Org of the Week: Sori proudly promotes Korean culture

The core 10 Sori members performing during the Kaleidoscope talent show event. They are all wearing traditional Korean outfits and sharing their passion for Korean culture. / Courtesy of Cindy Park

Those who attended Kaleidoscope this year won’t forget the refreshing Samulnori performance presented by Sori, the organization that represents and promotes Korean culture.

Co-treasurer of Sori Brian Hong ’19 is one of the founding members of the org. He shared in an emailed statement, “We founded SORI as the Korean drumming group in 2013-2014. So Sun Park [’16] and I had been interested in Korean drumming (Samulnori) since high school.”

The org’s founding members faced many difficulties in the early stages of Sori, including lack of funding for purchasing the necessary equipment. Park and Hong invested their own money to buy the first few instruments. Then during Hong’s two-year absence serving in the Korean military, Park invited drumming instructors to Vassar and received funding from the Korean Cultural Center New York.

“Recruiting people was the hardest part,” Hong remarked, “We started with three members, which definitely wasn’t enough to perform. For music orgs, performance is the best way to promote the organization and recruit new people. So we started with asking our close friends to join and [practice] pieces that I learned back in high school.” Sori has since developed into a group of 10 performers.

During a typical rehearsal session, members of Sori practice Korean drumming pieces. Hong is in charge of teaching Samulnori. Under Hong’s devoted tutelage, the group learns and puts together a series of songs.

In addition to the regular training, the organization shares other aspects of Korean culture, language, music and traditions with the wider student body.

Hong elaborated, “At our weekly [General Board (GB)] meetings, we attempt to show various aspects of Korean culture. We show popular Korean TV shows, bring Korean snacks and food, or prepare student-led presentations on different aspects of Korean culture. We host annual K-Fest (Korean Festival) and K-Pop Mug Night.”

Secretary of Sori Adele Birkenes ’20 added, “We all work together to plan GB meetings, and typically one or two [Executive Board] members with expertise on the aspect of Korean culture that we’re focusing on will lead the activities at each meeting.”

Sori welcomes all students’ participation and is by no means exclusive to those identifying as Korean. Hong acknowledged, “Actually, I am the only one, as the only Korean in the group, who ha[s] had previous experience in Samulnori. However, everyone in the group is very enthusiastic. They are always ready to learn new pieces and are not afraid to challenge themselves to difficult variations. Most importantly, we are always having fun.”

Johnson Lin ’21 joined Sori at the start of the school year. He loves the laid-back vibe of the org and enjoys spending time with the other members. He finds that Sori speaks to his Asian identity, saying, “The demographic at Vassar is extremely different from my hometown which is very diverse and has more people of color than white people. As a result, I find myself identifying more and more as Asian which pushes me to be more involved with the Asian parts of the Vassar community which includes Sori.”

Birkenes has been involved with Sori since the fall of her first year at Vassar. She recounted, “The afternoons when we came together to drum were among the first times that Vassar began to feel like my new home. This was because the other club members were so welcoming and genuinely kind.”

She continued, explaining the mechanism behind the traditional Korean instruments, “As I attended more practices and started performing with the group, I got excited about Samulnori, or traditional Korean percussion— this semester, I transitioned from playing the puk, a type of drum, to the the gwenggwari, a small cymbal. This instrument requires having a much more extensive understanding of the rhythms of each song, as well as paying close attention to matching the beat of the lead gwenggwari player. It’s a lot of work but very rewarding.”

Graham Ebbecke ’20 expressed that learning the drums is a much more complicated process than it looks, as it requires the group’s coordination and thorough practice. He noted, “I focused on learning the puk, which serves as the loud bass drum in the group. It uses both dynamics and rhythm to accompany the other drums. We also had to memorize a chant in Korean, which was a difficult but fun part of the drumming routine.”

The org continues to flourish and showcase their hard work. As Birkenes shared in an email, “My favorite memory with Sori is of our performance at the Korean Festival this past spring. We had dedicated so much time to [put] together a dynamic, engaging set, and I’ll never forget the energy that was present in our group as we played.”

The welcoming and dynamic atmosphere they foster will be sure to attract a new generation of Sori members, especially after their recent success at the Kaleidoscope talent show

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