Seymour Bernstein was a noted pianist who had studied under Alexander Brailowsky when he was drafted into service in Korea. Although he had been trained for frontline combat, it soon became evident that his musical talent would be better used as entertainment for troops on the frontline. He shares several experiences he had playing for the soldiers during the war and even after. After spending eight months in Korea during the war, Bernstein would return four more times as a civilian and musician and see firsthand the modernization of South Korea in terms of infrastructure, economics, and democracy.
Playing During the Revolution
Seymour Bernstein explains how he went back to Korea 1960 with the State Department to play the piano. He explains that there was a revolution during that time. He witnessed a mass protest against the first president of South Korea, Syngman Rhee. After several students were killed, Seymour Bernstein asked to have his piano to be moved to the hospital to play for them.
Playing for the Others
Seymour Bernstein explains how he had trained to originally be an infantryman. He and his colleague had asked to give a piano concert for the soldiers and we allowed even though there was some skepticism. He recalls getting assistance in moving a piano to the theater so that he could play. This was the start of a tour to play for many others.
Impressions of Korea
Seymour Bernstein describes what it was like to live in Korea during the war. He then explains how Korea became more modern on each subsequent trip he took back to the country after his initial encounter. However, even though it was more modern there were certain precautions that he had to take.
[Beginning of Recorded Material]
Seymour Bernstein: My name is Seymour Bernstein. Seymour is spelled S-E-Y-M-O-U-R Bernstein B-E-R-N-S-T-E-I-N
Interviewer: What is your birthday?
S: April 24, 1927.
S: So, in a few months, I am going to be 90 years old.
I: I can’t believe that.
S: And by the way,
my email address is the opposite of Seymore, it seyless.
I: Yeah right. [laughing]. You just told me about the several different versions of the pronunciation of your first name because of your special attachment to the folks that you’ve been working with.
S: Oh yes. Well, they’re different people from different nationalities pronounce Seymour differently. They say S–S–Saymour.
And my Russian teacher used to call me, “Hello Symour”. [laughing]
I: [laughing] could you share that name of your teacher?
S: His name was Alexander Brailowsky
S: He was a world famouspianist. He was the first pianist to play all of the Chopin works in public.
I: All of the Chopin?
S: Everything that Chopin ever wrote. He did it 10 times around the world.
And once on Chopin’s own piano in Paris. So now, when I was in my teens, I was 17, 18, I lived in Newark, New Jersey with my parents. And I gave a concert in a beautiful hall in Newark, New Jersey and on the day of the concert, Steinway called me up, and the
concert grand that I rented for that concert couldn’t be delivered, because the trucks went on strike. So, they moved another piano, that happened to be in Newark and I started my program with the Bach Busoni Chaconne. The same week, in a great big hall in Newark, New Jersey, Alexander Brailowsky
gave a concert
S: on the series. They couldn’t move his piano either. So, he had to play on the same piano and what do you think he started with? The same piece that I did. So my friends said, oh you have to go back and tell him. Well, I was a teenaged boy, very shy, to be in the presence of one of the great pianists in the world.
But I did go back. And he said, “You played on that piano?” I said I did. And I played the Bach Busoni Chaconne. And I heard myself say, [metr] that means master, could I play the Bach for you sometime? He said, “Well, I’m going on tour, but when I come back,
here is my telephone number and call me and I’ll arrange to hear you.
I: So you didn’t know him before?
S: Of course not.
I: So, that’s how you met him?
S: That’s how I met him. So, I called him up and I went to play for him. He lived in the most beautiful mansions I’ve ever seen, on East 64thstreet,
I: Oh he lived here.
S: here in New York. In a five story mansion. And he had a big concert grand.
It was like in the movies. And when I played for him, he said “You must play in public, you’re very talented. You have to call my manager. And tell him that you–he has to manage you.” He was so innocent. Of course, I couldn’t call his manager. So, I became his only pupil.
I: Huh. Only pupil.
S: Only pupil.
For 20 years.
I: In the introduction film in Netflix, you told me that you began to teach by year of 17?
S: When I was 15.
I: So, tell me about this, what is it–is it gift. The gift that you got. How did you come to know of your own gift and why do you think you are doing what you are doing?
S: Well, actually,
when I was 3 years old, we didn’t have a piano in the house. So, my parents would take me to visit my aunt, her name was Ethel, my father’s sister. And one day, when I was there, I saw a black object in one–in the–in the living room and I went over to it. It was a piano.
I pushed down the keys with my little dimpled fingers went “ah!” this is the beginning of my life. I remember distinctly. I said, this is–this has to be my life. Something’s in–something’s magical about this. So, when I was 6 years old, someone gave us an old upright piano and I began piano lessons.
And I remember, it was very strange, I remember many pieces that my teacher gave me and it seemed that I knew them. And I never heard music. There was no way that I could logically say that I studied those pieces, but they seemed very familiar to me. And on one of them, Bill, sitting here,
he performed that piece on the documentary for me.
S: The Schubert Serenade.
I: The first one that you mentioning in your film, that he played?
S: Yes, he played that.
I: Oh. My goodness.
S: Because first they made the movie, and I was–they w–I was only discussing that. Later, when they were editing the movie,
they needed a sound background for this and–and I was too busy to record it, so Bill did that for me.
I: So, when you first saw the black object that you describe.
I: You didn’t know it was–
S: When I was 3 years old.
I : How did you feel? You–did you actually sort of–in or conscience that you were
doing something that you are really given or what–
I: Can you describe that?
S: I–I–I was three years old, yes. But I remember distinctly that I was drawn to it. Mystically, illogically, something about the piano was drawing me to it.
S: I felt that I couldn’t live without it.
And as I, as a matter of fact, its never left me. It’s the same feeling. I cant live without music.
I: Mm. So, you are one of the greatest pianist in–in contemporary society.
S: I don’t think so.
I: [laughing] you may deny it, but anyway, but you have another–another identity, as a Korean War Veteran.
S: Yes I do.
I: How do we put this one together? I mean, have you imaged to be
in the war? Have you–did you know anything about Korea when you were growing up?
S: Of course not. Nobody really knew anything about Korea. So then, of course, did you know that it was never called a Korean War?
S: It was called police action.
S: So bizarre that it was not called a war, because we lost more men in the Korean War than
in the Second World War. Did you know that?
I: You mean by the time, you know, the time ratio?
I: And compared to the Vietnam War. Oh yes, of course.
S: Yes. So, when I was inducted into the Army I was about 22, something like that. And I had never left home before.
S: So, I got on an Army bus
I think there were about 3 or 4 boys on the bus, and while the bus was going to Fort Dix. It felt as though I was going to my death.
S: I said, oh this is what it feels like to die. Because, you know, I was going into a war. What did I know.
I: You never know anything about Korea.
S: Of course not.
I: Did you know any other country in Asia?
S: Well, I heard about Japan, you know, everyone knew and–China, we studied that in school, but we never studied about Korea.
I: Mm-hmm. So tell me, you went back to Korea how many times?
S: Oh, at least five times.
I: Five times. What was the most recent one?
S: The most recent one was last July.
You arranged it. I could not believe this. You called me one day and you said, Korea wants to thank 70 veterans for saving their country. And then you discovered–
S: that my documentary was showing and you called me up and you said, Seymour Simour, what did you call me?
S: Saymour, you–you’re a VIP. We have to send you business class! Right?
I: Of course!
S: You found out that I wasn’t only a Korean veteran, but I was a movie star and also a concert pianist. You were just amazed, weren’t you?
I: Yeah I was amazed but I was also amazed by the regularity. You know, just normal people responding back to me
About whole things. You know, you were very–very honest and very straightforward.
I: And I feel like I’m talking to one of my neighbor’s grandfather’s, you know.
I : And so, that–that struck me.
S: I felt the same–I felt the same about you.
S: When we had our discussions it seemed to me that you were an old friend of mine.
S: And you still are!
That’s a compliment I–I think I take it, right? [laughing]
S: I meant it as a compliment.
I: Thank you, sir. And we talked when you were in Maine, right?
S: I was in Maine, yes.
I: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. So, the country you just told me that you never knew before. You went there to fight for the Korean people.
S: I did.
I: And you been there for five times, but let–let start from the most recent one. When you landed in Incheon airport what were you thinking?
What did you see and how did you all these things into a perspective to you in your mind?
S: You mean the recent one?
I: Yeah. The July.
S: Alright so now, we were met by the director of the Korean veterans association. And he was very charming. He had an electric cart for us. We got on. By the way, we were on the newest Asiana airline.
The newest in the fleet. It–it seated 600 people.
S: So now, I don’t have to tell you what the lines were like for 600 people going through security. When you land in a foreign country, you have to go through security. So, we were taken VIP
to a special office. And Bill and I just went through, no trouble at all. Now, here is the surprise. We went through a door into the terminal, but before any of this ever happened, Bill and I looked around the terminal as if–we never saw such a magnificent terminal.
And then, we found a reputedly, it’s the most amazing one in the world. You know when I was there as a soldier, it was so primitive I can’t tell you. So, you can imagine what I felt like. Yeah, we went through a door into the terminal and I was greeted by, I would say around 10 newsmen, right?
With video cameras. And there was a barricade. There were hundreds of people lined up. Who was the celebrity coming out? I was like a rock star and it was just amazing. I couldn’t get over it. [laughing]
S: Then we went to the hotel. The–the director of the hotel and his staff were there bowing to me. It was absoltey amazing.
The whole time I was there, I was treated in a way that I don’t ever remember. It was extraordinary.
S: So, at the banquet there must have been about 1,000 people.
S: And they brought in a Steinway concert grand. And I played at the banquet. And they sat me at a table with your Korean president,
Park Geun-hye. And she toasted me. She drank a toast to me. And Bill and I, wherever we went, for example, there was the Korean Minister at one of the events and he was taken into a room with his body guards and the only people who were allowed in the room was Bill and me.
I: Hmm. See.
S: So we were only with the VIPs of Korea. We were treated so elegantly and, of course, we were taken to very dramatic sites, like the cemetery. And I saw all of the veterans at the hotel with us. Having been
90 years old, I have had a lot of experiences in my life. Traveling around the world. But I have to tell you that that experience was the most dramatic of all. And then I gave a master class, you know, for the students in Ewha University. Well, when I walked
into the school, I almost started to cry, because when I was a soldier, Helen Kim was the director of Ewha University. She was the first Korean woman who graduated from an American University.
I: Did you know her, at the time?
S: Of course not.
introduced herself to me when I was a soldier she heard me play and she invited me to play and teach in Ewha University.
S: She was like Eleanor Rosevelt in this country.
I: She is legend.
S: She was like that. But you know, the young people in Korea, don’t know her name at all.
S: I’m very surprised.
That the youth in Korea doesn’t know about Korean history. I know more about Korean history than they do. [laughing]
I: [laughing] that’s why I’m here.
S: And that’s why–that’s your job. You’re going to let them know–
S: what transpired in their country. Well, Helen Kim was extremely cultured and devoted to–to education. And after I played and gave a master class. She lived in a–a restored Korean palace and she invited me for dinner. I was all alone with her and I’ll never forget, I had my first [sin see lo] dish.
I: [sin see lo]?
S: [sin see lo]
I: Oh! Shin sun lo, yes!
S: [Sin chi lo]?
I: Shin sun lo.
S: Oh shin sun lo?
I: Yes, yes.
S: Oh! Okay. I had my
first dish. She had her cook prepare it for me and she gave me a beautiful fan as a present.
S: And then, of course, I was sent to the front lines to play. You know, I was a soldier. But anyway, the last Korean trip was the most amazing one for me.
I: Tell me, when you were there in Korea, recollect in your memory, you were in Korea
for the war, right? From when to when?
S: I was in Korea in–in the war was in 1951 to 1952.
I: And then…
S: I was there for eight months.
I: Eight month. And then, when did you go back right after that?
S: Right after that, the conductor of the Seoul Philharmonic–first of all, when I was a soldier, I performed a concerto
with the Seoul Philharmonic. It was called the Seoul Navy Philharmonic, because the entire orchestra and chorus were drafted into the Navy to protect them.
I: When was it? When you–when did you perform with them?
S: I told you, between 1951 and 1952, when I was a soldier. What?
I: I can’t
believe it! It was in the middle of war and you performed with them?
S: I did.
I: Where? Was it in Daegu?
S: In Daegu.
I: So, please tell me about it.
S: Kim Sang-kyung,
S: John S. Kim was the conductor. [Lim]–[Lim Sang wook] no, [Lim Sang wook] was the assistant conductor.
When Kenneth Gordon and I, we each played a concerto with the orchestra. The Koreans were so eager to get into the auditorium that they ripped down the doors. They closed the doors, right? And the crowds pushed the door open.
They had to call the military police. That’s how eager the Koreans were to hear music.
S: So, Kim–
I: So, that was during the war that you were there.
S: That was during the war. So, Kim Sang kyung after the war decided that he wanted to have a music festival in Seoul. So, he came to the United States to
my parents’ home, where I lived, and he asked me if I would go to spend a month in Seoul. And he invited Michelle Nazih, the oboist of the NBC symphony orchestra, conducted by Toscanini,
S: Peter Altobelli, the first horn player of the
Pittsburgh Symphony, Richard Kay, the first cellist of the Metropolitan Orchestra, Kenneth Gordon, who was the Assistant Concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic, and me.
S: There were five of us. What did I have to do? I had to play two solo concerts.
Two concertos with the orchestra. And I had to accompany all of my colleagues. So, if I had to do that today I could never survive. It was impossible. I learned so much repertoire. So now, the music festival started and it lasted–we had–first, we gave a lot of
concerts all over Korea independently, and also in chamber music.
S: and I didn’t tell you that we all stayed in the Bando Hotel. And the Bando Hotel was the tallest building in Seoul, it was 9 stories high. That’s what Seoul looked like. There was no
skyscrapers at all. So–
I: What year was that?
S: This was in 1955.
S: So now, the music festival started and it lasted in Seoul for 10 days. And I arranged for some rich people to buy a Steinway concert grand
and it was sent to Korea and put on the stage of the auditorium there.
I: Oh! It was sent from the United States.
S: Uh-huh. And I was there when they opened it up. And I couldn’t push down the keys because this–the moisture got in and they– the tuners were working on it and–because there weren’t–there wasn’t even a decent piano. So now, for 10 days now,
every morning from 9-12:00 I gave a master class. And then every evening there was a different concert.
I: Mm. Every.
S: Different program every evening. And during that festival, I played in Korea, the first performance of the Brahms first concerto. Can you image where
in the world can you be. I played the premier of the Brahms first concerto. And I played the first performance of the Rhapsody in Blue.
I: Wow. Rhapsody in Blue.
S: Mm-hmm. With the orchestra.
I: Must be first to Korean people, at the time.
S: And I was practicing in the hotel and–on the day that I had to play the Brahms concerto, a knock at the door.
I opened the door. There was a young student there, a girl. I said to her, what is it? Why are you knocking at my door? I’m practicing. She said, God gave me this opportunity and I am not leaving unless you give me a lesson. I said I can’t give you a lesson. She said you must I’m not going to leave.
I: What can you do?
S: I had to stop my practicing.
S: She played me a Beethoven Sonata. It’s so amazing. I remember every detail, you know.
S: Of everything that went on. So, then, I went back to Korea again in 1960, by myself.
On a State Department tour.
S: Do you know about that?
I: Not about your specific, but State Department has a program to–
S: A cultural program.
S: But do you know what happened in Korea in 1960?
I: Oh yeah, tell me.
S: It was a revolution. They deposed President Syngman Rhee.
And then, this is what happened to me. Needless to say, I was in the Korean War, right? And I played 100 concerts on the front lines under the worst possible conditions. So now, I’m a civilian and I’m in a concert hall at 12 o’clock one afternoon. And the director said, “I’ll come and tell you when to walk out on the stage.”
I’m looking at my watch, its 12 o’clock. There’s nobody in the auditorium. 12:15, something’s wrong. So I walked out of the auditorium and out of the school and I saw hundreds of students gathering
in front of the auditorium. And all of a sudden, an MP truck rode up and said, “Are you Seymour Bernstein? We’ve come to rescue you. The revolution has started.”
I: So, that was April 19? When– do you remember the day you were supposed to perform?
S: That was in 1960
S: I don’t remember the date.
I: It must be close to your birthday.
S: It must. Yes maybe, perhaps.
S: So, they drove me–the guns were already firing in the street and they drove me to the Bando Hotel. And they pulled down the steel door to protect the–the inhabitants. And martial law was declared. So now, this is what happened.
The Bando Hotel had 9 stories, right? So, it was filled with business men. And we were all on the roof looking down into the center of Seoul and we saw the policeman shoot down the students. Do you know what they were shooting with?
S: The same M-1 riffles
that I trained with in the Korean War. The students were demonstrating because President Rhee and his cabinet, [Lee Ki-bung] he was the minister, they were stealing money and they had almost gestapo-like police in the tea rooms. And–and
arresting students for speaking against the government. So, they wanted President Rhee out. Across the street from the Bando Hotel–[laughing] this is so very dramatic for me–was the American Embassy. Walter P. McConaughy was the ambassador and guess what?
He was a professional clarinetist.
S: And he and I played music together while I was in Seoul. So, when the revolution started and the students were shot down, my concerts were cancelled. So, I went across to the embassy and I asked the ambassador
and I asked please can you move a piano into the hospital? And I want to play for the students. He said that’s wonderful. He said I can’t take the side of the students because I’m the American Ambassador, but you can. He called in the–the
Reporters from all over the world. They came right into the office. They found out when I was going to play. They moved a piano into the wards where some of the students were dying.
S: My parents were in Newark, New Jersey, they were watching the news one night and all of a sudden, there’s Seymour, playing for the Korean Students.
They couldn’t believe it. It went around the world. American pianist supports the students in the revolution. And, of course, President Rhee finally resigned and [Lee Ki-bung] was the speaker of the house, and he and his wife had me to their beautiful home for dinner when I was there. And when the revolution
started, their son was an officer in the Army and they were so humiliated because they were going to be imprisoned, right? The son shot the mother and father and shot himself.
S: You know about this?
I: Oh yeah.
S: How did you know about this?
I: I’m political scientist.
I born 1961, the year after, but it was April 19threvolution.
I: And the critical reason for that was, in addition to all of this corruptions and brutalities of his regime, so on, but there was rigged election. They cheated in the election and he was trying to extend his term to–his presidential term–to third term.
S: I know that.
I: So, they had to–they had to vote for the amend–constitution al amendment and there was rigged election too. Voting and election so, he had to be removed from the position, but I cannot believe that you were in the middle of this revolution, April revolution!
S: I was.
I: And you played the piano to support the students?
S: I did. In the hospital, yeah.
I: What hospital, do you remember?
I: Was it close to center of city or what?
S: It was very close to the central city and as I approached the hospital, there were the mothers near the morgue identifying their dead sons.
S: And I heard them scream [Iguuu! [Iguuu!] and I learned that Korean word.
I: Were there kind of palace like architecture?
S: Very much so.
I: That must be Seoul National University, which is close to the center of the city.
S: So, when I left Korea, all of the students and the teacher they were at the airport crying for minutes on end from the–the pain and the suffering
and the agony of it all. It was so terrible. I remember President Rhee had leaflets fall onto the city. I saved one of the leaflets and it said in Korean: If the people want me to resign, I will resign. The fact that he said if they want me to, that made
the–the revolution twice as terrible. Then, the students set fire to everything. Then, finally President Rhee resigned.
I: As I explained right before we conduct this interview, my foundation is making digital history teaching material about the Korean War and modern Korea as a outcome of your legacy.
I: And there,
there are so many interviews witnessing that so much different and contrasting image and picture in 1950 and 21stcentury.
S: Oh yes.
I: So, you been there 1951 to ’52 first. Then,–
S: No y–y–y–yes.
S: Yes. And then 1960.
I: 1960 and then?
S: And then I went back again a fourth time in
19–I–I have a book called “With Your Own Two Hands” and it was translated into Korean.
I: and 20 musician is that–
S: And–and one of my pupils translated the book. And they brought me to Seoul to give master classes and lectures in the music departments in different uni–different schools in Seoul.
So, that was some time in the 1980’s. I don’t remember the date.
I: Okay. We can–
S: But I stayed with my pupil and her husband.
I: What is her name?
S: Her name? Uh-oh.
I: Do you remember?
S: I don’t remember her name.
I: Good teacher. [laughing]
S: Isn’t’ it–isn’t it strange that I don’t remember her name?
I: Anyway, you went there 1980’s and
then the most recent one is the last one.
S: Was last July
I: Yeah. So, this is my question, you been there five times.
S: That’s right.
I: But you witnessed the Korea in 1951 to ’52. You saw all of it.
S: I saw the most primitive Korea.
I : So, let me–let me finish my question. You were there. And then ’55, ’60 and then 80’s and then 2016.
There are not many Korean War veterans that can tell me about the changes of the scenes and the image from 1950 up to July of 2016. Could you tell–because this interview will be listened by young kids, K-12. They want to know about the Korea that you saw in 1950, ’55, ’60, very revolutionary age
and then 80’s, when Korea began to really join the Western developed economy and democracy. And then 2016. Please tell me about those differences. Contrasting image of the Korea that you been–you been able to watch.
S: When I was a soldier, of course, I lived on Army camps. So,
we–the water and the food that we were given was very carefully prepared, but when I went there in 1955, I was a civilian. And so, I lived in a–in a hotel–Korean hotel, had Korean food and everything was rather dangerous. We were told
to be sure that the water was boiled in our room. And how could we tell? There was no way to tell. So, we drank bottled water. I happen to love kim chi so, sometime the kim chi wasn’t good so, we would have an upset stomach. Very often we got sick from the food. Wasn’t carefully prepared.
And the farmlands were not carefully cultivated, so there were diseases from human elements– I don’t have to tell you–
I: Human waste.
S: It was pretty bad. And there was a sense of desperation among the people.
There was never enough money to take care of their needs. I remember even as a soldier, well it was a—much worse during the Korean War. There was a– a wonderful pianist and teacher [Ennay] something like that, [Ennay]. I don’t remember her name.
I : Mm-hmm.
S: She brought me–she had to–
she was evacuated from Seoul because the–the North Koreans bombed Seoul. So, she was living in Daegu in a very primitive little hut with her children and a huge grand piano with broken strings. And she said, I cant play anymore because the piano is so awful and I don’t have the
money to fix it. So, Seymour found a tuner, a Korean tuner. I paid him.
I: You paid?
S: Of course! And he fixed the piano for her and she was weeping. She was so happy. I have a photograph with her somewhere.
I: We need to find that out.
I : We need to dig that out, that picture.
S: I have to find it out, yes.
I: and you went
to 2016. You told me about 9 story building of Bando hotel was the only one standing there. Tell me–
S: That was the tallest building.
I : Yeah. Tell me about the Seoul city when you were in Korea from 1951 to ’52 and then how did it change in ’55 and ’60 and ’70–oh, ’80 and ’16, 2016.
S: My impression in 1960–
I: ’50 how about ’50? Korea then.
S: In ’55.
I : No, ’51 to ’52 that Seoul you saw.
S: Oh, when I was a soldier?
I : Yeah yeah. How was it overall? The city landscape how destroyed and so on.
S: It–there was a terrible destruction. I remember going on train rides from one city to another. There was terrible destruction in Seoul and not so much in Daegu, I remember.
But Daegu was very primitive. Even the streets were primitive. I had the feeling that I was in a primitive country. And even when I was in Seoul, in spite of the–I saw building destroyed. There was nothing attractive that I–that–that I would say would attract my attention
to say, oh what a beautiful city. There was nothing. But when I went back in the 1980’s, the buildings were already. It looked–it started to look like New York.
S: And when I was there with Bill in–last July, it looks exactly like New York City. The best food. The best hotels. The best transportation.
The best airport. We were overwhelmed. Of course he didn’t see what I saw so many years ago. He didn’t see the difference. It was like a renaissance, a rebirth.
I : So what do you think about this? I mean if you– you read the Bible if you read the Bible, there is a John, chapter John 1:46
that Jesus was introduced to Nathaniel through Phillip. He just picked up Phillip and then he was introduced to Nathaniel. Philip said to Nathaniel said, Oh, there is a rabbi from Nazareth.
S: There’s a what?
I: A rabbi. The teacher in–in–
S: Oh–oh–oh yes–yes.
I: And Nathaniel said, what good can come out of Nazareth? That’s what he said. What good can come out of
S: What good can come out of Nazareth?
I: Yeah. But Jesus came out of it so, in my opinion it is a fit metaphor to describe what happened to Korea.
I: The Korea that you saw in 1950 was like a Nazareth.
S: That’s right.
I: And then the Seoul that you saw with the build 2016 something radically different.
I: Do you agree?
S: I do, yes.
I: Hm. So, how do you put that into a perspective? The country that you never knew before but now this is–you been there in a very important historical period.
S: Of course.
I: So, what is Korea to you now
S: A modern bustling city. Like some kind of a miracle.
Its as though a–a– some magical hand came and swept away everything that I remember and rebuilt something that I never saw before.
S: It was just simply amazing to me. I couldn’t believe it. I don’t even know how it happened
in, I would say, a relatively short time.
I: Exactly, that’s the point. So when you were in Korea 1960 in April of 1960 you observed the real revolution.
I: Had you–
S: Korea was still primitive then. The Bando Hotel was the only building there.
I: Had you imagined that Korea would become like this today
S: Could never.
S: But, by the way,
when I was on the roof watching the revolution–
S: In the Bando Hotel, there were business men all around and there was an iron rail I would say about that round right–the iron rail was around where we were standing–
S: And there was a business man holding the rail.
I : Mm-hmm.
S: And he was looking–
we were all looking down at the shooting of the students. Guess what happened? The riffles that I trained with in the Korean War shot bull ammunition that went through steel. Can you picture?
S: One of the bullets came up nine stories high, went through the iron
rail into the business man and he fell.
S: That’s right.
I: Is it real?
S: I screamed to the American Ambassador the American Embassy, they were right across the street.
I : Yeah, yeah.
S: Call an ambulance! Someone was shot! They said, who was shot? I was gonna kill them.
S: You know what that question meant, don’t you?
S: Well, is it an American or a Korean?
I: It doesn’t matter.
S: I said goddammit what do you care who was shot?
S: You send an ambulance. And, of course, they did.
S: So, I never found out if the man lived or died. So is–is–was that ironic? In 1951, I was a soldier fighting
the war right? And now, I’m a civilian and I’m still in a war.
S: A second war.
I: And that war hasn’t finished yet, as you know. We are–
S: You’re still fighting, and now the new Korean president is deposed. It’s just terrible.
I: We ta– briefly talked about president Geun-hye Park in Korea that you sat together in July
S: We were together, yes.
S: She was so charming.
I: And now, national assembly of Korea–
S: They impeached her.
I: Voted to impeach. So, that the constitutional court will review and make a final decision. And you talked about president Truman–I mean Trump elected so, what do you think? You have a–you have a chance to sit with him again?
S: If I did, I would vote
I: [laughing] Right. There are so many questions, but let me start from this. So, when you sit with the president Park and in front of so many Korean War veterans fought in the Korean theater in July 2016, what were you thinking? What were you thinking?
S: I was re-living my Army experiences. The torment of it. The horror of it and, at the same time, I was grateful to be alive. And–and at the same time I had to perform in–on the piano.
I: What did you perform? Moonlight?
S: I did for one–I played twice, you know. Once I did the Moonlight Sonata and I think a Brahms Intermezzo and at another time, I did the Brahms Intermezzo and the Liszt piece. So, all of these were cascading through my head. Contrasting experiences.
Here is my friend, he’s so young, he has no–he’s completely innocent bout the wars, right? And he–he didn’t know that part of my life at all, but he knows me. He knows things about me that nobody else knows.
I: Mm. You, in the introduction of the Netflix film, you
mention about fawn that you saw.
S: I mentioned what?
I: Fawn. Fawn? The–the deer. Small deer.
Male voice: The–the deer fawn, when it came and ate out of your hand.
S: The what?
I: When you were in Korea during the war,
I : you were in the mess hall, you had some food and getting out of there suddenly you saw fawn.
M: The deer.
I: The small deer that you saw in Korea and you felt like this is–
M: You thought you were
you died or something.
M: Remember when the deer came and ate out of your hand in the morning?
S: Oh–oh–oh–oh–oh–oh the fawn!
I: Fawn yeah.
S: Oh! [laughing] Okay. So now look here. Do you know when I landed in Korea?
I: Tell me about those. When did you land? Where did you land?
S: Ohhhh. Well, I was sent first to Tokyo, you know?
I : Mm-hmm.
S: Then, from Tokyo,
we got on a troop ship. And it–it landed in In–I think Incheon harbor. I think so. Alright?
S: We landed at five something in the morning. We came into the harbor. And all of the soldiers went up on deck. Steel helmet.
M1 riffle. Army gear. Right? We’re all on the deck. Its my birthday. Its April 24. I said to myself, nothing ever in my life is going to make me
as terrified as I am right now. I was so terrified. I looked at the hills of Korea. The boat was coming in in the mist and, you know, I thought when we got off the boat there was going to be fighting. I didn’t know. There was a war going on. They didn’t tell us anything.
S: No. We didn’t even know where we were.
I: So, you thought that you were going to a picnic.
S: I thought I was going to be in the battle. So, we got off the bus–of the boat. And there was no battle there was no–nothing going on. We were put on–onto a train. And the train went somew–we didn’t know where. I still don’t know where we were. And I remember we were in a barrack
And I went to bed and in the morning I got up. Everybody was still sleeping and I was fully awake and I went into the mess hall. There was nothing to eat but chocolate and peanuts and cookies and things like that. So I took some peanuts and I went outside and everything was covered with mist.
And I was eating the peanuts like this. And all of a sudden, I saw a pink nose come out of the mist and it was a fawn. Evidently he was trained by the men in the camp there. And the fawn came over to me and he ate the peanuts out of my hand. I said to myself, Oh, I must have been killed during the night, this must be heaven.
S: This is what I thought.
I : Yeah. So that was next day that you arrived in Korea.
S: The next day. The very first day that I was in Korea that happened. Then, we were put on a train and now we knew where we were going. We went to Daegu.
I: Oh. From there to Daegu.
S: Daegu. And now from Daegu, Kenneth Gordon was with me.
I: Did you know him?
S: Oh of course! I knew him from Fort Dix. Were soldiers together. So, they were going to send us to the front line because we were trained as infantrymen.
I: What was your unit?
I: What was your unit?
S: The 8thUnited States Army.
I: That’s it?
I: That’s too big. What was the lower units?
S: I don’t remember.
I: You don’t? Okay.
I: Yeah, you are pianist [laughing]
S: [laughing] so, I–I knew Kenneth Gordon and I were in danger, so I went to the lieutenant and I said we would like to give a concert for the soldiers here. He said, are you kidding? They don’t like classical music.
I: They knew you are the pianist?
S: I introduced myself.
Of course not. So, he sa–I said, let us try. He said alright I’ll let you try, but don’t bother me you just have to arrange everything for yourself.
S: So, there was a Korean MP school not far from where we were. And I went there and there was a Yamaha grand piano.
I: Oh my goodness.
S: and I asked the director if we could borrow it and he said alright. So, I requisitioned a truck with six Korean laborers and they didn’t speak a word of English. And I never moved a piano in my life. Somehow, I told them by moving my hands what to do.
We got the legs off the piano, put it on the truck and we moved it into the theater where they show movies in Daegu. Quonset hut it was a Quonset hut. And we put the piano on the stage and that night Kenneth Gordon and I and also a Capitan by the name of Capitan Benton, who was a singer, we gave a regular concert.
I: Regular concert means?
S: A concert really classical music. We didn’t play down to them, we played serious music. The soldiers wouldn’t let us off the stage. So, the lieutenant was there, of course. The special services lieutenant. He sent for gabardine uniforms for Ken and me
A shirt and pants so we looked like decent people, instead of soldiers. And where did he send us? To the front line.
I: You wanted to get out of there, but you were sent to there because–
S: But not to fight.
I: I know, but still.
S: But we were in serious danger. So, we went from corps to corps
Not only for American troops but international troops. For example, I remember playing in a field where there were 10,000 Filipino troops. We were told there were 10,000 of them. In an open field. We would put the piano at the base of a hill so if the shell comes down we would be protected.
And I would tune the–I never tuned the piano never in my life I had to tune it. Learned how to tune it. Kenneth Gordon and I gave three concerts a day. Over 100 concerts. All over the front lines. Once, in the Marine division, I was playing the A flat Polonaise by Chopin
And the shells were flying over my head.
S: I said to myself, I’m 9,000 miles away from home. I’m going to die here. This is what I thought.
S: and now you understand that I never knew that I was there to save Korea. I thought that I was a soldier,
an American soldier that I was supporting my country. But, I learned quickly that we were there to save your country.
S: And when you asked me to come there, I felt so proud that I contributed to your country.
I: That’s why I am here and that’s why we’re doing this, so that we can keep your legacy
I: Transfer to our younger generation and learn from it. Learn from it.
S: Do you think they’re going to learn from it?
S: War keeps repeating itself.
I: Yes, war itself, but what I’m say is about how Korea was in 1950, who came and what happened and why we call it forgotten war. That’s what I’m trying to make
the point. Korea is now 11thlargest economy in the world. It’s the size of Indiana. A little bit bigger than Indiana state. As you know, we don’t have a drop of oil. Every natural resource is concentrated in North Korea. We are the largest, used to be the largest ship builder and Samsung come there, you know this, right? We are the 11thlargest economy
in the world. That country was completely destroyed in 1950. We are the strongest democracy in Asia. As you see, Korean people all over, as you saw in 19–1960 about a 120. 1.2 million people went out to the street to impeach the current president.
S: Mm I saw that on television, yes.
I: Yeah. All over.
I: So, this become kind of an example for other countries.
I: This is the country. So, never been presented in sort of a literature about simultaneous achievement of rapid economic development and democracy at the same time, because it’s a linear. When a country develop their
economy. Later then, they will think about democracy, right? When you have a stomach full of it, you think about more decent thing. That used to be the history, but not Korea. So, this is unprecedented and you are part of it.
S: But tell me, please when you consider the 1960 revolution, the terrible corruption within your government,
Of the–the–the most important heads of state. Guilty of riffling money and heaven knows what.
S: and now the same thing happens in this year with President Park Geun-hye. How is this possible?
I: That’s the question that we are trying to figure out. It takes long
time to–to get away from the ancient regime. I think Park Geun-hye was still in the minds of his–her father, because she was brought up as a princess.
S: Oh was she?
I: Of President Park Chung-hee who modernized our country. But he was military general ceased the power through the military coup. But unfortunately, her fa– mom was assassinated
S: Oh, her mother?
I: Yeah. And then, 1979, her father was also assassinated.
S: Oh dear.
I: Yeah. So, she has a trauma. She lost the complete touch with other regular people because she couldn’t trust anybody. But still in the minds of Korean people, they think of those president those powerful people as
like a king, you know.
S: Well, sure.
I: But it’s a republic. 1948 Syngman Rhee established the Korean first republic. Republic means that there is institution that we share all this power through the rule of laws and everything, but in the minds of Korean people and political culture, still there. So as you just pointed out, you–we thought that we
could get away from this ancient regime of Yi dynasty and old political culture, but that stays a lot. It takes a lot of time to clear that out. And I think we are experiencing the last stage of this clearance.
S: Is that the last stage of this? Of corruption?
I: We hope that. We hope that.
S: I hope so. Do you know who will be the president now?
I: I cannot tell you that I am fortune teller so that I know who is going to be.
but I know very promising one, yes.
S: There is a promising one?
S: That’s good.
I: But that’s why, I mean, this is extremely different interviews that I ever done and you are mentioning about those things so I am very grateful. But when you are doing performing for the–the veterans–I mean the soldiers there at the time,
I: You had–you had Kenneth Gordon,
I: Whom I will interview tomorrow, but there was cellist too, right?
S: There was a very world famous cellist. His name was Robert La Marchina. He was–
I: Could you spell it? R-A-…
S: Robert. R-O-B-E-R-T.
I : Yeah. But last name.
S: La Marchina. L-A M-A-R-
I: Mm. La Marchina.
S: La Marchina. He was very famous because when he was 16 years old, he was the first cellist of the NBC Symphony Orchestra under Arturo Toscanini. It was the greatest orchestra in the world. And he was the first cellist.
So, we met him, Kenneth Gordon and I, met him in Tokyo before we went to Korea. We played trios on–in a concert together.
I: Oh in–in Tokyo too?
S: We played trios, yes. and Robert was living with a Japanese family. And then, Kenneth Gordon and I
were shipped off to Korea. We left Robert in Tokyo.
S: Now, Kenneth Gordon and I are sent to the front lines to play. And we were waiting in a chow line for di–for meals, right?
S: There was Robert La Marchina in the line.
Robert! What are you doing here? He said I was sent to Korea. I said do you have your cello? Of course! So, he joined us. And we played on the front lines. He played a trio with us.
I: So all of the things that you’ve been talking to me and to the camera, is it real?
S: It sounds like it’s fictitious. Even when I talk about it it seems like it never really happened, I’m making it up. But it actually happened.
I: You could be a very good novelist too, you know? [laughing]
S: Well, I’m–it’s all in a book. I wrote a book called Mosters and Angels: Surviving a Career in Music.
S: And there’s 100 pages about my Korean experience.
I: It–it is unreal that you met Kenneth Gordon and you came to know of him, but you also met this Bob in Tokyo.
S: Robert La Marchina.
S: He died by the way.
I: Right. And he joined you and you began to perform in the front line.
S: Oh yeah, yeah.
I: Amazing story.
S: Simply amazing. Well, Kenneth Gordon will tell you that
he–he–he and I talk about it all the time, there is a photograph of the three of us in a tent.
I: I saw that. So, I had a lot of interview who are saying that they saw Bob Hope, Marilyn Monroe and all other pop–you know, artists.
S: But they never went to the front lines, of course.
S: They could not. They weren’t allowed to.
I : That’s–oh that’s a good point.
S: They had to play in Seoul or Daegu. Only we could go to the front line because we were trained as infantrymen. We had–remember, we had 14 weeks of infantry training. I was trained, and Kenneth also, to dismantle and fire and clean every weapon used in the Korean War.
I was trained to fire, clean and dismantle every weapon used in the Korean War. The M1 rifle, water co–water cooled machine guns, carbines, pistols, hand grenades.
S: I–I–I never as a c–as a civilian
never even held a weapon in my hand. So, the M1 rifle had a very dangerous situation. In order to close the chamber, you had to put your thumb and touch a spring and take your finger out, because–
S: The cover slammed shut. And if you linger too long you get an M1 thumb.
S: I–well, I’m a pianist, do I have to tell you? I thought oh, this is the end of my career. Well, you know I was very fast. So, I survived that. Now we go on the firing line. Its December and its– zero degrees.
S: Bernstein, take your gloves off.
Frozen hand. Hand froze. I’m lying in a prone position with all my buddies lined up. We’re going to fire the M1 rifle for the first time and I was told that the impact of the–the rifle was so terrible that it could dislodge your shoulder.
I’m–I’m finished I can never play the piano again, this is what I thought. So, the–the–the lieutenant is standing behind me. Okay, take a deep breath, let out half of it, pull the trigger, and I thought that I pulled the trigger. I heard an explosion. And I said to the lieutenant, “I didn’t even feel anything!”
He said, that was your buddy next door, you didn’t fire yet.
S: So, I fired and I hit 15 out of 16 bulls eyes.
I: Oh my goodness.
S: The lieutenant said, if you keep this up, they’re going to send you to the front line.
S: You know why? I was trained to be very–my hands
no shaking, right? Very calm. I was a marksman.
S: Seymour, the marksman.
S: [turning to the man beside him] You don’t even know these stories, do you?
M: Well, some of it, but not everything.
M: No, a lot of it I have not heard.
I: So, you told me those pop artists never went into the front line.
S: Oh never!
I: But you were there
in front line.
S: Of course.
I: And soldiers in front line, their psychological mood and state is quite different from those who watching pop artists in the real.
S: Look here.
I: Tell me about those. When you perform like this too.
S: And now I have to tell you about the audience. They were made up of people who never heard a classical music in their life.
I: Never. Never.
S: Hillbillies. Uncultured boys. Very sweet. Very nice.
But didn’t know–they don’t know anything about classical music. Any day they’re going to die on the front line. It was only a question of where Kenneth Gordon and I were because suddenly the unit is overrun by the enemy and everyone is killed. So the soldiers were
totally honest. They didn’t want to go to the concert, they’re not gonna go. Every concert was filled with soldiers and at the end of the concert, many of them were crying. And we–the music got right to their hearts. We felt that we were giving them a moment of peace
of spiritual–some kind of a spiritual message in–in this horror of the war. That’s how it was.
I: I mean, not as an expert, but when this soldiers who never knew anything about Korea brought it there. Fight every day and they didn’t know when they going to be die.
S: That’s right.
I : But when they see Bob Hope
or other popular artist and, but listening to this classical music that get downs to the very bottoms of our hearts and spirit.
S: That’s what it was.
I: And–and that might get–might have given them more horror or more kind of moment of honest about everything and life and death and so on.
S: I think so.
It meant a great deal to them. It was very touching.
I: So, three of you, when they give them performance what were you? I mean what was the impact of this performance to yourself? To the performers not the audience.
S: We were overwhelmed every time. When they would come up to us and tell us of their response.
S: It made me feel, this is the reason why I’m a musician.
I: What is it?
S: Not to make money. Not to go on commercial tours. But to share the–the spirit of music and bring people together this way. It gave me a–the real reason for being a musician.
S: I didn’t learn that in the United States.
S: I learned that I have to get a manger and I have to make money, and so forth.
S: So, that was a great lesson for me.
I: In the middle of those film–that film you take–took with Ethan Hawke, you were crying. You told me about the diary that you wrote.
S: Yes, yes it’s right in that drawer.
I: And you told–you told the audience that you didn’t look those–the diaries–
S: For 45 years.
S: Because I knew that there’s terrible things in there and I didn’t want to remember them. So, when I wrote my book, Monsters and Angels,
and I was dealing with all of this I said alright its time that I read my diaries. And as I turned the pages, it was on a Sunday, and there it was, all of the things I didn’t want to remember. Body bags, right? All of the suffering going on. I just w–cried the whole day. That’s how it was.
I: Hmm. Had you–
S: And even while I’m talking to you,
now, I’m trying to hold back my tears.
I: Sorry to bring it back to you, but I have to ask this question,
I: About your diary, and that’s why I did it. I am asking you, how long did you actually write that diary?
S: The eight months.
I: Eight month, all of it?
I: Wow. Have you make it publically known to other people?
I: Other than the book that you wrote, Monster and Angels?
S: Nobody e–nobody ever read it.
I: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Are you still in sort of trauma from the images that you had during the war?
S: No. I never think about it.
S: But when I talk about it, it comes back, of course.
I: What is the impact of your service during the Korean War upon your life after you returned from them?
S: When I returned, I was a wreck. [laughing]. I just–I remember that time.
I : Mm-hmm.
S: First of all, when you go through an experience like that and then you go back to your family,
S: You get a sense it’s not possible for me to tell you what I went through. So, don’t even ask me. I can’t even tell you.
I: That’s why I think it’s been forgotten. Even in the minds of the Korean War Veterans.
S: Yeah, the veterans don’t talk about it because it’s too painful.
I: Too painful.
S: So, for example, I remember going into my–my parents’ home. My mother
redecorated my bedroom. I went into the bathroom and I turned on the water–ah hot water is coming out! I mean it was all–that’s how it was. You know, on the front line we were living in primitive situations. So, I–I eventually I accustomed myself to civilian life
and I knew that if I didn’t challenge myself musically I would never get back to the piano.
I: After the Korean War.
S: Yes, when I became a civilian again. So, I did two things, I enrolled in a summer music program in Fontainebleau, France, where I met Clifford Curzon, and I rented town hall
to make my New York debut the next year. That made me practice 8 hours a day.
And then the rest is history.
I: So, you talked about gift versus craft.
S: Gift purses–versus what?
I: Craft. That you have to practice a lot to become who you are right now.
S: Oh it’s a —
I: It’s not just about the gift, but a lot of practice.
S: Pe–different gifts have different needs of practicing. For example, Artur Rubinstein in his book, in his biography, he tells the story, he’s around 30 years old and he–he never liked to practice so, he had to play the Beethoven 4thconcerto in Spain
So he got on a train and he never played the Beethoven 4thconcerto. He’s studying it on the train. And he got off the train and he had a rehearsal with the orchestra and performed it. I could never do that. My talent isn’t like that. So, I have to practice very hard.
I: Mm-hmm. And you
did–make a big decision not to perform.
S: When I was 50,
S: I–the–the important thing for me, as a performer, was to learn to play my best in spite of stage fright. Because all performers suffer stage fright. They don’t tell you about it, but they do. They all do.
I: No exception.
S: No. Absolutely no exception.
I: You shared the anecdotes in the Netflix film was saying that I don’t have a fear and the lady replied back to her then you don’t act then. [laughing]
S: Yeah .exactly. Yes that was Sarah Bernhardt. Oh, my dear, you will get nervous when you learn how to act.
S: Yeah. That’s what she told an actress.
S: So, finally, when I was 50, I was able to play my best, even though I had stage fright. Didn’t matter anymore. And I said to myself, now I deserve to concentrate on composing and writing. I want to be creative. See, performing is not creative, its re-creative.
S: Right? If you’re an actor–
S: like Ethan Hawke? You did write that Shakespeare play, you’re re-creating it, right?
I: Yeah replaying it.
S: But Ethan happens to be also creative. He writes books. So, I wanted to write and compose so, I stopped playing in public.
I: Mm-hmm. And does that make you feel like you are
monster at the same time human?
S: Monster? No. What do you mean, monster?
I: The magician that to be perfect. To be in the commercial world and has a lot of work to do and you have to show, demonstrate that you are the best.
I: That pressure. So, the magician. You talk about this two, different things right?
S: Yes. Yes.
I: In the film. So when you stop doing those and then when you began to concentrate on composing and writing–
I: do you feel like you are–one integrated man of integrity? Or-
S: Then I–then I felt liberated and happy for the first time. And idealistic and here I am 90, right? Now I play better than I ever did.
S: I think so. I tell everybody, don’t believe older people when they tell you that old age is terrible.
S: For me, it’s the beginning of life.
S: I’m starting to do things now that I never did before.
S: In certain ways of playing.
S: In understanding. Just recently, I composed a piece for a famous guitarist. I haven’t composed for years now and suddenly I say, this is amazing!
I don’t know where this comes from.
S: But anyway, but, what’s happening about playing the piano, I’m sensing that I’m able to do certina things that I never felt possible about. And I’m 90. Isnt that strange?
I: It is. It is, yeah.
S: I don’t know where–I think it comes from ones genes, frankly.
I think I’m just fortunate to have good genes. I got it from my mother. She lived to 92.
I: Oh. Your father, in the film, mentioned that I have three daughters and one pianist.
S: That’s –laughing].
I: Where is that coming from?
S: He was a business man.
S: and I think that he was very unhappy that his son was going to be
musician. And his only son wasn’t going to go into business with him.
I: Oh that’s weird.
S: I think he was very unhappy.
I: Hm. But he didn’t know what’s coming out of your career and all those things, right?
S: Eventually, he must have been very proud of me. I would suppose so.
I: Mm-hmm. You mention about the conflicts
its your experience and it’s your thinking unpredictability of the social world and the different aspect of the music. Do you still see that? Do you still think that that’s the case?
S: Oh definitely.
I: So much of our unpredictability in the social world, including, you know, the careers in musician, you know. And–but you see harmony, predictability and trust
in music. Do you still see that is the case?
S: More than ever.
I: Hm. Do you really see that there is no predictability in the world of music?
S: Here’s something interesting,
S: You know, I mentioned Alexander Brailowsky,
I: Yes. Yeah.
S: He had a wife, her name was Ella. She was a pretty horrible person.
S: she made the statement that sums it all up, this is what she told me, the trouble with music is, that it was never meant to be a business.
I: Hm. Is that–
S: Music didn’t come into this world to be made
into a business. Music came into this world to teach people how to be human to express themselves in the deepest way. To be disciplined. To be elevated. And to pass it onto other people. That’s what music is supposed to do. When
managers came along and sold performers on the open market like they were objects, then everything deteriorated.
S: and so I experienced that, hated it. I hated my managers. I never trust anybody when they make their living off of the talent of other people.
They’re like vampires, right?
S: And–and I hated the commercial world. And I hated the producer of RCA records, who heard my performance in Tully Hall and said to me, I don’t have to tell you how marvelously you play, but, you know artistry doesn’t sell records.
S: I said really?
hat does sell records? Well, he said, we’ll give you a contract if you record all of the Rachmaninoff Etudes-tableaux. I said, I don’t want to play all of the Etudes-tableaux. Well then we can’t give you a contract. I said alright, goodbye.
S: That’s it. See? Commercial.
I : And this is your translucent dorm stayed here more than 60 years.
I be that if you were interested in, you could live in a real mansion, right? With how many rooms and how many beds and so on. But you still keeping that sofa bed.
S: Well, you know, I had a patroness and she gave me a 10 room Tudor mansion. And I– and one year later, I walked out and left it all behind.
S: Mildred Boos.
Yes. I left it all.
I: That must be a kind of was it difficult decision or easy decision to get out of there?
S: Very easy.
I: Very easy. Uh-huh.
S: Very easy. You know, when you’re truthful to yourself, decisions are very easy. It makes–when you’re dishonest with yourself it makes you miserable.
S: It could even make you sick.
Could cause blood pressure and all kinds of trouble. So, anything that has ever been disturbing to me personally, I always got rid of it.
I: Hm. That’s a courage too. Because many people are actually afraid of that.
S: If you–sometimes it means giving up security.
S: I gave up security.
I: Yeah sh–I mean, she was–
was it good will from her, right?
S: She meant very good for me. She only wanted to help me.
I: Right. But you gave up like that?
S: I did.
S: That’s her piano.
I: That’s her piano?
S: That was in the mansion. This piano.
I: And she gave it to you?
S: So, my book is like a–[laughing] it’s like a fairytale.
S: My–my life. Is like a fairytale.
S: And that’s why I wrote a book about it. I thought it’s so interesting. I don’t know of anybody that has had so many varied experiences, like this.
I: Mm-hmm. I am the president of Korean War Legacy Foundation and I believe that there are some universal teaching out of this Korean War experience. You went the country that you never knew before.
That was in the–under the threat of communist expansion and that country came beautifully out of this misfortune, disaster, total destruction. And now it stands–
S: and look what happened before, with the occupation of Japanese.
S: The Japanese. I met–I met your–your countryman. He told me that their parents
couldn’t learn to speak Japanese. And when the Japanese officials heard anyone not speaking Japanese they shot them. They killed them.
S: So, look what your country, your people had to go through before the Korean War.
I: German did same thing to the
many different countries, including the zoo–
S: That they occupied, yes.
I : Yeah. Jew, but the difference is that they come and say that we did wrong. Japanese has never done that.
S: They never apologized.
I: Never. And still bothering us about this.
S: I know there’s a hatred between the two countries.
I: So, what do you think we have to do?
S: About that?
S: There’s nothing to do.
S: You will– you’ve already done it. You’ve shown that–you know the myth of the Phoenix? When the Phoenix burns itself up
S: And then gets reborn.
S: your country is an example of that. You w–you were destroyed in many ways and you re–you restored everything and–and
surpassed anything that anyone ever imagined. That’s the–the courage of the human spirit. An example of what the human spirit can do. Overcoming all obstacles.
I: The Korean War coverage is just one paragraph.
I: They don’t–they don’t teach anything about modern Korea. So, that’s why we are doing this.
And what would you say to American kids in K-12 about your experience as a Korean War Veteran, but at the same time, as a musician. How–what would you say to them?
S: I already said many times, in Korea I did many times, and also privately here to different interviews. I’ve traveled
a–a–a great part of the world during my career, right? I’ve heard performers from all countries play, students. In all the countries that I’ve played, the most romantic pianists are Koreans. They are the most romantic. They have something inside
that is genetic there’s–Korean musicians are special. They play with the deepest feeling heartbreaking–it’s heartbreaking. There are other musicians–I mean I’m also deeply feeling and I’m not Korean.
S: But, in general, I’m speaking in general, the Korean students are the– among the most
romantic I’ve ever experienced.
S: And that tells me something about the nationality of what’s–what constitutes Korea. There is a–a deep substance there that wants to grow and expand and express something.
I: Could you say, as a
last piece of our interview, to Korean people whatever you want to say to them.
S: Well, I think the Korean people should be extremely proud of what they have accomplished, in the light of what they had to go through. They could have been defeated very easily and remained defeated. But something–the Phoenix is in–the legend of the Phoenix
is in the Korean people. They–it’s a rebirth. A rebirth against all terrible odds.
I: Trans–dome. Translucent dome.
S: Oh I–
I: What is it to you?
S: That’s a protective dome. It’s a psychological fantasy of mine.
S: Yes. Its ju–its around me
All the time. Its like a–a protective dome to keep people out who are going to harm me.
S: My father was one of them.
I : Hm.
S: I look to them as ravens, black birds, they’re pecking at the dome to get at me. They can’t get at me. See, my feeling, and this is just my own personal
Feeling–when people harm you and you’ve had terrible experiences, the war in Korea for example, that was a terrible experience, I don’t believe that you should ever burry terrible experiences.
S: you should keep them where you can look at them, but they can’t touch you. See they’re outside the dome.
There’s all these terrible experiences in the war and this person who tried to harm me. And my father, who wasn’t a very good father. And I can look at all of you, I can see you there, but you cant touch me.
I: That’s how strong that is?
S: That’s how what?
I: Strong and powerful.
S: It’s a protective dome. It’s psychological. You’re a very unusual–I’ve never had any interview ever like the one that you gave me. You are the most–you’re like the Korean musicians.
S: You’re the– deeply sensitive, perceptive, loving,
respectful. The students are very–that’s part of your Korean nature.
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