[Herald Interview] K-Arts President Kim Dae-jin hails role of devoted teachers
Published : Jul 4, 2022 - 08:00
Updated : Jul 4, 2022 - 08:00
Kim Dae-jin, president of K-Arts, poses for photos during an interview with The Korea Herald on Monday. (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald)

Kim Dae-jin, 58, took the reins of the Korea National University of Arts, known as K-Arts, only 10 months ago, but his history with the school goes back to 1994, when he became a professor two years after the school opened.

K-Arts, the country’s top arts school, was founded in 1992 with a mission to provide high-quality education so that students would not have to go abroad seeking great teachers and top-class training. Fast forward to 2022, the school is seeing the fruits of its labors.

Kim, a pianist who holds a bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from the Juilliard School in New York, has taught many of today’s well-known pianists, including Son Yeol-eum, Kim Sun-wook, Moon Ji-young and Park Jae-hong who have won prizes at numerous international competitions.

The 2021 Busoni International Piano Competition winner Park was among the long list of recent international-competition winners from K-Arts that also includes Lim Yun-chan, a current student, who won the gold medal at the 17th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition earlier this month.

Two weeks earlier, cellist Choi Ha-young won the Queen Elisabeth Competition, following in the footsteps of violinist Yang In-mo who became the first Korean winner of the Sibelius Violin Competition in late May. Pianist Kim Su-yeon won first prize at the Concours musical international de Montreal last year.

Discussing Korean musicians and their remarkable achievements, Kim, the ninth president of K-Arts and the first performer to head the school, hinted at their teachers’ unrelenting efforts. When asked why Korean teachers put in such devotion, he paused before answering.

“There was a culture shock when I first went abroad to study. I wanted to share those positive experiences with the next generation back home so that they wouldn’t have to go through the same challenges I did,” Kim said. “It’s not like the teachers had some sort of official discussion on the matter and decided to become dedicated to their students. But I think many other teachers probably feel the same -- they want the next generation of musicians to reap the benefits of local and overseas education.”

What’s even more encouraging is that after the first generation of teachers, who are behind many of today’s greatest South Korean pianists, the next generation is not only continuing that legacy, as evidenced by the case of Lim and his teacher Son Min-soo, but also developing it further, Kim added. 

Kim Dae-jin, president of K-Arts, poses for photos during an interview with The Korea Herald on Monday. (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald)

In addition to devoted teachers, K-Arts‘ practice-focused education is also behind the school’s success, Kim pointed out.

“For instance, our curriculum requires 40 minutes of performance time each semester, totaling at least eight performances by the time of graduation. Along with the vigorous feedback from professors, these sessions greatly help ready the students to take to the stage as professionals,” he said. “Most of our teachers are also active performers. Our first president once said that great performers can pave the way for great prodigies.”

Kim, however, raised concerns that the country’s performing arts are becoming too focused on elite education and competitions.

The lull afforded by the COVID-19 pandemic gave him the opportunity to answer a long-standing question: What impact does taking part in fewer competitions have on arts students?

He worries that arts students have become too preoccupied with competitions. For piano majors, it could be as many as 10 a year.

The business model of many local competitions encourages contestants to participate without requiring any set pieces. To improve their chances of a win, students recycle pieces from their repertoire throughout the year. While they perfect a handful of pieces, the lack of initiative in exploring new works results in no real growth as musicians.

The COVID-19 pandemic has divided students into two groups, Kim said. For the introverts who are not necessarily big fans of competing, the pandemic was a chance to delve into themselves further. Meanwhile, those who loved showcasing their talents onstage seemed to lose a sense of purpose as competitions grounded to a halt.

Kim believes that the past two years gave Lim, the latest Van Cliburn winner, a chance to explore his own musical world.

“Lim is not well-spoken. If he did speak well, I would be disappointed,” Kim joked. Instead of putting a lot of energy into talking, he observes. Lim is an introvert who navigates his own musical world. ”The fact that he’s not as articulate translates to a remarkable fluency in his performance,” Kim said of Lim.

In the future, K-Arts will focus more on creating an educational institute open to foreigners and creating synergy among different genres.

He emphasized that other schools at K-Arts, which helps foster top talent in various fields, should come together literally and metaphorically. K-Arts is scattered across six different campuses in Seoul. “For different genres to communicate and create synergy, they first have to be physically together,” he noted.  (gypark@heraldcorp.com)