Vol. 3, No. 1: Spring/Summer 2007

From the Stage to the Recording Booth

by Alison Hamm and Michael C. Nelson

As senior Seungok Yoo completes a degree in recording arts with a minor in violin, she sets her sights on a career recording music for film.

It’s hard to disconcert Seungok Yoo. She’s studied the violin since she was eight, and moved from South Korea to California at 16. After arriving at Indiana University, and after years of preparation, she switched her life’s focus from the violin to music production when she changed her major from music performance to recording arts. Yet she describes all of this as “no big deal.”

You don’t have to be around Yoo long to recognize that she is this calm about everything, though she does admit that she was slightly intimidated when she came to IU in 2002. “It wasn’t scary to come to California, because of my relatives and the Korean community,” she says. “It was scarier here because I came by myself. I didn’t even know where the school was . . . I just asked at the airport and got on the shuttle. I had to ask the taxi driver where my dorm was.” All she knew about Indiana was the Jacobs School of Music’s prestigious reputation and the Hoosier state’s history with the Ku Klux Klan.

But it didn’t take long for Yoo to feel comfortable at IU. She says that her roommate, who was also a violin major, was a big help to her (“She was so nice” she says repeatedly), along with her professors. With her characteristic calmness, she didn’t let the language barrier become an issue. In California, there was such a large Korean community that learning English was an afterthought. “When I was there, I could speak Korean everywhere I went, even restaurants,” she explains. “But when I came to Indiana, I really started to learn because I made a lot of American friends.”

At first, she struggled to keep up with her professors, working hard to take notes during classes. But, “by the second semester, it was fine. It was fun.” Lecture was—and still is—easier than face-to-face conversation, she says. “If I miss something, I can always just read the board, or go back and figure it out, but even now, I don’t understand comedies because of the slang. Everyone is laughing, but I just don’t know what’s going on, let alone funny,” Yoo says with a laugh.

Though she says that it’s often easier to make friends with other international students (not just other Koreans), thanks to their shared experience, Yoo feels somewhat conflicted when she sees groups of Korean students together on campus. “I see many Koreans together,” she says. “At times I feel that this is a bad idea, because you won’t learn any English, but at the same time, you gain that sense of belonging by having a group.”

Yoo doesn’t seem like the type to seek security from a group, though. She’s certainly independent when it comes to important decisions, like switching majors from violin to the recording arts. “I was thinking of doing something else by the time I was admitted,” she says. “When I found out about the recording arts major here, I knew that was what I wanted to do.” Her violin training prepared her well for the demanding requirements of the B.S. in Recording Arts program.

Yoo, who envisions a future in music recording for film, found the degree exciting from the start. “I have a great time recording classical music,” she says. “It’s good to have this big music school because we can get a lot of recording experience.”

Her recording arts courses are giving Yoo plenty of experience this semester. “As a more senior student in the Department of Recording Arts, Ms. Yoo is beginning to take a leadership role as second or first engineer for some of the larger productions put on by the Jacobs School of Music,” says Travis Gregg, Coordinator of Audio Production for the Jacobs School of Music, and Yoo’s Audio Technical Crew class professor.

In fulfillment of an assignment for Gregg’s course, Yoo helped record the IU Opera Theatre production of Arabella this spring, a task requiring lots of “team work,” she says. Four audio crew members set up microphones to capture “ambience, voices, and the orchestra,” recorded performances, and authored CDs and DVDs, complete with chapter and menu features. “Each of us usually spends 45 to 50 hours on an opera,” Yoo explains.

The audio crew also collaborated with Opera Theatre staff, according to Gregg. “In these productions students work very closely with stagehands, lighting technicians, and even the director to provide live sound support as well as to record audio and video of the production,” he says.

Other recording assignments fill out the 80 hours of crew work Yoo must complete for the course: Jacobs School of Music student and faculty recitals, ballets, concerts, and other performances.

Her Studio Techniques course teaches the essentials of studio audio recording, including signal processing and mixing. Students apply what they’ve learned by recording bands and musicians, mixing their music, and producing professional quality CDs. In-class critiques of fellow students’ recordings and out-of-class listening exercises hone students’ ability to determine the quality and balance of recorded music. While the School of Music offers a version of the course that focuses on classical music, Yoo’s class concentrates on “rock, jazz, hip-hop, Latin music.”

“The variety and sheer amount of hands-on experience gained through being a part of the Department of Recording Arts is a huge benefit to our students, and leads directly to their success after graduation,” Gregg observes, adding that Yoo will leave IU qualified to “work in a wide variety of fields ranging from live touring shows through classical music production, including being comfortable working in any theatre in the world.”

Yoo kept quiet about her decision to change majors until it was final. Then she faced the difficult task of breaking the news to her mother, who had prompted her to play the violin in the first place. “It was my mother’s idea, at first,” Yoo says, “but soon, it was my idea. It was challenging, so it was fun.” She has played the violin since she was eight, when she switched from her original instrument, the piano.

Yoo practiced anywhere from three to ten hours every day with one to two hours of lessons each week—and this was within her first two years of playing, as an elementary school student. By the time she was in sixth grade, she was flying to Seoul from her hometown on Jeju Island nearly every weekend for extra lessons. “I had to train really hard,” she says. “If you want to be a professional, it was a late start.”

But with all the pressure and training, playing the violin had stopped being as fun for Yoo. “Since elementary school, I trained to be a musician,” she says. “It was all I knew.” Her mother had arranged for her to come to the states when she was in high school so she could concentrate fully on studying the violin.

Yoo explains that because the violin is a Western music instrument, there are not as many opportunities to study, and later work, in Korea. “Lots of teachers leave to study in Europe and the U.S.,” she says.

Yoo knows this from first-hand experience. Her original plans for high school were to study at a special arts school in Korea, but right before she intended to take the acceptance test, her teacher left the country. So she came to Santa Monica, an “easy step” for someone who comes from a family where living in another country is nothing unusual. With her older brother and sister already living in the states, for Yoo, it was natural to leave Korea to move to California.

After a year, her mother came too, so she was able to live with her while finishing high school. And last May, both of her parents got their green cards. They hope to become citizens soon. Yoo has only returned to Korea once, for a short vacation before she moved to Bloomington.

Though she’s still far away from her parents, she has kept their support. Yoo’s mother understood and supported her decision to change majors, and Yoo still takes lessons for a minor in violin. She talks about her plans after graduation this May—to get some work experience, probably through an internship in California, and then go to graduate school—all in the U.S., she hopes. “I want to stay here,” Yoo says with a big smile.

It’s obvious that with her calm self-confidence, no matter where Seungok Yoo goes, the transition will be “no big deal.”

Alison Hamm is a Web content specialist in the IU Office of Creative Services. Michael C. Nelson is editor of Teaching & Learning magazine.

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