Tricia Park: exploring music, literature, and Korean and Korean American identity through a Fulbright in South Korea

Tricia Park

By Laura Norton

Tricia is a recent Artist-in-Residence and Lecturer in Chamber Music and Violin and Viola Performance at the University of Chicago. Placing importance on both music and writing in her work and studies, Tricia holds a Bachelor and Master of Music from The Julliard School and an MFA from the Writing Program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She enjoys a diverse career as a violinist, educator, curator, writer, and podcaster.

Tricia’s most recent endeavor has taken her to South Korea where she is working on a Fulbright that connects music and literature to Korean identity. The Fulbright Program provides grants for study and/or research projects in a country outside of the US where grant awardees will work with people from that country to conduct their studies and research. In this interview, Tricia details her Fulbright work and the experiences and perspectives that have guided her in this project. 

Tricia Park in front of a heart sculpture in Korea

What is the focus of your Fulbright and what kinds of researchers and experts are you working with?

For my Fulbright in South Korea, I’m working closely with professors in the fields of English language and literature, contemporary American poetry, ecological literature, translation, cultural anthropology, and Korean language and literature at Sungkyunkwan University, Kangwon National University, and Yonsei University, (including University of Chicago alum and Yonsei Professor, Theodore Jun Yoo); specialists in Korean traditional music; plus Korean and Korean diasporic writers, musicians, and artists, on a project combining music and literature, which examines Korean and Korean American identity and the experience of explicit and implicit bias - as well as invisibility - that East Asians face in the dominant culture.

When did you start to explore the connections between writing and classical music? How has your exploration of this topic influenced different parts of your life? 

While I’ve been playing violin professionally since I was thirteen and am a Juilliard graduate, I started writing more seriously just a few years ago and got my MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2019. My MFA experience was amazing and gave me the chance to deepen my writing practice. In my program, I met writers and artists and makers who were not only comfortable with crossing disciplines and genres, but actively sought out ways to collaborate and explore well outside of their primary practices. I found this really inspiring and as a result, I think I’ve become braver about thinking outside of the box. I’ve found that this has also changed my approaches to teaching. I try to encourage my students to imagine how they can contribute musically and creatively in ways that blend and honor their unique gifts and talents as a whole person. 

Listen to Tricia talk about how creative writing has made her a better musician in episode 37 of her podcast, Is it Recess Yet? where she announced her Fulbright Award in February.

How does classical music tie into your experience as a Korean American woman? What connections are you exploring in your Fulbright project?

I think we’re in an interesting moment where the experiences of Asians and Asian Americans are finally being validated to some extent in the dominant culture. I sincerely hope that this is the beginning of real awareness (and not just a passing news cycle) of the experiences of racism, microaggressions, and bias--both explicit and implicit--that Asians and Asian Americans face both in Western classical music and within the society at large. The opportunity to discover my ancestral homeland in South Korea through the Fulbright program is profoundly significant to me. This is the first time I’ve ever lived here and I am excited to learn and explore Korean traditional music, various Korean literary hubs (including the cities of Bucheon and Wonju, both of which are UNESCO Cities of Literature), and connect with Korean artists, writers, and musicians whose work, ranging from Western classical to Korean traditional to jazz, crosses genres and contains an exciting variety of hybrids and possibilities. 

Listen to Tricia recite a Korean Translation of William Shakespeare's Sonnet 43.

Tricia Park in front of a pond in Korea

What does curiosity and creativity mean to you?

The ability to be curious is a practice and it takes courage. Curiosity is a natural state for all of us at some point in our lives, usually when we are children or just starting to learn something new. However, as we grow older and/or more masterful, I think it can get more difficult to maintain that curiosity because with higher stakes comes higher expectations. The practice of creativity requires us to be open to failure, which is difficult because we live in systems that don’t really allow for failure. For me, curiosity and creativity go hand in hand. Curiosity is the ingredient that allows us to fail gracefully. If we can get curious about our experiments (rather than judgmental, which is the trap many of us fall into), we can stay open to possibilities and therefore, keep the door open to discovering new things and becoming more fully ourselves.  

What are some of your favorite connections that other writers or musicians have made between literature and music in their work?

I’m keen to experience non-Western traditions that connect literature and music. Originating in the 17th century, pansori is a Korean storytelling tradition that combines long form narrative with music. I’m eager to hear live concert performances of pansori while I’m here and I’m also taking lessons on the janggu, one of the many percussion instruments that form the foundation of much of Korean traditional music. I’m so excited to have this chance to explore, for the first time, the non-Western music of my heritage. 

Hear more of Tricia’s thoughts on creativity and curiosity in this radio interview, Life Abroad.”

Head over to Tricia’s blog to stay updated on her Fulbright work in South Korea and to see other insights into her life as a musician and writer.