How a song about Korea came to Warwick Valley High School Meistersingers

Bronx /
| 19 Dec 2022 | 11:19

The Warwick Valley High School Meistersingers performed a song that was unfamiliar to most of their concert audience on Dec. 8: On the Other Side -Let Freedom Ring in North Korea . It was a plea for liberation and reunification of Korea, and I wrote it. My own South Korean roots and close connection with Korean communities in America made me want to become a voice for the people of DPRK for two decades, and across many miles.

We immigrated to America in 1977 when I was nine years old. I remember everything about South Korea, from the green, hilly countryside to busy city streets of Itaewon, Seoul, where we lived. We didn’t have much, but I was happy,

Settling in our new homeland wasn’t easy. My father worked overnight shifts at 7-Eleven while my mother cleaned hotel rooms. I’ll never forget how happy my father was bringing home a free turkey one Thanksgiving after working long hours.

The Los Angeles Riots in 1992 changed my whole perspective on life. I realized I needed to do more and stay proactive as a Korean-American. The Korean restaurant my Korean gangster boyfriend and I ate at burnt down that night. Many Korean business owners saw their American dreams go up in flames. My boyfriend grabbed his gun and headed to Koreatown to protect the Korean-owned stores. They stood on rooftops and shot at anyone who came near. I realized that Koreans stick together no matter what. It’s that special bond “Jung” that connects one Korean to another.

My boyfriend, the first Korean I had ever dated, urged me to learn Korean language and culture, which I did, even presenting news in Korean for a Korean radio station. I also made a documentary about drug addiction in our Asian community, including testimony of my own struggles with addiction.

After the L.A. riots, I showed my film to the legendary South Korean film director Shin Sang Ok in Hollywood, who was abducted in the ‘70s by the North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il. He offered me a job as well as support for my film.

While growing up in South Korea, I was told that North Koreans cannot be trusted, having been indoctrinated with communist ideals from birth. They lie and deceive, which is exactly what happened with Director Shin and his wife. While in LA, I met a man claiming to be a director from South Korea who came to me for help to find him a Korean actress. But he was actually a spy from North Korea aiming to make propaganda films about negative America. The actress I introduced to him was followed by the National Intelligence Service of South Korea for months.

In 1997, a letter from my father changed the course of my life again. It was a newspaper clipping about a full scholarship to study at New York Film Academy. I sent in my film about Asian community drug addiction, and I was chosen.

For my final project At NYFA, I made a film about Korean twin brothers reuniting after being separated in 1953. One twin lived in the Bronx and had a bodega. He spent his life savings on a boat to save his twin from the North Korean famine. Their story came out at the height of the famine crisis that killed an estimated 3.5 million. When I visited the brother in the Bronx, I hid behind the tuna fish cans on the shelf and watched him. When I tried to interview him, he told me to leave, but I completed my film.

In 2011, young Kim Jong Un became the new dictator of DPRK, and I wrote a monologue in 2016, pleading with Kim Jong Un to free his people. For the heart-breaking story of Otto Warmbier, the college student who was arrested by the North Koreans, went into a coma and died, I dedicated a dance.

In 2018, in California, in my mom’s attic, I wrote the lyrics to the song performed by the Meistersingers. With the help of Ron De Fesi, new director of Warwick Valley Chorale, who did the musical arrangements, we were able to bring the song to life. Noreen Hanson, the Choral Director for WVHS, made the song’s performance possible.

In my song, the Meistersingers sang out a message that the Korean people hope will someday resound around the world.

Yuri Nam