece is my self portrait. Although this is a small piece, I believe it can show you who I am.

CR: Well, thank you so much! Great to talk with you!

Ms. Kim: Yes, thank you so much!

JS: Thank you!

Carrie Rexroat is a freelancer writer for the Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra’s blog, but is also the Founder of the storytelling blog, A’tudes & Brews.

Kaleidoscope will premiere 4 Pieces for 2 Violins on:

Friday, October 7 @ 8 pm
First Presbyterian Church
1220 2nd St, Santa Monica, CA 90401

Sunday, October 9 @ 2 pm
Rolling Hills United Methodist Church
26438 Crenshaw Blvd., Rolling Hills Estates, CA 90274


Carrie Rexroat