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January 28, 2006

Meddies take Korean holiday

Bowdoin Orient (ME):

The Bowdoin Meddiebempsters are accustomed to performing for quiet, attentive audiences, but how about a group of Buddhist monks? They are used to singing in cafés and restaurants, but how about one of the swankiest night clubs in Seoul, South Korea? They are no strangers to sharing the stage with other talented singers, but how about a famed Korean diva? They are familiar with playing alumni functions, but how about the first ever convocation of Bowdoin Korean alumni?

Suffice it to say, the Meddies' two-week journey to South Korea over winter break set some new highs for the 69-year-old a capella group. Using funds that they had raised by singing paid gigs in addition to a generous contribution from Bowdoin Student Government (BSG), 11 of the group's 13 members, two of whom call South Korea home, traveled to the other side of the globe, where they spent 14 days performing in churches, hospitals, restaurants, and even subway stations. Among their hosts during this time was a Bowdoin alumnus and former mayor of Seoul Cho Soon '60, and the parents of current Meddies Josh Chung '06 and Yong-Soo Chung '09 (no relation).

Josh Chung's uncle, a producer at Seoul Broadcasting System (SBS), a South Korean television network, arranged for the Meddies to perform in front of a live studio audience on "Music Wave," a popular program that members of the group described as the Korean equivalent to the British Broadcast Company's (BBC) "Top of the Pops" or the former American Broadcast Company (ABC) show "American Bandstand." This allowed the Meddies to rub elbows with Korean music royalty, as eminent singer Lee Eun Mi and rising pop group Gavy NJ were also guests on the show that evening.

But the Meddies' experiences with pop icons were not limited to the local variety. Chung's uncle was also able to score them tickets to the Backstreet Boys, who happened to be in town. Their performance on "Music Wave" was not the group's only television appearance. They also performed on the Christian Global Network (CGN), an international Christian television network, when singing at an Onnuri Church in Seoul.

"We sang songs where the lyrics matched [those of hymns sung in the church]," said Chung, "'The Life Song,' 'Living on a Prayer'..."

But perhaps the most spiritual moments of the trip occurred not at the church but at the Buddhist Seoknam Monastery in the Southeastern part of the country. During what began as a simple tour of the monastery, the Meddies by chance ran into the head monk, who then invited them into the monastery for tea. "It was one of the most intense experiences of my life," said sophomore Will Hales. "It was just us, sitting in a semicircle around this table as the great monk of the monastery prepared tea for us."

After some debate over whether offering to sing would be appropriate, the group performed several songs for some of the monks who were not reflecting privately at the time. They even received a request for an encore. Before the Meddies left the monastery, the head monk gave them each $10 in the ancient tradition of the Chinese New Year in a solemn ceremony that many of the members agreed was the emotional peak of the trip. "We will not be spending that money," said Josh Chung.

Chung's father, a member of the Board of Directors at Yonsei University Medical Center in Seoul, invited the Meddiebempsters to perform for patients at the University's Severance Hospital.

"We started singing at the 19th floor, and sang songs [on each end of each floor] all the way down to the fourth floor," said Josh Chung. "I left my voice somewhere around the 10th floor," Hales admitted. The group estimated that they sang each song approximately 40 times. Although their voices were shot after this exercise, and they worried about losing them permanently with gigs still on the schedule, the Meddies still summoned the pipes to sing for and interact with patients in the children's section of the hospital's cardiology wing, an experience that moved some members to tears.

Not all of the performances were staged. In bars and restaurants, the Meddies were often able to earn free food and drinks by regaling employees and patrons with songs from their repertoire.

"They didn't recognize all the music, but they always knew 'Fly Me to the Moon,'" said Kevin Wilcox '06. "They would sometime respond to other familiar melodies." "A lot of it had to do with the energy we put out," said Bernardo Guzman '08. Hales added, "They also liked watching people who were all wearing the same thing."

Though the two-week odyssey was unlike anything these Meddiebempsters have done before, they agreed that the overarching theme of the trip was the same as anything the group does together. "At the end, what it comes down to is that we're a group of guys who enjoy singing together, and enjoy performing well for people," said Tauwan Patterson '06. "It's not about where we are, it's about being together, and performing the best we can, wherever we are."

Posted by acapnews at January 28, 2006 12:13 AM