Peabody alum composes music for 2018 Olympics

By JAE CHOI | February 22, 2018

Peabody alum and acclaimed South Korean guitarist and film score composer Byeong Woo Lee composed the music for the opening and closing ceremonies of this year’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. 

Lee has composed music for many famous South-Korean movies, including The Host, A Tale of Two Sisters and Mother. In addition to composing film scores, Lee has produced his own albums and composed original video game music. 

Lee was born in Seoul in 1965 and began playing guitar at age 11. He received his graduate performance diploma in guitar from the Peabody Institute in 1998 and earned a second in chamber music in 2000. 

Originally a classical guitarist, Lee received formal classical guitar training in Europe and later began studying at the Peabody Institute. He is the 2010 recipient of the Johns Hopkins University Knowledge For The World Award, which is granted to alumni who have achieved success in their fields. 

Lee described his experiences at Peabody as formative and inspiring. He explained how the rich academic environment allowed him to explore diverse musical avenues, which contributed to his already diverse set of skills as a pop musician, classical guitarist and chamber musician. 

He is particularly thankful for Guitar Department Chair Julian Gray, who was his guitar professor while he was studying at Peabody. 

“As I was attending school, I tried a lot of the things I wanted to do. My colleagues and teachers were a great influence, motivated me and helped me continue to grow in music. I want to encourage people to enjoy that influence,” he said. “I hope that all the students can grow and try new things while in school.”

In writing music for the opening ceremony of the Olympics, Lee said that he sought to capture the emotional effect of the cultural performances and the spirit of the ceremony. 

“The director of the show created a narrative,” he said. “I created the music to amplify the emotional content of the narrative. It is the same with a movie. The music defines the scene.”

According to Lee, the opening ceremony’s themes were balance, peace and harmony. These themes highlighted the mutual decision between North and South Korea to appear as a united team in the opening ceremony. It also referred to the historic handshake between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s younger sister, Kim Yo-jong. 

Kim Yo-jong’s appearance in South Korea marked the first time any member of the ruling Kim dynasty had set foot on South Korean soil since the Korean War. 

Lee composed music for three of the ceremony’s presentations. 

The first presentation was titled “The River of Time” and featured an elderly man singing the traditional Korean song “Arirang.” 

Lee discussed the significance of the song, which is an unofficial national anthem for South Korea. 

“It is about difficult times in our country’s history,” he said. “During the show, you see a boat rise from the stage, and there is buckwheat blossoming by the riverside. It is a story about hope despite difficult storms and tides, and at the end of the show, you can see the Milky Way appear in the sky.”

Lee said that the second presentation, titled “All For the Future,” was a show about South Korea’s future.

“It is about the country’s advances in technology and communication,” he said.

He also composed music for the ceremony’s drone show, which featured 1,218 drones designed by Intel. This show won the Guinness World Record for most unmanned aerial vehicles airborne simultaneously. 

Lee’s music will also play at the closing ceremony scheduled for Feb. 25.

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