Let music guide you through Seoul
IN many ways, travel and music are similar, helping you escape the conundrums of everyday life, broadening your horizons, and allowing you to have a glimpse of a different culture.
It can also heavily influence the way you live, so much so that you may even find yourself picking up a new language.
South Koreans, particularly those who live in major cities like Seoul, are big supporters of the creative and performing arts scene, be it mainstream or underground.
This support has been deeply ingrained in their culture, thanks to their centuries-long history of dance and theatre arts which are tied from the earliest records to religious beliefs and customs.
From ritual court dances, masked dances, and puppet plays to entertain the noble class to folk dances by villagers to celebrate planting and harvesting, performing arts are widely enjoyed and appreciated.
Over the years, performing arts have become not only about rituals and customs during religious or royal functions, but also casual entertainment on the daily.
Fast forward to today, the South Koreas entertainment industry is thriving with the success of locally made productions such as movies, Korean dramas (K-dramas), and Korean pop (K-pop) idol groups, all of which have been exported and is currently receiving major international love.
There is never a moment that entertainment is not celebrated in Seoul. It is everywhere you go.
Music can be heard at the sprawling traditional markets, multi-level departmental stores, boutiques, convenience stores, restaurants, cafes, and even the tiniest street-side stall. It maps their day, lifts them up, inspires creativity, fuels their motivation, and makes them smile.
Music is a truly powerful tool.
And there are a couple of yet undiscovered gems that you should visit the next time you are in Seoul to fully immerse yourself in the magic that is South Korea’s creative and performing arts scene.
For a nice change from the pulsating K-pop tracks pouring out of stores in the hip shopping district Myeongdong or the head flicks and hip shakes to the beat from street-performing university students at Hongdae, let music guide you through Seoul at these places instead:
Way before Hongdae became university students’ favorite and a creative hub, Daehakro, which means university street, was the place to be.
It is a popular dating street for students, filled with cafes, restaurants, and bars, but also as a mecca of performing arts in South Korea.
The street got its claim to fame because the prestigious Seoul National University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences used to be located in the neighborhood.
After Seoul National University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences was moved near to the Gwanaksan in 1975, the site became Marronnier Park, a popular venue for many domestic and international art festivals.
Today, Daehakro has more than 100 theaters which offer various performances including live musicals, plays, and comedy shows.
And as the sun sets, the buskers come out to play – literally. Unlike Hongdae, Daehakro has more acoustic guitar-toting singer-songwriters belting out soothing songs than K-pop dance cover performers.
Getting there: Hyehwa Station (subway Line 4), Exit 2.
JTN Art Hall Theater
Only You is a lighthearted musical drama which has received such critical acclaim, it even went on to tour China and Japan.
A certified family-friendly show, the musical centers on married life as it follows the story about a pair of lovers who have been together for 37 years.
The dance-filled performances feature popular Korean songs from the 1990s to 2000s, so do not be surprised to find yourself tapping your feet when you hear a familiar tune or two.
It is also one of the rare few performances that non-Korean audiences in Seoul can enjoy without having to learn Korean.
Keeping international travelers in mind, the theater has installed large screens on the left and the right of the stage to display subtitles in a couple of languages.
Subtitles: Available in English.
Getting there: 26 Ihwajang-gil, Ihwa-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul.
Located in Daehakro, Petitzel Theater often hosts productions and live musicals that are entirely made in Korea.
One of its most popular musicals is Finding Mr. Destiny, a classic from playwright Jang Yoo Jeong which became so popular that it was adapted into the 2010 South Korean romantic comedy flick of the same name.
Ridiculously funny and irresistibly cute all at the same time, Finding Mr.Destiny centers on reminiscing about first loves and old flames.
It follows the heroine’s search for her first love that she hardly knows but cannot forget, with only his name to go by – the elusive Mr. Destiny.
The audience will be taken on a whirlwind of scenes between the past and the present, loaded with romance and comedy that is sure to warm one’s heart. If you have not seen the movie, then sit tight for the twist at the end of the musical.
It will definitely be worth the wait.
Subtitles: Available in English.
Getting there: 73 Daehak-ro 12-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul.
National Museum of Korea
In celebration of the 600th anniversary of the enthronement of King Sejong, the National Museum of Korea is holding a special exhibition to display the culture and spirit of his reign. This includes 1446 The Musical.
For the uninitiated, King Sejong, known to Koreans as “Sejong the Great,” who reigned from 1418 to 1450, was the fourth king of the Joseon dynasty of Korea.
After his older brother, Prince Yangnyeong was stripped of his title, Sejong was designated as heir-apparent, Crown Prince, before ascending to the throne in 1418.
During his reign, not only did he reinforce Confucian policies and executed major “legal amendments”, but he also personally created and promulgated the Korean alphabet Hangul, which is still used as the native script of Korea today.
The creation of Hangul profoundly affected Korean history and it is no wonder why King Sejong is hailed as “Sejong the Great,” well loved by his people.
His story goes through a retelling in 1446 The Musical, all in songs and a couple of dances to boot so prepare yourself for a live musical adventure of a lifetime.
Do note, though, that the curtains will close on 1446 The Musical come Dec 2, 2018.
Subtitles: Available in English.
Getting there: Take Line 4 or the Jungang Line (Munsan-Yongmun) to Ichon Station. Go out Exit 2 and walk 150m toward Yongsan Family Park.