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Korean Activist Discusses Music as a Means of Unification

South Korean activist and musician Hyung Joon Won discussed his efforts to promote the reunification of North Korea and South Korea through classical music on Wednesday evening as part of the Conversations with Kirkland speaker series.

Won, a Juilliard-trained violinist, has worked for more than eight years to create an ensemble that allows young musicians from North Korea and South Korea to interact through music rather than politics.

Musician and Activist
South Korean musician Hyung Joon Won performs a piece on the violin Wednesday night for a Conversations with Kirkland speaker series.

Won said Maestro Daniel Barenboim inspired him to establish an orchestra comprising musicians from both nations. Barenboim co-founded the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, which brings Israeli, Palestinian, and Arab musicians together in spite of political tensions.

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Won emphasized his discontent and frustration with the political systems in North Korea and South Korea. He has attempted on multiple occasions to bring young musicians together to perform in peace concerts in places ranging from Germany to the Korean Demilitarized Zone, but policy agreements fell through each time, he said.

“This...joint orchestra program between North and South. It’s not like a dream. It’s a must for us,” Won said.

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Won explained his theory of utilizing the unifying nature of music and the structure of an orchestra to create peace and unity between North Korea and South Korea.

“So many instruments with different sounds, but they produce harmony. That’s amazing,” Won said. “And I wish those leaders in big positions can be touched [by the music].”

Won expressed his desire to make the intentions of his project known to the international community and government officials in particular.

“We must convince politicians, especially North and South Koreans,” he said. “But just convincing those politicians is difficult because they don’t play music.”

Although he has faced logistical and political difficulties when organizing performances, Won proposed using technology to bring together the musicians separated by the border.

“I’m sure Bill Gates or [Mark] Zuckerberg can help,” he said.

During his talk, Won performed Chaconne by Johann Sebastian Bach on his violin. Won selected this piece because it is a “tragic dance” that he believes depicts the tensions between North Korea and South Korea.

The event was co-hosted by the student organization Harvard Human Rights in North Korea.

Following the event, co-president of HRiNK Joseph L. Choe ’17 said his group’s stance on the reunification of North Korea and South Korea is “pretty neutral.”

“Our focus is mainly on human rights and making sure that these people are not being deprived of these basic rights,” he added.

Some students in attendance appreciated Won’s musical activism.

“It is nice to know that there are people who actually do things like this,” said Austin Shin ’19.

—Staff writer Maria H. Park can be reached at maria.park@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @Chirpark.

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