Seven McCracken County students made a memorable trip to South Korea earlier this month, representing Paducah at the inaugural Global Youth Concert, held Aug. 2 in Icheon, South Korea, about 30 miles from Seoul.
The Global Youth Concert is an international exchange program in which young musicians from around the world form a symphony orchestra. Each city picked a piece of music that is representative to their town. Paducah's piece was "American Rhapsody" by Richard Meyer.
Paducah and Icheon are sister cities among the UNESCO Creative Cities in the fields of crafts and folk art.
Area students who took part were Brenden Evers, trumpet, McCracken County High School junior; Eli Kahre, bassoon, McCracken freshman; Kindle Knight, cello, Paducah Tilghman High School junior; Kate LeBuhn, clarinet, Tilghman sophomore; Maya Lee, flute, McCracken freshman; Noah Tolar, tuba, McCracken freshman; and Allison Zelenski, cello, McCracken junior.
They were led by Heath Middle School music teacher Steven Page.
"The landscape was really beautiful," Tolar said. "We were up in the mountains. The people there knew a surprising amount of English, so you could interact with them. They taught us a lot about their culture and traditions. The hospitality was great."
Tolar added he was a little nervous performing before a foreign crowd, but would like to make the trip again.
Page said he was happy with the reception the students received.
"It wasn't what we were expecting -- both musically or culturally -- but it turned out to be great," Page said. "(The performance) was almost a full house. It was a lot of music to learn in just 24 hours, and it was not the most polished performance, but the crowd just loved it.
"We spent about 15 to 20 hours in rehearsal, and in those rehearsals, you'd have a conductor speaking Korean, so they were trying to communicate by singing the music to us in the style they wanted."
That echoed what Page said before he left, that music is the universal language.
"That was so evident on this trip," he said. "You had these kids who didn't know each other, but by the end of the week, they could communicate even more so musically. Instead of describing how it should go, one kid would just play it and the other kids would imitate that. It was really cool."
Page said a lot of the students could speak Korean and English, and that the rehearsal was a great learning experience for everyone. The students were able to see South Korea during the trip, spending time there as tourists and performers.
"I was really proud of how the kids acted," he said. "They were also very personable and welcoming. They didn't just stay with their little group of Paducah kids. They made a connection with seven students from Limoges, France, and 10 kids from Santa Fe, New Mexico. By the end of the week, those 25 kids were hanging out as a cluster of friends. The kids were really good ambassadors."
Page said he would like to take part in another trip like this one, "especially if I knew there would be a lot of kids that could have that experience. From a tourist standpoint, it's a long way and it's a whole different culture. From a student-experience standpoint, I've never seen kids have the same kind of growth that these kids did."
Tilghman and McCracken students participated alongside students from other UNESCO Creative Cities including Icheon, Limoges, Santa Fe and Jingdezhen, China, as well as Icheon's sister cities of Seto, Japan, and Wuxi, China. Al Ahsa, Saudi Arabia, was also scheduled to take part, but had to cancel.