Lack of musicality? Explaining anomalies in some senior Korean Christians’ hymn singing

2016-06-10T14:10:10Z (GMT) by Jee-Weon Cha
<p>This article launches an inquiry into the ways in which some senior Korean Christians sing Protestant hymns at a Korean church in Cleveland, OH. The majority of the church members sing hymns as they are written; several older members (aged 65 or over) born in rural Korea, however, systematically transform them. The older singers tend to turn any diatonic hymn into a pentatonic melody, lowering <i>fa</i> down to <i>mi</i> and pulling <i>ti</i> up to <i>do</i>. Drawing on a variety of disciplines such as music theory, psychology, ethnography, and cultural history, I propose categorical perception as a key to understanding melodic transformation. Even though the piano accompanist at the church—who is rigidly Western music oriented—criticizes the older singers for their lack of musicality, numerous psychological studies suggest that the older Korean singers transform the hymns, precisely because they are musically trained, albeit in regional Korean folk singing practices. My fieldwork at the Annual Hymn Competition and my interview with the preacher of the church reinforce the idea that categorical perception is not only existent but also strongly cultural.</p>