Join us on February 11 to experience the World Premiere of Herdsman and Weaver, by Kristine Choi, the second annual Student Composition Competition winner! We invite you to read more about the piece and about Kristine’s motivations for writing it.
“Herdsman and Weaver” depicts an ancient Chinese tale through the use of Korean descriptive onomatopoeias. The story is of the hopeless and deep love of a couple separated by a curse that places them on opposite sides of the Milky Way (described as “Celestial River” in the story), with a chance to meet only once a year when the stars align. The song is set during their expected annual encounter, when they realize their way is blocked by debris in the river, preventing them from meeting. The couple cry in heartbreak, but their weeping is heard by birds down on Earth. Moved by their love, the birds decide to fly up and together create a bridge for them to cross and meet. In each subsequent year during the couple’s annual encounter, the birds assemble to form this bridge of love to bring them together.
This annual reunion day occurs on the seventh day of the seventh month in the Lunar Calendar. The story is inspired by the movements of two stars we normally observe on this day, becoming a symbol of the couple meeting in the sky. Based on this legend, during this day, the three East Asian countries hold their own festival in honour of lovers who pine for each other: the Gyeonu and Jingnyeo Festival in Korea, the Qixi Festival in China and the Tanabata Festival in Japan. In Korea, this event draws couples and families and heartens them to confess their affection to those dear to them and appreciate each other’s presence and for not being separated by an obstacle for a long time just as the two lovers were.
Interview with Kristine Choi
What was it about the tale of the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl that inspired you to create this work?
The ancient Korean and Chinese tale of the “Herdsman and the Weaver” was one of my favourite childhood stories that I would read over and over. This story stood out among other tales that had the conventional ‘happily ever after’ ending. I remember at the time feeling heartbroken imagining the birds losing their feathers from supporting the weight of the lovers with their heads and empathizing with the lovers’ sadness as they are separated from one another. When I was informed that the theme of this concert was love, somehow I recalled this story. I initially decided to base my piece off it because it reflects my experience of distant love with my significant other and got further drawn to it because it also pays homage to my Asian cultural identity.
I was in a long distance relationship with my partner for two years, also only able to reunite twice a year. Coming to revisit this story, rather than focus on the tragedy of the lovers’ circumstances, I instead saw the strength of their love and the beauty of their reunification. Although my partner and I have since closed the gap, I recall our scarce reunifications as moments filled with promise and reassurance of our love. Although there were times of loneliness and sadness, during the time we were physically apart, the excitement and anticipation of our reunions were unforgettable parts of the journey. While the feeling of reuniting with a loved one can hardly be expressed with words, hopefully my attempt to do so through this piece can be more audible.
The English language is no stranger to onomatopoeia … woof, meow, etc, but what is it about Korean descriptive onomatopoeia that made you choose to tell this story in this way?
The onomatopoeia words I chose are actually rarely used nowadays in Korea because they come from an older Korean dialect. Though, I feel a sense of intimacy with this older language because it reminds me of the time I spent with my grandparents as a child. Whenever my mom and my grandparents described something, they would use onomatopoeia that only exists in this dialect. These memories make such words affectionate and special to me. I also thought that composing the text using these descriptive onomatopoeia would be a great way to make the poetic imagery of this story more approachable. Using older language in describing the story, I believed, was also quite appropriate for its timing.
What will your non-Korean speaking audience experience when listening to a performance of this work?
I hope that my non-Korean speaking audience will be able to look back on a time where they were pining for someone they loved. For those who did not have the experience, I hope that it will be a time for them to think about and appreciate a beloved one, regardless of whether this person is a family member, partner, or dear friend.
Buy tickets at phoenixchoir.com/concerts