Korean community brings cultural opportunities for Rochester children

February 10, 2018 GMT

When Brook Jee-in Newmaster lifted up her fans, her students followed suit as part of a Korean traditional performance art on Thursday night at Sunset Terrace Elementary School.

Newmaster, who is originally from Eau Claire, Wis., had taught these classes professionally at Jang-mi Korean Dance and Drum for many years, and wanted to bring this type of opportunity to students in Rochester, where events or educational programming to learn more about the Korean culture was limited.

“Having other people come from a similar background — either they’re Korean, half-Korean, or Korean-adopted, or have parents who are Korean or Korean-adopted — and having families that are similar to yours is enormously comforting to some people,” Newmaster said. “It’s important to have other families who understand.”

Now offered through Rochester Community Education, in partnership with the Rochester Korean Center and Camp Moon Hwa, the class sessions at Sunset Terrace offer families an extra place to go and learn about Korean cultural heritage.

During their class, students learned basic steps and techniques to dance with their custom Korean fans with pink feathers and hand-painted peonies — a symbol of royalty and beauty in traditional Korean culture — that fluttered, somewhat awkwardly at first, as they began to grow accustomed to the routine. They will eventually perform it at a recital in June.

More than just the cultural aspect of learning a performance art, Newmaster wanted students to connect with one another and build a stronger bond with other members of the Korean community, and to have someone to look up to aside from the ones who may appear on the silver screen.

“For younger kids, it’s so important to have role models and representation in the media that reflect our image,” she said. “Having that available to kids where they actually get to know another Korean-American person is a good role model for them, and to feel that connection with and to be able to identify with.”

‘I want him to keep his culture’

Soojin Lee immigrated to the United States from South Korea when her son Daniel was about 3 years old. Despite raising her child as an American, she still wanted him to remember his heritage and where he came from.

“I want (Daniel) to keep his culture,” Lee said. “It’s been a little hard to teach him, but these classes have been good to teach him more.”

After meeting with fellow members of the Korean community in Rochester, Lee still desired to have a connection with others and was linked through Camp Moon Hwa. There, she found that teaching others about Korea was easier through Salmunori, a Korean traditional percussion ensemble.

A professional musician back in Korea, Lee thought hosting classes through Rochester Community Education would link the community with an additional resource.

Students in the class drummed on traditional Janggu drums, and struck Jing and Gwaenggari gongs. Eventually, they’ll learn to play the Buk drums and have a full-fledged ensemble by summer. All levels of experience were welcomed in class, and instructors are seeking more students to join.

The drumming classes will also have three additional sessions and will build up to a recital where students will perform in front of parents, friends and others. The goal, Lee dreams, is to see the children being able to dance and drum in a Rochester community festival.

“We want people to know about the Korean culture,” she said. “To have the children perform in front of people is a good motivation.”

It matters

For Mira Schrandt, 14, a John Marshall High School freshman, these community ed programs teaching her about Korean culture are crucial.

Adopted from South Korea at a young age, Schrandt felt that she didn’t know much about her heritage and the traditions that come with it. However, once she attended Camp Moon Hwa as a camper, she began to explore more about the culture, and to connect with her peers who have experienced life the same way.

“There is such a big population of Korean culture in Rochester, but there just isn’t a lot of opportunity around here (to learn more),” she said. “But, having a community ed program here is so important, and I’m glad there are classes here.”