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[Herald Interview] 15 years on, Uangel Voice still finds way to sing anew

July 10, 2024 - 15:08 By Choi Si-young
Uangel Voice poses for a photo ahead of an interview with The Korea Herald at the Korea Press Center in Seoul on Tuesday. (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald)

An all-male six-member choir walks up to the stage and takes a deep breath, as guests are all ears for a tune that will animate a ceremony marked by many handshakes and applauses.

“That’s the thrill, an adrenaline rush -- the feeling of undivided attention on the stage,” said Son Ye-bin, a baritone at Uangel Voice, a choir that has been performing since April 2009. Most of their performances since then have involved charity work, either raising funds for the marginalized or raising awareness of their cause.

“On occasions, we also perform for non-charities, like today,” Son said in an interview with The Korea Herald after a ceremony Tuesday that marked the Foreign Language Newspapers Association of Korea’s ninth anniversary.

Culture Minister Yu In-chon (fourth from right) and Herald Corp. CEO Choi Jin-young (fifth from right) pose for a photo with Uangel Voice at a ceremony marking the ninth anniversary of the Foreign Language Newspapers Association of Korea at the Korea Press Center in Seoul on Tuesday. (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald)

The choir is unique in that the members change every two or three years on average, as classical vocalists -- mostly undergraduates majoring in the subject -- come and go. The upside to the ever-changing membership is that the choir stays “fresh,” with new talent adding new momentum to be creative, according to Pahk G-hyang, president of the Uangel Voice Foundation.

“Our mission to reach out to the marginalized by advancing their cause is simple enough,” Pahk said. “Finding ways to go about it isn’t. But our unique makeup helps us to reinvent ourselves and carry on the tradition for more than a decade now.”

Over the last 15 years, over 100 singers have graduated from Uangel Voice. The choir has helped singers who want to further their studies in classical music in Germany or Italy, a path that is usually financially challenging.

The career trajectory has changed, Pahk noted, referring to an increasing number of singers choosing to be a member of Uangel Voice for reasons other than to continue their studies overseas. “Slots for teaching jobs at universities have dipped dramatically,” she said of the changing trend.

“The fact that we also sing in other languages like French is something that makes us stand out,” said Jeong Dong-in, a tenor, who described overseas tours as rewarding. “In 2022, we performed in Paris and, yes, we did that in French. It was brutal, practicing in French to take the stage.”

Four to five overseas tours take place annually, according to the tenor.

Uangel Voice performs during a ceremony marking the ninth anniversary of the Foreign Language Newspapers Association of Korea at the Korea Press Center in Seoul on Tuesday. (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald)

“I think it all boils down to this,” the baritone Son added, “We are behind charitable causes but we also want to be as down-to-earth as possible so the larger public find us more relatable.”

Go Dae-han, another baritone, said the singers at Uangel Voice have always prioritized “being familiar,” recalling the group’s performance in Nagoya, Japan. “Singing in the local language isn’t something grand. Reeling in the audience is. We always have that in mind when we sing.”

Tenor Kim Hyun-yun pointed out, albeit cautiously, that one of the popular misconceptions about classical singing is that it is not as dynamic as K-pop.

“We regularly make stops across the country for a performance and I feel that people just are not as exposed to the kind of music we do as they are to pop songs,” Kim said. “The overwhelming reception we get after our performance is a testament to that.”

Performing for charitable causes is not financially rewarding, but the Uangel Voice singers and foundation leader Pahk maintain they would not be where they are now if they had been after money.

“Now that the COVID-19 pandemic’s gone away, we want to do more good in years to come,” said Moon Jee-yang, the choir pianist.

“As cliche as it sounds, there is more than money to life,” Pahk said of the plan to continue the 15-year mission. “Our singers are actually helping themselves in the process of helping the underprivileged.”