Korea’s Orchestra of Dream Celebrates Ten Years with “I Contact”

The Ensemble seeks to connect and inform all people who are committed to ensemble music education for youth empowerment and social change.

Korea’s Orchestra of Dream Celebrates Ten Years with “I Contact”

Yun Hye-bin, Community Education Team, KACES


Performers from four studios across Korea are broadcast live while playing together “on stage.” Photo: KACES.

The Orchestra of Dream is a comprehensive music education program hosted by Korea’s Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism and organized by the Korea Arts & Culture Education Service (KACES). As of this writing, 52 regional centers—núcleos—have been created throughout Korea, with 31 of them operating independently.

To ensure its stable operation, the Orchestra empowers its local núcleos to lead themselves, providing them with tiered funding support based on their years of operation. Any núcleo under three years old is funded entirely by KACES, with that funding percentage decreasing over subsequent years. This encourages local programs to become self-sufficient by year seven, operating without any financial support from KACES by seeking cooperation with local communities.

Our model has also led to enormous growth; some 2,900 students have participated in various Orchestra of Dream programs, with over 60% of youth members coming from underprivileged backgrounds. But musical achievement is not the orchestra’s primary goal—we aim to enhance children’s self-esteem and revitalize cultural communities. Efforts have been made to ensure our programs are accessible to those from all walks of life, especially youth from economically vulnerable, multicultural, or multi-child families. Of course, that cultural revitalization has been made more difficult during the pandemic, and never more so than during our tenth anniversary in 2020.

As the Orchestra of Dream celebrated its tenth anniversary, COVID-19 was sweeping through economies and communities and threatening people’s daily lives. But even as schools closed and classrooms moved online, we remained committed to providing a stage for young people to continue their arts education—relying on constant research to respond to our ever-changing circumstances. Eventually, we hoped to demonstrate this perseverance to our children with a massive celebration concert, showing them that they would always stay connected and grow together.

KACES wrestled with the best way to plan the celebration, an important milestone for us. Ironically, minimizing human contact became the primary mission for a concert designed to bring people together. We eventually came up with the idea of a contactless concert and began putting into action a plan unlike any we had tried before.

The Orchestra of Dream’s Tenth Anniversary Concert, “I CONTACT,” was held in a “non-contact-but-some-contact” format on November 17, 2020. It was broadcast live via KACES’ YouTube channel, featuring a concert hall full of empty seats.

The concert, which took place at the Concert Hall of the Seoul Arts Center, was comprised of three parts. Part I featured 55 orchestra members’ pre-recorded virtual performances, showcased on 60 LED panels; Part II featured a real-time performance, broadcast live from four regional studios across the country; and Part III featured a collaborative performance in which the audience was able to meet the orchestra members over sitting-height LED panels arranged on stage. Considering the circumstances, it was as close as we could get to producing a real orchestra.

LED panels convey the feeling of a live orchestra. Photo: KACES.

How did we do it? We relied on two technological innovations. First, the performance of 55 selected orchestra members had been filmed in advance, with each recording then transposed onto one of 60 LED panels. Members’ actual sitting-height LED panels were set up on the Concert Hall stage at the Seoul Arts Center to create a lifelike, on-stage atmosphere. Since the panels were life-sized, members almost appeared to be physically performing on stage, conveying a feeling of being together that raised the performance’s emotion and energy.

Second, we live-streamed. Since the live performances needed to be transmitted and received in real time through a video platform, our core mission was to eliminate the time delay that might occur during data transmission/reception and to merge the four different videos into one. As the videos from the four participating regions—about 40 members in total—were transmitted to the Concert Hall in Seoul, they were reproduced in sync on stage. The Fragments of Brilliant Dreams, our final performance and the show’s highlight, was miraculously presented in this way.

What made the event extra special was how widely we were able to share it. Henry, a K-pop star and a recognizable face in the “Korean Wave” of popular culture, agreed to join the performance as a collaborator. This was critical to the orchestra, whose leaders had been searching for a way to share their message with a wider audience. Our hope was to portray the children as the heroes and heroines of the Dream stage. When Henry joined the performance as an Honorary Ambassador, playing violin alongside orchestra member Narae Kim (on cello), it received more attention than anyone could have hoped. Suddenly, our young people were placed on the same level as a renowned K-pop star. We were so excited to see videos of the performance go viral on social media—and our youth members were too.

The Orchestra of Dream, which started with just nine núcleos across Korea in 2011, is now marching toward a new decade of growth. And as Covid variants force us all to keep adapting, we know that “non-contact-but-contact” live performances are not yet a thing of the past. Though nothing is better than performing in person on a concert hall’s stage, brilliant technology has made our new normal a bit more palatable. Better yet, it has helped our orchestra reach as many people as possible, as a model for arts education in Korea and sharing its values with the people. Above all, it allows us to be together, and through our togetherness we offer people the hope and courage they need to move forward, step by step, through any adversity.