Thursday, July 4, 2013

Preparing For Seoul Street Music

I usually hit the streets of Hongdae after dark, but here I am using at the
Hongdae subway station playing a fundraiser for the human rights
group "Justice For North Korea."
Before I joined the Peace Corps, I taught English in Seoul. I lived in Nowon-gu (northeast part of the city) and would take the subway for about 45 minutes every Friday and Saturday night to reach Hongdae. Why did I do this? Because playing on the street in Seoul is awesome.

Besides walking away with a couple hundred dollars on a good night, Koreans really made you feel appreciated for your music. As seen above, I duck taped together a few cymbals and tambourine to a metal drum stand, accompanied by the typical bucket drum you see in most large U.S. cities. Now that I'm heading back, and I already know I'll be spending many an awesome night in Hongdae, I've upgraded from my cheap (yet clever) setup to some actual percussion equipment.

After serving in the Peace Corps, I realized how much cultural exchange
 took place during our midnight street performances. Heres a time when some
Koreans joined the jam session, notably the guy in the middle
who rocked away on the harmonica.
Most of the stuff I'm bringing I've actually had since high school, but one item I just ordered needs special note. The Toca Jingle-Hit Tambourine (as seen below) retails on Musician's Friend for $34.99 and is worth every penny. If you'e ever played percussion on the street, you'll have noticed that certain sounds stand out and can attract people from really far away. The tambourine I had duck taped to my cymbal stand, despite being a crappy piece of plastic, would cut the the midnight noise of Hongdae like a knife. I knew I would need to upgrade to an actual piece of equipment that would stand up to weekly use and abuse, and I think the Toca Tambourine I just purchased will do just that, at less than $40.

I'm spending my last three weeks in the U.S. visiting old friends in Des Moines, Iowa. Last night, I played an open mic that fused slam poetry with musical improvisation, which gave me a great opportunity to test beating the crap out of this tambourine. It seemed to hold up well and almost was too loud for the room. This small purchase might turn out to be one of my best for my triumphant return to Korea.

As an expat knows all too well, bringing the right combination of items with you to a new country can be life or death. What things have you taken abroad that saved your life? What do you still kick yourself over for not bringing with you? Take a moment to comment below.

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