“Even if we live to be seventy years old/ Eighty years old/ Ninety years old/ Ninety-four years old/ One hundred years old/ If we count by the moon/ Thirty-six thousand days/ Sick days and sleeping days/ If we take away all our worries and cares/ We will not live to be forty years old/ How can we repay our parents?” (from the folk song “Conversion Song”)

There are endless religious and philosophical explanations for where we come from, but there is one thing we all have in common. We all come from our parents’ genes and live forever in our mothers’ wombs.

Cha Da-yul (29), a national intangible cultural asset, is a young man whose DNA is embedded in Korean music. His mother, Lee Young-mi, was a singer who served as the head of the Gunpo branch of the Korean Gugak Association, so gugak was as familiar and natural to him as kimchi on the table. It was natural for him to major in folk music at university.

However, the process was not smooth. After graduating from college, Da-yul worked as an employee of an entertainment agency, a cruise ship crew member, and an employee of a trading company. He has now come full circle and returned to his roots, having experienced the hardships of being a young professional, suffering through night shifts and overtime. Calling gugak his “lifelong friend,” he explains why he left it and why he came back.

-Please introduce yourself.
“Yes…, I’m just an ordinary person, but I’m very nervous to be in this position. I’m Cha Da-yul, currently working as the head of the transmission planning team at the Korea Intangible Cultural Heritage Promotion Center of the Korea Cultural Heritage Foundation, which is part of the Cultural Heritage Administration. It’s a long story, but to put it simply, I’m in charge of revitalization projects related to intangible cultural assets and overseas promotion. This is a job, and I’m a person who… I think you can see that I’m a folk song and gugak person. I’ve been close to folk songs and sarangnori since I was a child under the influence of my mother, and my major is the same, and I’m currently taking a course to become a baltal handler, a type of talnori.”

We meet at the National Intangible Cultural Property Transmission Training Center of the Korea Cultural Heritage Foundation in Gangnam-gu, Seoul, where Cha works in the foundation’s transmission planning team. When he’s not onstage, his casual attire gives him the appearance of an office worker in his 20s. Reporter Chung Yang-hwan ray@donga.com
-Are you from Gugak High School?
“No, I didn’t. I went to Surigo in Gunpo. Oh, there’s one of my seniors who I’m very proud of, Kim Yeon-ah. I haven’t seen her in person, but ho-ho. My mother sang Gyeonggi folk songs, so I naturally learned them over her shoulder, but I didn’t start in earnest until I was in high school. I learned Jindo Arirang in music class, and when my teacher heard me singing, she asked me, ‘Where did you learn it?’ When I thought about it, it was as natural to me as the air in my house, so I decided, ‘I’ll try to do it properly.'”

-How did her mom react?
“I think she was a little disappointed that I didn’t do it, because I have two daughters, and my older sister is a science type like my dad, and I’m a humanities type, so I think she was a little disappointed that I didn’t do it. When I said I was going to do it, she immediately took me to a folk music teacher and did a test, and she was so happy because she said, ‘I can see the buds.’ From then on, my mom has always been my number one teacher, manager, and supporter, and if it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

-You got a relatively late start, right?
“I started a lot later than everyone else, to varying degrees, but I have quite a few friends from my college (Chung-Ang University’s Department of Traditional Arts) who started when they were babies. Most of them started studying gugak in earnest by middle school at the latest. Even though I was familiar with it from a young age, I never really learned it properly until high school, so I worked really hard! In high school, I didn’t even listen to any gospel or pop songs. I just listened to folk songs and sang along to them all year long….”

-It must be hard to go to college for folk music in the humanities.
“Yes, I was the only student in my school who sang folk songs, but there was a separate class for performing arts, so the school was very flexible. I also participated in competitions across the country, such as the Gyeongbuk Youngcheonari and Folk Song Festival. In fact, it was difficult for me to go to college with an honorable mention because it was the best grade. However, thanks to the fact that the school saw my potential during the practical exam, I got into Chung-Ang University, which was always the first choice in my mind. When I first heard the news of my acceptance스포츠토토, I cried with my friend next to me.”

Ms. Cha performs on stage at the ‘Hope Bridge Cultural Talk Concert’ held to celebrate the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in February 2018. Photo courtesy of Cha Da-yul
-Was your college experience as good as you expected?
“I’m in my 13th year, and when I entered the university, I realized that I lacked a lot of things. I definitely had less theory and overall understanding than my friends who had been studying for a long time. However, even when I was younger, my biggest weapon was ‘sincerity’! I learned really hard, and if something is given to me, I never leave it out, and I tend to try new things first. I may have started late, but I’m confident that my enthusiasm has not lagged behind. I know this sounds like bragging, but I graduated with second best grades.”

-Did you choose an entertainment company for your first job as a challenge?
“Um…, I think it was 50/50, because I love Korean music and I love being on stage, but you know, you can’t count on a steady income, and I was really worried about the future, but then I took a music business class my senior year, and it was so interesting. My professor had a lot of experience in the industry, and he recommended me to a company. It wasn’t a big agency, but it had famous idols, so I thought, ‘I’ll give it a try.’ Luckily, the company looked at me favorably, and I got a job right after I graduated in 2017.”

-So you went from folk songs to pop songs.
“Yes, that’s why it must have been so strange and hectic at first. I was blindsided by everything from planning albums to managing artist schedules because it wasn’t a big company, but it was good because when you do something, the results are immediate and the fans’ reactions are immediate. It was fun to learn new things, but it was too much for me physically because I was working overtime almost every day, and it was hard to commute from Gunpo when the office was in Hongdae. Besides, I liked it a lot in the beginning.

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