The Colgate Memorial Chapel was shrouded in silence as Wonny Song walked out from behind the stage to begin his performance, each footstep echoing off one wall and then another as he approached the piano bench to begin his performance. The crowd was full of gray-haired adults making it easy to pick out the few students that were in attendance. Taking a polite, calculated bow before sitting down at the piano bench, it was obvious that Song had done this many times before. Perched in front of the piano, eyes closed, Song took a long pause to let the silence settle over the room before he began to play. His small, nimble hands danced over the keys like spiders as the music poured out of the piano and filled the room. I watched as the couple to my left lost themselves in the vast musical landscape of J.S. Bach’s Shafe Konnen sicher wieden. With blank stares and bowed heads, these people looked as if they were deep in meditation or lost in some sort of dream.
Wonny Song was born in South Korea and then moved to Montreal as a young child where he started playing the piano when he was only eight years old. His prodigious talents were recognized early on, earning him a full scholarship to Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music in 1994. In 1998, he earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Montreal and since then has gone on to perform in countless venues all over the world to rave reviews.
The Star Tribune was of the opinion of Song’s talents. “Song has a wonderful poetic touch and a rich, warm sound. Clearly, this is a career on the move,” the newspaper raved.
Nowadays, we tend to think of music as a form of entertainment, our only criteria for good music being that it must have throbbing synths and heavy bass, but it hasn’t always been this way. We often forget that music is art and that it was only in the last fifty years or so that it became a part of the gigantic entertainment industry that has a stranglehold on American musical preference.
Wonny Song is by no means an entertainer like most popular musicians. He has no light shows or dancers to accompany him on stage. He presents his music raw and untouched, forcing his audience to find beauty in the subtleties of what is a complex and difficult genre of music and, as was apparent at his concert in the chapel, most of those that are willing to make that effort are, well, old people.
Sitting in the back row of the Chapel, I found myself wondering what will become of classical music in the future. Will it continue to thrive once the rap/rock generation grows old? Will our grandchildren be forced to listen to Lil Wayne the way we were forced to listen to Mozart and Bach? For Wonny Song’s sake, I hope not.