This collaborative project with YoungKyoung is a set of variations based on “Arirang,” which is a folk tune that is close to every Korean’s heart. In order to make something more elaborate out of this simple, pentatonic tune, I decided to write variations that are quite distant from the original tune. Each of them highlight different characteristics of Arirang; for example, the first variation introduces the five notes of the scale in the order that they appear in the original folk tune; the fourth one, the longest and the most chromatic, is based on a diminished version of a pentatonic scale. The original tune is finally revealed at the very end with luscious harmonies.

The meaning of the word “Arirang” remains unclear to this day. There are many theories about it; some say that it means the biggest mountain in the city, some say it means farewell, and some say it doesn’t mean anything. Whatever it means, Arirang to me means resilience and perseverance that my people have shown for centuries in the times of war, colonization, financial crisis and national tragedy. This piece is my homage to the folk tune that has seen Korea through the centuries of hardship and to the people that survived through it.

“Variations on Arirang” was written in February, 2019 for YoungKyoung Lee.

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