KOREA - It is widely understood that Korea's aspiring classical musicians have impeccable technicality but lack a "unique" style of their own. In fact, those in the scene have been striving to find that extra factor that could nurture internationally acclaimed Korean musicians.
Perhaps a good example might come from the Royal Academy of Music, a London-based institution of world renown, which trains nearly 700 students from more than 50 countries in over 20 musical disciplines.
Since its establishment in 1822, the school has occupied the top echelon of the classical music scene with internationally acclaimed musicians as alumni. Korea's famed pianist Kim Sun-wook recently finished his graduate course there in conducting.
"Here, the student must be 100 per cent convinced by what he or she will learn at the school and be willing to absorb whatever there is at the school," said Lee Hwa-young, general manager of the international relations office at the Royal Academy of Music's Korea Center, on Tuesday.
"There is no guideline, no curriculum whatsoever from the teacher. All students are given is information about the teachers and a long list of reference books and materials. There is no attendance checker, no one directs you on what you should do. Teachers are there for you all the time, but you should first be ready to demand what you want. It is different from the conventional music education in Korea where tight 'apprenticeship' hinders other options in a musician's career," she said.
Lee said, however, the unique system may make school years heaven for active learners and hell for passive followers.
"By the time you graduate, you don't even need a teacher because you know that you have paved your own way through and will continue to do so in the future," she added.
This year, the prestigious school will be holding an audition for Korean students in Seoul on Nov. 19-20. The judges, including Timothy Jones, deputy principal of programs and research, and Jo Cole, head of the strings department, will pick out the best students who can, through four years of undergraduate studies and graduate courses, stand on their own and perform on the world stage in the future. They will also hold master classes on Nov. 19.
The British school has been eying the Korean market for quite some time ― the RAM Korea office was established in 2008. The Korean branch is planning to hold an alumni meeting and a concert with alumni, who are all well-established musicians in Korea and around the world now. The office is also reaching out to manage young talents and plans to hold marketing promotions that involve music.
"I will have to admit that Britain has not been the No.1 destination for musical studies. It is may be because Germany, Italy, France or US have been more favoured, or because UK has the image of being pricey," said Shin Jae-eun, head of the Korea Center.
"It is also true that RAM is very selective ― you need to be perfect in the performance while having to show your personality in the music. You need to be fluent in English."
There have been two students who were rejected because of lack of English proficiency even though they were granted prestigious full scholarship.
"But at the end of the day, we believe that higher music education is all about spotting possibility and giving intensive support to those who have the potential," Shin said. "And I believe Koreans have it!"