While musicians strive to capture the human voice and its myriad of pitches through their instruments, one cello professor at Ewha leaps beyond making the most “human sound” to resonating both voice and love through music.
“The only reason I began learning the cello is because my older sister and brother already played the piano and violin, leaving the cello as the only available option for me,” said Bae Il-whan (Orchestral Instruments), a cello professor at the Ewha College of Music.
Introducing the start of his ties with the cello as rather simple and random, Bae said that his mother’s wish to have the three siblings form the “Bae Trio” was the main reason he started the cello and not another instrument.
“My mother wanted us to be just like the Chung Trio, whom Korea considered a big source of pride back then,” Bae said. “In addition, my older brother had sold his violin strings to get cello strings for me, so it was hard for me to say that I was not going to play the cello.”
After Bae’s sudden acquaintance with the cello, he delved into the instrument further as a student at the Juilliard School and Yale Graduate School, and finally as a professor at Ewha.
As a professor at Ewha since 1993, Bae formed Ewha Celli, the first university cello ensemble in Korea, when he and a group of cello major students at Ewha gave a chapel performance in 2003.
Comprising students from both the Ewha College of Music and Graduate School of Music, the members and Bae have established an intimate bond, with the students looking up to Bae as they would to their own fathers. Together, Bae and the members give performances in and out of Korea to those neglected by mainstream society. This year, they released their second album “Share the Love,” of which the entire profits were donated to Korea Food for the Hungry International (KFHI).
From Bae’s childhood acquaintance with the cello to the teaching years in his adulthood, there were numerous times when the cello presented challenges he had to overcome. However, not once did Bae regret the road he chose or consider walking a different one.
“I was actually thankful for every obstacle I encountered, because it was an opportunity for me to improve and mature,” Bae said. “Even now, I chide my students when they whine that they cannot play the pieces I assign them. I tell them that they can say the piece is hard, but not ‘I can’t do this,’ because I know that they are going to progress one step further after each challenge.”
Currently the honorary ambassador of KFHI, Bae says his decision to start using his talent to give love and donate talent sprung from something his parents had told him since he was a young boy.
“‘Whatever good thing or talent you have is there for just one reason: to share with the world,’ my parents always told me,” Bae said.
Influenced by his parents and a firm believer in the gift of sharing, Bae believes that the true key to happiness is finding one’s talent and donating it to the world.
“There are things that I may want to do but should not do, and other things that I may not want to do but should do,” Bae said. “If any of these things give help to even one person, then that is an automatic ‘yes’ to whether I should do it. If what you are good at can embrace others, then your confidence will grow and your project will be long-run, and you will be doing what you love while giving something to society at the same time. That is happiness.”
Following his belief, Bae puts on many performances throughout the year in various corners of the world. In 2011, Bae performed for Japanese citizens after the tremendous earthquake hit them. Some of his more recent performances include the opening stage for the 2012 Summer Paralymics, playing for the homeless people in Hong Kong, and the 130th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Korea and the United States.
“I think that anything that makes a sound is music, as long as that sound can deliver a feeling or touch the listener,” Bae said. “In that sense, music is a global language and has the power to heal, especially if it is music made with love.”
Bae says that while people cannot choose to be loved, they can always choose to give love.
“I think playing music filled with love, then acquainting myself with the audiences in different countries is the best form of giving love I can do,” Bae said.
According to Bae performing in over 40 countries has also instilled in him a sense of patriotism. He says that lowering oneself before others and being modest will lead to not only one’s happiness but also a better esteem for Korea in others’ eyes.
“‘Oh, so Koreans do this kind of voluntary work, too?’ A native of another country said to me after the performance, which made me realize that not many Koreans are thought to do volunteering work around their community,” Bae said. “The important thing to remember is to consider the other to have an IQ five points higher than mine, and always respect them and be humble, even when doing voluntary work. That way, others will eventually come to regard Korea in a better light, and in my case, think better of Ewha as well.”
Bae says that the same attitude is needed to reach his ultimate goal, world peace. The higher and grander the goal, the lower you need to place yourself and start with those closest to you, he says.
“Making peace with people around you and showing them respect may seem like a small thing, but it is this small action that will eventually lead to world peace,” Bae said.
While Bae admires people like Dr. Albert Schweitzer and Father John Lee Tae-seok who used their medical skills, music, and religion to heal people’s bodies, minds, and souls, Bae says that even people with no musical talent can give to the world.
Bae said that while many people are aware of the need to share with others, not many actually do so because more urgent matters often come to hand.
“The key to sharing,” he said, “is to make time. Just make yourself set aside some time, and there is no reason for you to not be able to give what you have to others and change their lives for the better.”