Twenty years since starting out as a session guitarist, and 12 years since debuting with a single, guitarist Park Ju-won believes he still has a long way to go.
Just like Dorothy who meets the scarecrow, the tin man, the cowardly lion, and all the friends with different spiritual strengths, the guitarist believes that the support from fans who await his music is what cheers him along the musical road.
Known as the “Paco de Lucia of Korea,” among guitar lovers, Park, in his early 40s, has already worked with many of Korea’s top singers -- Choi baek-ho, Lim Jae-beom, Lee So-ra, Yoon Sang, and IU. His first solo album, 2009’s “Time of Gyspy,” and the following album, “Fiesta of Sorrows,” were both selected as album of the year on portal site Naver. This was an unusual win for a guitarist, as K-pop idols usually dominate the scene.
Recognized and loved by singers and band musicians alike, Park has also recorded the soundtracks for several popular K-dramas and films -- “City Hunter,” “Love Fiction,” and “Incarnation of Money,” to name a few.
Bolero, samba, and waltz all come together in his solo albums, the plaintive, sorrowful melodies standing out against the rush of fast-paced rhythm. Music critics have noted Park’s composition and arrangement style as resembling Korean traditional music, pointing to the smooth combination of European-style arrangement and virtuosity as the main reason his music touches Korean audiences.
Park debuted in 2001 with Sirius, a progressive rock band he formed with his college buddies, which carried on for some three years.
Park recalls the influence of his father, who was once a professional drummer. “‘If you’re a man, you should play the electric guitar, son.‘
That’s what my father used to say when I was 9.” Park said during an interview at The Korea Herald’s main studio on May 13.
But the 9-year-old had always heard the call of classical guitar melodies.
“One day, my mom bought me a CD of classical guitar tunes. I thought they (classical guitar songs) had the same strength, and shared the same agony in the tone. But the sounds moved me much more than the genres that were popular at the time, such as rock or punk.” Park recalled.
His music journey began at a small record label store near his elementary school in an old Seoul neighborhood. Back then, it was common for guitarist wannabes to learn to play from store owners as there were no guitar schools. After school, Park would hop down to the store, walk to the very end of the store aisle where a small listening room was located. That was where his dreams of becoming a guitarist, once a mere fantasy, slowly became tangible.
“I was very lucky at the time,” Park said reminiscing the past. “The record store owner, who became my instructor, was a very talented guy. He taught me how practice makes perfect, and even took me to a guitar concert at the Seoul Arts Center.”
Although Park does not remember the name of the British guitarist who performed that day, the performance came as a shock.
“I could hear the vibration of the classical guitar, and my heart was pounding together with the tune,” he said.
Watching the performance moved him a step closer to his dream of one day being on stage.
For Park, inspiration for his music comes from small moments. Watching a North Korean soldier playing the guitar on YouTube video inspired “My Little Brother” in Park’s second album. “Some artists say they have a special place in time, where they get inspiration. I think that’s wonderful. But for me, fortunately or unfortunately, I get inspired by ordinary routines. Every passing moment is a source of music, no matter how trivial it might look to others.”
Park tells the young guitarist wannabes to trust in their passion for music and guitar.
“I know it sounds cliched, and I have even resisted this message myself, when I didn‘t know if I was on the right track,” he said.
Park recalled how many fellow musicians around him gave up their music due to financial struggles and losing that feeling of falling in love with music. Park himself was advised to take another path when his work appeared not to satisfy the public.
“But at the end of the day, it’s your own mindset that makes you keep going, no matter what is said about how a musician should look like in order to succeed.” Park said.
Despite the challenges of making music in the pandemic, Park perseveres. On June 23, he has a duet concert with guitarist Park Kyu-hee at LG Arts Center in Seoul.
Park’s music agency JNH Music, is planning a series of monthly concerts featuring singers Jeong Mi-jo and Malo, together with Park, running from August until the year-end. Park is also working on his new album, with hopes of presenting it to fans this winter.
By Kim Hae-yeon (email@example.com