PAJU, Gyeonggi Province -- “Tracks: To Pyeongyang” inscribed on signs at Dorasan Station was both a symbol of hope for peace on the Korean Peninsula and a reminder that it has yet to come.
Just a stone’s throw away from the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone, the station currently serves merely as an arrival spot for peace-themed tourism to the de facto border between the two Koreas. But its facilities and location means it could potentially serve as an international train stop linking rail travel in and out of the peninsula.
It was here that the Culture Connects: DMZ Peace Concert, featuring cellist Yo-Yo Ma and Korean traditional musicians, took place Monday, commemorating the first anniversary for the Joint Pyongyang Declaration that was adopted by the leaders of the South and North.
As the press pool entered the premises, rehearsal of “Jindo Arirang” was in progress, which would be the highlight of the show alongside “Bonjo Arirang.” The locally iconic folksong “Arirang” -- inscribed as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity by UNESCO -- has several variations that originate from different parts of the Korean Peninsula.
At around 5 p.m., rhythmic tunes of Korean traditional gukak begin to fill the station as the traditional talchum mask dance was held by talchum team the Greatest Masque. “Don’t worry! It won’t hurt you!” they cried as performers in a lion costume playfully poked around at a group of middle schoolers in the audience.
Much like the station’s slogan, “This is not the last station of South Korea, but the first station to North,” the concert embodied hopes of peace that had been boosted by the joint declaration between President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to end hostilities and boost cooperation across the border. Seoul has been seeking to make the DMZ a stepping-stone toward peace, utilizing tourism programs and cultural projects.
Among those attending Monday’s concert were Culture Minister Park Yang-woo, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-hwa, Vice Minister of Unification Suh Ho and Choi Jong-hwan, the mayor of Paju, Gyeonggi Province, where the station is located. Joining them were representative of local residents and a group of former North Koreans now living in the South.
They came to the stage to partake in a ribbon-tying ceremony, symbolic of fostering peace.
Afterward, Ma took the stage and discussed the meaning of the concert, along with his “The Bach Project,” in which he plans to perform Johann Sebastian Bach’s six suites for solo cello in one sitting at 36 locations around the world, including in Korea.
“When we ask the question, ‘What can we do together that we cannot do alone?’ the answer is everything. Culture builds trust. Culture builds bridges, not walls,” Ma said, on the significance of culture toward peace. “Culture allows us to dream together, and together we can achieve the impossible.”
Ma proceeded to perform Bach’s cello suite before being joined by violinist Gwon Yeong-gyeong and pianist An Se-hyeon, a North Korean defector.
Next on stage was another North Korean defector, pianist Kim Cheol-woong, who provided his renditions of “BongSunhwa” and “Arirang.”
He was followed by modern music by South Korean duo Rooftop Moonlight -- Kim Yoon-ju and Park Se-jin -- as well as fusion gukak from Second Moon alongside Kim Jun-soo. Then it was time for traditional gukak with a joint performance from Korean traditional drummer and performer Kim Duk-su and pianist Lim Dong-chang. The two were joined by Ahn Sook-sun, master singer of the Korea’s traditional pansori, for another collaboration.
The last order of business was a performance of “Jindo Arirang” and “Bonjo Arirang” by Ma, Ahn, Kim and Lim, which was followed by the second part of the ribbon-tying performance with featured artists and participants.
While the concert provided a wonderful gesture for peace on the peninsula, concerns remain. The admittedly impressive lineup of artists was absent of any participants from the reclusive North, which could be interpreted as putting an asterisk on the “peace” concert of it all. After all, peace is achieved with cooperation from both sides.
Inter-Korea relations, while still far from the icy relations of the past two administrations, have been stalling recently, showing that peace in our time is still very much a work-in-progress.
By Yoon Min-sik (email@example.com