I wasn't a regular viewer of KBS's Bulhu-e Myeonggok (불후의 명곡, "The Immortal Songs) but lately, I started watching it regularly to see Sunggyu (of Infinite) and Hong Gyeongmin, who I think is one of the most underrated singers in Korea. And it was a pleasant surprise that I stumbled upon Cha Jiyeon while watching the show yesterday. Cha is a musical theater actress and singer – she’s also a Pansori singer. She made her debut playing the role of Rafiki in "The Lion King" in 2007 and some of her previous musical theater credits include: Maria in Maria, Maria (2007), Effie White in Dreamgirls (2009), Misil in Queen Seondeok (2010), Mercedes in Monte Cristo (2010~2011), and Songhwa in Seopyeonje (2010, 2012). She won the best new female actress at the 2010 Korea Musical Awards and the best female leading actress at the 2011 Musical Awards, both for her role in Seopyeonje. Now, let's first watch her perform the finale of Shimcheongga featured in Seopyeonje, as mise en abyme or a play within a play, at the 2011 Musical Awards.
FYI, Shimcheongga is a story about a girl named Shim Cheong and her father, Shim Hakgyu, who was blind. Her mother passed away after giving birth to her. During her infancy, other moms in her neighborhood nursed her; and during her childhood, it was she who cared for her father. She didn’t even bother to beg for food to support him.
One day, a Buddhist monk happened to rescue her father from a ditch. There Mr. Shim was told that if he offered three hundred sacks (approx. 60 tons) of rice to Buddha, his eyes could see. On impulse, he ended up promising to make an offering. When Cheong discovered his secret, she willingly sold herself for three hundred sacks of rice as a virgin sacrifice to the Dragon King of the Sea. The Dragon King of the Sea was moved by her love for her father so deeply that he ordered to put her in a giant lotus flower and sent her back to the human world alive.
Cheong, still in the lotus flower, was taken to the King’s palace and the King immediately fell in love with her and married her. When the King heard the story of her life, he suggested that she throw a great banquet for all the blind men of the kingdom in hopes of finding her father. When Mr. Shim came to the Royal banquet, still blind, he was so shocked to know Cheong was still alive that he finally regained his sight.
Cha Jiyeon: Shimcheongga (Finale)
As you just saw her in the video above, Cha is a very talented Pansori singer as she came from a very prestigious family of traditional Korean musicians including her grandfather on mother's side and her uncles and aunties. She revealed on KBS’s “Sketchbook” last year (8/12/2011) that her grandfather on mother's side (the late Park O-yong) was registered as Ingan Muhwajae (인간문화재, “human cultural asset”) for his most sublime Pansori skills. But she said her ultimate dream is to be a successful recording artist. (Click to see her perform and talk on the show.)
Now, here's another video of her singing "And I Am Telling You, I'm Not Going," a torch song from the musical Dreamgirls.
Cha Jiyeon: And I Am Telling You, I'm Not Going (Dreamgirls)
Cha is one of the most critically acclaimed performers of the musical theater, however, it was not until last year when she hit the NAGASU stage with Yim Jaebum (or Yim Jaebeom) that she became known to a much wider audience.
Cha Jiyeon & Yim Jaebeom: An Empty Glass
on MBC's NAGASU (5/8/2011)
The song Cha chose to sing for “The Immortal Songs” is Byeori Jindane (별이 진다네, “A Star Goes Down”) by Travel Sketches, one of the most popular 1989 songs in Korea and my friend Sun’s favorite Noraebang song to sing. The song is the epitome of analog sound and its lyrics are so beautifully written:
English Lyrics: A Star Goes Down
Yesterday, a star went down
and my heart sank.
"A star is just a star."
Everyone tells me so but....
Today, another star is going down,
a beautiful star of mine.
When a star goes down, even the sky weeps.
That's why it keeps raining now.
My longing for you that is gradually soaking my heart
turned into rain tonight and makes me cry again.
When I look back to our beautiful old days,
the love of my heart will come back, it seems.
But as my dream disappears,
only my sadness deepens.
As my star disappears,
only the darkness thickens.
And only the darkness thickens....
Cha Jiyeon exemplifies the true essence of being a singer. Even though she's got a powerhouse voice, her singing is not all about hitting the high notes. When you hear her sing, you'll hear a range and a great sense of dynamics and control. I hope you like her as much as I do and also hope you enjoy the original version as well as her 21st century rendition of the song.
on KBS's "The Immortal Songs" (7/21/2012)
Original Version: Travel Sketches
Byeori Jindane "A Star Goes Down" (1989)