In episode 22 — the seventh of season two of Knights Do That — we speak with Chung Park, director of UCF’s Symphony and Chamber Orchestras and a professor in the College of Arts and Humanities. He shares his breadth of knowledge and deep passion for the arts, music and happiness — yes happiness. He also discusses his gift and passion for teaching, insight on UCF Celebrates the Arts and how you can learn to purposefully integrate music into your life.
Chung Park: So people in the community might not even know that UCF is such a big driver of the arts here but we’re out there, we’re in the community, we’re helping this place grow. We’re helping to articulate a vision for how Orlando can move forward and get onto the world stage as a creative hub. It’s incredible what UCF does.
Alex Cumming: Welcome back to another episode of Knights Do That. Today I’m bringing you an inspiring conversation that I had with Chung Park, who is the director of UCF’s Symphony and Chamber Orchestras. Chung is a professor and conductor at UCF who has a deep passion for the arts, music and happiness. Yes, happiness. You’ll learn all about his gift and passion for teaching, UCF Celebrates the Arts and even learn how music can purposefully play more of a role in your life. I’ll let Chung take it from here.
Chung, thank you so much for joining us. It’s great to have you here to get to sit down and talk.
Chung Park: My pleasure. Thank you for the invite.
Alex Cumming: Celebrates the Arts is something that I’m so excited to be a part of and to get to work with and I mean, I just, even before I was a student here in the acting program, just getting to go and see it. All of those stages are beautiful to perform on, the Walt Disney Stage. The Alexis & Pugh (smaller) Theater. Plus it’s just beautiful in how Orlando really rallies around it all.
Chung Park: Truly a world-class facility and with the addition of the Steinmetz Hall coming online this year and of course the orchestra will be playing there for the first time and I know I’m excited and I know the students are also incredibly excited to play in the new Steinmetz Hall.
Alex Cumming: Oh, I don’t doubt it. All the new theater space that’s coming in.
Chung Park: Yeah. It’s really exciting and we should be able to do pretty much whatever we want now in Orlando. So the future looks really bright here.
Alex Cumming: That’s what I’m hoping for. So Chung, I want to ask you, how has music guided your career and your life to where you are today?
Chung Park: I wouldn’t be here living this incredibly blessed life as a university professor, and it really is a blessing. It’s hard to actually, for me, to describe how grateful I am. That I have the opportunity to get up every day and to do what I love, which is to teach music. I know that not everybody gets to do what they love every day and so I don’t take it for granted. I realize that I’m a very blessed person. If it weren’t for music, I would not have finished high school. I wouldn’t have gone to college. My music teacher was the one person who helped save me from an incredibly chaotic home life. He was the person who was always calling home and asking my mom, “Why wasn’t your son in class today, is he okay?” I also thankfully had an English teacher who did the same thing. And so it’s these people in the humanities, they really care, and I’m not saying that people in the sciences don’t care about their students. But in my case, these two teachers were the ones who really saved me from really from myself.
It gave me an outlet for me to express my emotions. It gave me a sense of direction. It focused me on a path for my future. It kept me around my peers, and I think those things are all really important. I think we’re all now 20 years into social media realizing the kind of deleterious effects that isolation has, especially after COVID. You’re an actor, you can do it by yourself, (but) it’s not as much fun as it is with other people. I don’t think it’s a side dish on the plate of life. I think it’s something that is central to what we do and it is luckily the focus of my life.
Alex Cumming: The comradery is something that in my own experience, as an actor, that’s the whole fun of it. Being around the people who share the common interests with you and getting to create such great art with them and looking back on it and going through the experience. I know a lot of times in the process of theater you’ll get cast based upon how much the director or the people around you just enjoy being in your presence. I’m curious if it extends to the music as well? Where if there is somebody who might be bringing the mood down, do you think that can affect the overall?
Chung Park: Oh, it definitely does. So we like to try to be around positive people as much as we can. I try to recruit a certain kind of student to UCF who understands that we like to work hard, but we like to have fun at the same time. I don’t take myself too seriously, I don’t hold myself to some unreasonable level of perfection and I don’t hold my students to that either. I think that they need to make mistakes. They’re here to figure things out and I’m here to help them do that. We work hard, we have fun and at the end of the day the students do end up improving and a lot of our students go on to really great things. They go into excellent graduate schools, they go on to professional careers, on your side in Broadway, on our side playing in major symphony orchestras, becoming professors at other universities. And so it’s a pretty good formula for staying sane and succeeding at the same.
Alex Cumming: Seeing your students succeed, and all of the ways that you’ve expressed how teachers and education and music changed your life, is that what keeps your passion alive?
Chung Park: That is exactly what keeps my passion alive. Beethoven, and I’m sure he’s rolling over in his grave as I say this, but Beethoven’s not enough for me, not even close. If I just did this just cause I love Beethoven I’d just go home and listen to a recording or bang it out on the piano for myself. The thing that is the most exciting is getting a call from a student saying, “I got a job,” or “Remember that thing that you told me three years ago that I didn’t understand? I understand why you told it to me now,” or “I succeeded because of something that we worked on.” I told my students this and I think they thought it was crazy. But I said, “You know, I’m not really in the music business. I’m in the happiness business,” and they said, “What do you mean?” I said, “If you get better and you succeed, then you’re happy and if you’re happy, then I’m happy.” You know, there’s so much noise out there right now. So I try to boil things down to the simplest most fundamental points possible and that’s really how I view myself as being here to try to enable the happiness of my students.
Alex Cumming: The happiness business is just on the degree, it says.
Chung Park: Yeah. UCF degree in happiness.
Alex Cumming: Bachelor of fine happiness.
Chung Park: Oh man, I would love that.
Alex Cumming: At my own university.
Chung Park: So let’s talk to Dr. Cartwright about that.
Alex Cumming: I’m certain he’ll go for it.
Chung Park: Yeah.
Alex Cumming: So being that you’ve been UCF’s Symphony and Chamber Orchestras director since 2015, how have you seen UCF serve as a creative hub here in Central Florida and what have been some of your favorite moments you’ve seen over the years?
Chung Park: Oh my gosh. I think UCF is the main driver of creative activity in Central Florida. First of all, we’re putting out incredible artists, visual artists, people in theater, musicians. We’re producing the next generation of artists right here, sending them out into the community. So many of them stay here. So many of them end up at Disney and Universal creating all of these incredible multimedia experiences. So for me, that is, that’s the main way that we generate this incredible energy. The other thing that we do, though, is that we have really great partnerships with organizations, like Shakes, with the Orlando Philharmonic. And we’re supporting them and we are getting out into the community, that way I know there’s a big sign at the Shakes that says that they’re a UCF partner. I bet a lot of people don’t even, they don’t pay attention to it. They don’t know that it’s there. So people in the community might not even know that UCF is such a big driver of the arts here, but we’re out there, we’re in the community, we’re helping this place grow, we’re helping to articulate a vision for how Orlando can move forward and get onto the world stage as a creative hub, and it’s incredible what UCF does.
Most all the shows at the Orlando Shakes, they’ll begin by saying, “Welcome to the Orlando Shakes in partnership with UCF.” The Orlando shakes is such an incredible theater, and the Orlando Philharmonic is such an incredible space. So I’m so thankful that we have such great personal and close connections with these places that people might underestimate. Just how incredible the work that we do here is. But even in the high school area, I’m from Orlando and we knew about how great UCF Theater and the music programs were and band kids in my high school wanted to go to UCF. Theater kids wanted to go to UCF because they knew of the prestige and the quality and how great it was to be an art student here.
Yeah, UCF isn’t just talking the talk. They’re walking the walk they’re in the community. Faculty members are putting time and energy and blood, sweat and tears into making Orlando better.
Alex Cumming: Oh yeah and the alumni become some of the greatest ambassadors for the university.
Chung Park: Absolutely.
Alex Cumming: They say, “Where’d they go to school?” “UCF, Orlando with the thriving arts scene and it’s good stuff.”
Chung Park: It is.
Alex Cumming: So with UCF Celebrates the Arts coming up from April 5th to the 16th. What pieces are you looking forward to the most and being involved with?
Chung Park: Again, you know, UCF for a long time it called itself the collaboration university and I’m really looking forward to collaborating. We’ve got an incredible collaboration actually with some students from right here in this building where we are doing an animated movie that the orchestra is accompanying with live music of the second movement of the Beethoven Sixth Symphony. I wrote a little story to go along with it and they took my little story, my modest humble little story, animation MFA animation students did, and turned it into this beautiful visually stunning animated movie. I’m incredibly excited to share that with the community and the orchestra’s really looking forward to having their own kind of Fantasia moment where they’re getting to play along with a movie. And then on the second half, we’re playing Oceana, which is also accompanied by a movie and this is a movie that is bringing to our attention the issue of noise in the oceans and the way that it affects sea life. So there’s tons of underwater photography. Annie Crawley is an incredible underwater photographer, a world-renown underwater photographer. And the music is by our own Stella Sung, who is the director of CREATE downtown, and she’s a fantastic composer. Her work’s been played by major orchestras, like the national symphony. And so we’re really looking forward to that and there’s a cool VR component, which I’m not really, I don’t know that much about, but I know there’s some kind of VR component going on there. And there’s also an app I don’t want to, you know, give away spoilers, so I’m not going to say what the apps for. But if you com download the OCN app you will actually get to be part of the performance if you have this app. I’m also looking forward to meeting with Lidia Bastianich, the famous Italian chef, who is, my gosh, she’s just a giant in the field. I don’t know if you’ve been to New York or Chicago and have been to Eataly?
Alex Cumming: Yes, I was at Eataly Chicago right before COVID.
Chung Park: Isn’t it unreal?
Alex Cumming: It’s outstanding. It’s massive and you could spend hours in there. It’s like a Toys “R” Us of food.
Chung Park: I know, exactly. I mean, for me, pearly gates and marble, that might be heaven for some people, well for me Eataly is heaven. So that’s where I hope to go when I die. The place is just incredible and Lidia Bastianich is one of the people, one of the driving forces behind Eataly, and she’s, you know, on PBS and she’s got incredible books. And I’m reading one of her books now about her journey to America, which is just, it’s incredible. It’s filled with lots of harrowing stories. She’s one of my heroes and I get to turn the tables on what’s going on here, and I’m going to get to interview her. She’s going to be here for a talk and a book signing. So I’m really looking forward to that and it just goes to show you the breadth of what’s going on at celebrates. It’s not just about music. It’s not just about theater. We’ve got other stuff going in and it shows the holistic nature of everything we do.
I don’t think we can, at the end of the day, I don’t think we can separate anything. And this is one of the things that our Dean Moore has really, really been a champion for is these collaborations that bring together people from different disciplines, where you might think, “Oh how is a physicist going to work with a symphony orchestra?” And he’s found a way to do that and in a really effective way that’s genuine and not cheesy. And they found ways to make all this work. It brings us together as a community and it shows us as this holistic organism and I just think that’s where we need to be going as a human race now, I think. Yeah, I agree.
How about this for a food metaphor? It’s like when you’re putting together interesting combinations of flavors when you’re cooking. It’s like when you take the interesting combinations of different disciplines here at the university and combine them. How can they make something new, like you said, how can people from physics and people from the music department or from the visual arts department, how can they combine to make something? Because there’s so many great students here at UCF who knows just what two miscellaneous people could come together and just change the way that we view either of their disciplines.
Right. Then we get into this really wonderful virtuous cycle. We’re helping each other and then at the end of the day the sum is greater than the parts. That’s where we want to be, I think, and I think that’s what UCF is. That’s what UCF stands for.
Alex Cumming: Oh, no doubt. Now you got me thinking about Eataly. Man, that place is awesome. Highly recommended.
Chung Park: It’s incredible.
Alex Cumming: I want to move to the work that you’re doing outside of UCF. You’re involved as an education coordinator for A Gift for Music. You also work with children throughout Orlando with the Elementary Strings Program. How did you get involved with these areas and how does that continue to drive your passion?
Chung Park: Well, it’s a thing that for me it comes from deep within because, like I said, music saved me. Playing the violin was my entry into music and the reason I got into teaching is because I saw teaching as a way that I could help drive upward social mobility. It’s a simple thought that hasn’t translated necessarily into as simple as series of actions, but I still maintain my idealism, I think, sometimes annoyingly so. And A Gift for Music, when the position opened five years ago and they asked me to do it, I said, “Oh, yes, for sure. I’ll do it.” A Gift For Music brings string education, music education to students in Title I schools across Orlando. And on Saturday we’ve got a program that brings the most enthusiastic of those kids together to have a conservatory-like experience on the weekends. I’m sad to say this is my last year with them. I’m handing the reins over to my esteemed colleague, Michael Simpson, but hopefully I’ve left the organization in a better position than it was when I started and very much hope that it continues to grow because it’s served hundreds of students over 20 years. Almost everybody who has been through the program has matriculated in college. All the numbers show if you go to college, even a little bit, you will have a higher quality of life than if you didn’t. The program is really, really succeeding in that way and I’ll be looking at it from a distance. But I’ll be rooting for it, and I’ll be helping it out as much as I can. It’s another one of these real treasures in Orlando and UCF is involved in that. They gave me some flex time to go and work with them. They’ve provided other kinds of support to the program. Also the entire teaching staff of A Gift for Music is comprised of UCF alums, UCF students, or UCF faculty. So it gives our students here at UCF a chance to get some teaching experience before they go out and I think it separates our music education program from pretty much any program in the country. During COVID a lot of students couldn’t go into the field to do their student teaching. We had several students who had gone through A Gift for Music and they had literally hundreds of hours of teaching experience before the shutdown and now they’re teaching in the field now and everything that they’re dealing with right now, they’ve already seen. They’re graduating from school and they’re essentially third or fourth year teachers already. So it’s just been a great partnership both ways, these kinds of mutually beneficial things. These are these are the things that I really love. So it’s been great and I hope it continues that way.
Alex Cumming: And it goes to reinforce that Orlando is such a great cultural hub for the arts. I hope that it guides these young students to see the beauty and the possibilities of where music can take them. Almost anywhere that they want to be in life. Their passion can be in so many amazing works of art and Orlando is such a great place to be able to do that.
Chung Park: Yeah, for a lot of these students, these students from at-risk populations. The only thing that keeps them in school is music, it really is. Sometimes chemistry can be a hard sell. Geometry can be a hard sell. But they build these relationships with their orchestra, band and choir teachers. Often these people end up being like surrogate parents, but also the relationships that they build with their peers, they’re lifelong.
Alex Cumming: Do you see them develop the comradery?
Chung Park: Absolutely.
Alex Cumming: Going back to what we said earlier about how important and special it is to have people that you can share your art with —
Chung Park: This might be getting a little bit too deep. So many of the coping mechanisms that we’ve had for hundreds of years, these institutions are going away. Church attendance is down and I don’t know anybody who goes to the Moose Club or the Elks Club or anything like that. I’m sure they exist. and I wish them well. So there’s all of these kinds of venues for people to get together are going away and we’re being split apart and staring into our tiny little phones. And for a lot of these young people, the arts being in theater and doing these programs or doing a play. They get to do something that’s super, super intense together and then at the end of that run they’re full of sweat and they’re crying and all this stuff and they’re just thinking, “Man, we did something really amazing. I pushed myself way beyond what I thought I was capable of and you know what? I succeeded.” And that is a thing that maybe you can get it on the football field, but I mean, not everybody’s cut out to play football. I certainly wasn’t, I’m five, five and 135 pounds soaking wet. This provides an avenue for people who, maybe, are not into athletics or whatever it is, maybe don’t have a church for those people. Music, that classroom being with other students who share a passion, it’s a lifeline.
Alex Cumming: You have to have a lot of trust to perform music with people as a group.
Chung Park: Oh, yeah. That’s a thing you learn, isn’t it?
Alex Cumming: Yeah. You got to, at some point, let go. And in my own case of playing music, it’s like, alright, I’m going to trust the bass player, the drummer, the singer, the rhythm guitarist, the keyboardist, they know their stuff. I know my stuff. I trust them.
Chung Park: And when you’re acting right as well.
Alex Cumming: Oh yeah.
Chung Park: I trust you know your lines.
Alex Cumming: Yeah, I know my lines. You know where you’re going? Here? You’re going over there? All right, I’m going over here.
Chung Park: I try not to draw these kinds of connections because when you draw these connections between the arts and the, quote-unquote, real world. They say, “OK, so that’s preparation for the real world.” I think the arts are a part of the real world, but if you decide not to be a musician or not to be an actor. All of these things that you’ll, that you glean from being on stage have direct transference. I think to a world outside of the arts. You got to trust the person doing your taxes. You got to trust that person.
Alex Cumming: You got to trust your business partner.
Chung Park: Right? Yeah, you got to trust that partner. You got to know how to take a project from beginning to end. You got to have, you have to have a vision. You know, so many things in our world now we don’t have to have vision. But an artist, no matter what level you’re at, if you’re even if your 5-year-old kid learned Twinkle on the violin, you got to have some vision. Otherwise you’re not going to get up in the morning and put that violin in your hands. You got to say in a week, “I’m going to learn how to play Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and I think that’s an important thing for people to have too. Because it instills hope and faith and those are two things that we really need.
Alex Cumming: Optimism.
Chung Park: Exactly.
Alex Cumming: I can vouch learning a song is so rewarding when you get it. When you get it in your fingers, you’re just like, “Oh yes,” and you have that muscle memory and you’re like, “I can’t lose this. I have it in here, I don’t want it to go away.”
Chung Park: Tough at the start though, isn’t it? To get going that first step.
Alex Cumming: Speaking directly from a guitar player point of view, calluses on the tips of your fingers. You got to push through it. Right? So I hear people (say), “I can’t do that.” I’m like, “You got to learn. You got to practice.”
Chung Park: And what a great metaphor. Let’s callus up a little bit, we need a few calluses to get through life, that’s an excellent metaphor.
Alex Cumming: UCF Day of Giving is a celebration of Knight Nation. It’s our chance to bounce, stomp, splash, and cheer for all things black and gold. On April 7th, rally together and show your support by making a firstname.lastname@example.org
The annual UCF Celebrates the Arts is back at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. Events include performances of Shrek the musical, concerts and the new Steinmetz Hall lectures, opera chamber music, visual arts exhibits and more. Join us by visiting arts.ucf.edu/celebrates.
So I read your article on the UCF forum about generations acting as bridges for culture. Can you elaborate on that article for those who have yet to read it?
Chung Park: This is a thing that really drives me, and it all goes back to what I think is the basis for culture. I don’t know, I guess one definition of a culture is being around other people who share memories with you. And so I think on kind of a level of a family, there’s a family culture, right? You say with your siblings, there’s a culture there, “Do you remember when we went on this road trip and you got totally sick and we had to pull over and you threw up on the shoulder of the highway? And that’s all part of the lore of the family. As I say, it’s funny now, these memories good and bad and great Christmas or when you broke your leg or whatever is, — it’s all part of the lore of a family. And I think that kind of writ large, it is the culture of an entire, of a huge population of people. And so it’s these shared memories that are so important.
I read an article about the last member of an indigenous tribe in South America, who spoke a certain language. And I was thinking about classical music and this is the thing that a lot of classical musicians even don’t understand that actually I think actors might understand better, which is not everything is on the page and it doesn’t matter if it’s written by somebody who’s still living, like whether it’s Tony Cushner or by somebody who’s been dead for hundreds of years, like Shakespeare. You guys know that not everything is on the page. You also know that you can’t willy-nilly change the words. But classic musicians, a movement in the ’30s and ’40s and ’50s in this country where there was like, “OK, just play what’s exactly on the page completely objectively and the musical sound like it’s supposed to.” So you know, not to get too inside baseball, but there’s more to the language than what’s on the page. And so I started thinking, once I get my teeth into something like this, I go down so many rabbit holes. I’ve read about these Indian poets who could read these epics that were like just thousands and thousands of words. Sometimes it would take them literally days to get through these and they found that there was very little variation between not just between tellings by the same person, but between tellings of these epics by different people. I was just in awe of the capacity of humanity. I was also thinking what is this culture thing? And coming to the notion that is it’s our shared memory.
And (what) we have to get into the weeds of is there a right or wrong way to do something? That I don’t know, but there is generally a way that people have done these things for a while. One of the analogies that I used with this was actually a food analogy and I said, “So if somebody makes pasta fagioli it’s not like your grandma’s wrong, right? It’s not the right pasta fagioli.” I think Beethoven has to be played a certain way so that it’s recognizable and unfortunately it’s just, it’s not on the page — not all of it anyway. And so I was telling my students that you are the keepers of this memory. You are the keepers of this culture.
Unfortunately, that last indigenous man who died in South America, there’s nobody carry on that memory anymore, that language. And music is a language and when I know I sound like a dinosaur when I say this, but I’ve heard people say, “Google is my memory,” and that frightens me, deeply frightens me. Because once that happens, you can rewrite history. You can literally rewrite history and so I think it has implications far beyond just making sure that we’re playing a Beethoven symphony at the right tempo and so this is something that I think about just in terms of the, of importance to our shared humanity. Music is one of these last great pursuits, activities. Just like theater is where it’s just better if you do without the piece of music in front of you. Where it’s awesome to play stuff that has never been written down. One of the things I’ve gotten into recently is playing old time Appalachian fiddle music and can’t even write it down. You can try, but the notation is literally not sophisticated enough to write down the rhythms correctly in this music. It’s only passed down through a kind of an oral tradition. These things are super durable. Sometimes I, you know, when I’m feeling really salty, I curse Gutenberg. Because all of a sudden we can write all this stuff down and people thought we don’t have to keep it in our brains anymore.
But I think the really good stuff is the stuff that we share with each other by talking and by interacting. That’s really what that article was about.
Alex Cumming: I was a very big fan of the article and gave me lots to think about and to touch back on what you were saying about the connection between performing Beethoven objectively and how not everything is on the piece of paper. Isn’t part of culture what we bring to it? With an actor, you could hire me to do this role or you could hire my buddy to do the role, same role, but he has his experiences, I have my experiences. We’re going to come to that differently and I imagine it’d be similar for a musician coming at a piece of music who have different backgrounds, different tastes. They’re going to attack it differently, put their own subjectivity into it.
Chung Park: Oh yeah, it’s exactly the same. You know, and we need to celebrate these different approaches. Talking earlier about trust, if we trust enough in the music then we know that it can stand. It can take the different points of view that this music is going to have as it goes out into infinity. I’m sure that a Hamlet of today is nothing like what Shakespeare saw in the Globe. It’s still Hamlet and Beethoven will be Beethoven 400 years from now. I think it’ll still be vital it just, it keeps it alive. We have to count on the people, and again, sometimes when I’m being salty, I’ll actually put my pointer finger on the score during orchestra rehearsal and I’ll tap on it and I’ll say, “Look, I’m being really annoying and the score is not biting back. It’s not doing anything and then I’ll tell the students it’s not alive without you. It needs you.” So that’s the other part of the culture.
This is something that’s super, super valuable to me. It has literally saved my life and given me a much better life than I ever imagined I could have as a poor kid growing up on the north side of Chicago. I think that it has the power to do the same for many others who are coming from similar circumstances.
Alex Cumming: I love what you’re saying here talking about culture or talking about music because there’s such beautiful crossover between the two.
Chung Park: At the end of the day, I hope that people see that there’s a universality to what we do as actors and musicians. That it’s not a side dish. It’s an extension and an expression of who we are and what makes us human and that it is not some kind of specialized thing that is only done by professionals. What I tell my students is, because we have a ton of non-majors in the orchestra — and I love them, they’re great. They’re super enthusiastic and some of them play well enough to threaten some of the majors’ egos a little bit. Let’s just say we’ve got a really great cohort of non-majors in this orchestra, and I tell them; “OK, you’re going to go off and you’re going to be a rocket scientist at NASA, that’s awesome. But I hope that on Friday nights you’ll get together and play fiddle tunes with your buddies. I hope that when you have children that you’ll play a lullaby for them and keep this live music going this ability to reach people by creating something with your own two hands. I hope you’ll keep this going.” That’s just one of, it’s one of my little dreams.
Alex Cumming: Passing on a memory.
Chung Park: Right, exactly.
Alex Cumming: So how can the everyday person, since we’re here on the topic, introduce more music into their lives purposely.
Chung Park: Oh, there are all sorts of ways. The first thing they need to do is just get over any fear that they have, just get out there and do it. And if you’re an adult beginner, I have some news for you. You’re going to sound really bad when you start. But adults can learn how to do things nearly as well as young people can. These scientists are figuring out that adults have tremendous neuroplasticity. They can learn stuff. They have to do things in different ways, learn things in smaller chunks. They have to be a little bit more organized, going back to that thing of vision. It’s OK if you want to be able to play, Für Elise on the piano, you can do it. It’s going to take you awhile. So play music, sing, even doing karaoke, I think is a way to to have that outlet.
One of the organizations that we haven’t mentioned here in town, it’s just gigantic and awesome and they do incredible things for the community, CFC Arts. They’ve got the nation’s largest amateur choir. You could be completely tone deaf and sing in that choir and nobody would even know there’s so many people around you. Yeah, go and sing with that group, just belt your heart out and sing with them and be around other people who want to create things. Make your own music. I think that’s what I would tell people to do. And there are other instruments that are instruments that like the autoharp, which are geared directly towards amateurs. I played the autoharp a little bit and it is incredibly satisfying to play. it makes a beautiful sound it’s very easy. Pick up an instrument, go and sing, get together on Friday nights. I am, as a competent musician, I am that bad as an actor. |And on Friday nights a group of students and I get together and we read Shakespeare and so sometimes there’s only four or five of us, so we’re several characters.
Alex Cumming: That’s how they used to do it. 10 people doing the whole show, it was crazy.
Chung Park: So yeah, so we had four or five people and there was one really awkward moment where somebody was the father and the daughter at the same time. That was interesting and we’re having fun. Some of the words we have no idea how to pronounce them, but we’re having fun. And I think people can do this in their own living rooms as well with their kids, their neighbors. just go out there. Just read Shakespeare.
I think a lot of people underestimate just how much art is in their day to day life. If you want to get involved you have all these great resources at your disposal. Go out and just grab what you can.
Absolutely, you don’t have to be a professional. You have, I guess, you have to be professional to get paid for it. But you don’t have to be professional to get a professional satisfaction and a job well done.
Alex Cumming: I like that a lot. It’s free to have fun.
Chung Park: Yep. Yeah. That’s for sure. Thank goodness. Hopefully they won’t take that away from us.
Alex Cumming: Not yet. Okay. So what’s some advice that you would give to somebody who wants to do what you do?
Chung Park: There are two things. No. 1 is you want to be as good as possible at your craft because the one thing that really cripples artists, and I’m sure that you’ve dealt with this, I’ve dealt with this. And I know that even people at the very highest level, all of the great composers, all of the great performers they’ve all dealt with. This is self doubt. There is nothing more, corrosive than a lack of confidence. So you want to be as good at your craft as possible. You want it to be bulletproof. You want to prepare for things with the idea that you are going to succeed. That is the first step.
And then the second step is we were talking about this earlier. If you understand the power of networking and how important it is for you to know the right people, then you will always be nice to pretty much everybody that you run into because it just takes one person saying, “Hey, this guy’s a jerk.” And even if you’re not, because I think most people are generally not. We all have our human frailties, but I think we’re all pretty decent people. But be nice, have manners, do things that integrate yourself. And for a long time I thought if I’m good then my work will speak for itself and then I realized that’s a little bit of a “my way or the highway” kind of attitude. And for a while now I’ve been thinking, instead of trying to convince people, why don’t you charm them? Doesn’t always work and you know, I’m a work in progress, but I’m trying. And I tell my students this all the time that your network is your single most important asset after your knowledge base. Those are the two things I would say. And if you’re coming from a place where it’s hard to make a network, like it was for me, I didn’t know anybody, then you have to put yourself in situations where you can meet people who can help you. Don’t be afraid to shoot for that thing that you think is impossible. If I had done that, I would never would have been lucky enough to go to the good schools I went to. I never would have been lucky enough to go to the festivals I went to. And I had support, my mom bless her, really. She just, she worked so hard to put me through school and to pay for those festivals. But those are the things that not only gave me that network, but I was also around people who didn’t have my limits and they were like, “You should do this festival,” or “You should really apply for this school. There was a good teacher there.”
One of the things that I really count is seminal to my growth as a musician, tt was, I spent a semester in Germany. If I hadn’t gone to this school, then I wouldn’t have met this person who had a wife who is teaching at this festival at Germany. I wouldn’t have met this incredible teacher who was a member of the world’s best string quartet and if it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t have learned what I learned and I wouldn’t be here. For me looking back mid career, it’s really easy for me. The lines are so clear going back to where to, to all of the interactions that led to my being here. Be as good as you are, that’s never going to stop the work, it’s still continues. I still consider myself a student and then after that network.
Alex Cumming: A wild domino effect of who you know and who they know and what you’re doing with all your work with young people, you’re setting up networks. You’re building these young students to understand the importance of having people around you and who it is you connect yourself with.
Chung Park: Oh, yeah and I hope that UCF becomes a network I always looked enviously at the networks of people at the University of Michigan. They’re a network unto themselves and other schools like Oberlin, I’ve never met people who are more rabid about their schools (than) in Michigan, people in Overland. And I hope someday that people say, “Geez, these UCF people, man, they’re just driving me crazy. They’ve got this school pride that’s just so annoying.” Also I saw another thing, more of a college football fan than I should be, when Scott Frost left for Nebraska and people were making fun of UCF, go ahead, man. We’re up in your grill now. Obviously.
Alex Cumming: Rent free.
Chung Park: We are in your head and so that’s that kind of stuff. And I hope that it migrates from the football field, into the arts and into engineering and into all the other things in that we are like, if we are America’s most annoying alumni base, I’m fine with that.
Alex Cumming: No problem here. Yeah. It’s one of the things they tell us. The acting program and the theater program is in general, reach out. UCF is one of, if not the fastest growing alumni base and we’re going to be everywhere. We already are everywhere, but we’re going to be everywhere — and then some.
What’s one thing that you’re still hoping to do on a personal and on a professional?
Chung Park: It’s my hope for UCF is that cannot wait to see the hall, on campus performance space get built. I know everybody’s working really hard. I know President Cartwright is very supportive of this. Dean Moore’s, really in a lot of ways, he’s devoted his entire life to this. Our students need a venue to showcase their talent. There’s an incredible amount of talent here. We’ve got incredible students and our students need a showcase and they also need a venue to share this talent with the community, with Orlando. So that we can really be a part of everything that’s going on here and take our place beside the other incredible organizations that are here in Orlando. So that’s what I’m hoping to see. I tell my students in orchestra rehearsal. I say, look, the better you sound, the more of a case that we have for that hall to be built, let’s go out there and earn it. So people are paying attention. My colleagues work incredibly hard. They’re dedicated, they’re talented. They are the reason why these students come here in conjunction with building the hall, just the rising prominence of the arts programs in general, that’s what I hope to see for UCF.
Alex Cumming: I entirely agree. I’d love it if the Central Florida community says, “UCF is doing this, we got to step it up. I want it to have a stamp of this is the standard rest of y’all.”
Chung Park: Right.
Alex Cumming: Step on up.
Chung Park: You’re going to have to pay attention now.
Alex Cumming: Chung, thank you so much for your time. I’ve so enjoyed getting to sit here and chat with you and to get so stoked thinking about what’s to come very soon.
Chung Park: I’m excited. Thank you for asking me to be here. And this is just to the students at UCF. I love you all. You inspire me to get me out of bed every day. You drive me to be a better teacher and a person every day. And I dedicate my life to making your lives better. Thank you for being there. If the students weren’t here, I wouldn’t have a reason to be here. And so you guys give my life purpose. So thank you for that.
Alex Cumming: The seemingly endless creativity here at UCF is so inspiring. As UCF continues to grow so will the amazing output of work from our students. Join us on the next episode of Knights Do That. Where I’ll be speaking with Michael Chiang, the first medical student to also receive a master’s in hospitality in a dual track program. As we chat about his journey as he approaches graduation and how he stays resilient in the face of adversity. I’ll see you then.
Michael Chaing: I think that gets to the heart of what hospitality is, it’s trying to give people who walk through the door the best possible experience. So for me as an ED doc, even on the microscale, it is trying to recognize that people who come in are people who come in an extremely vulnerable place. And when you see them, they not only want you to take care of all of these infinite amount of worries that they have and also address whatever life detrimental situations they might encounter, but also to feel at ease. At the end of the day, regardless of what I’m doing. I can find comfort in the fact that I’m here and I’m saving lives.