Lutherans in Minnesota

Soprano Mikyoung Park lifts her voice

Classical musician gives back to the community through benefit events

When Mikyoung Park raises her lyric soprano voice in song and sees tears in listeners’ eyes, she knows she’s doing God’s work.

Park didn’t fully understand in the beginning. When she sang “I Come to the Garden Alone” at a church in South Korea, she was a new Christian and didn’t grasp the meaning of the hymn.

That was long ago. Park, now age 42, holds a Ph.D. in voice, is still a student, a trainer of musicians, a mother, and a wife. She lives in Arden Hills with her husband and two children, organizes benefit concerts for Luther Seminary’s international students, and helps with ELCA music events.

Mikyoung Park (blue dress) with members of her ensemble at the “Love All Around the World” concert at Luther Seminary in 2011. Photo provided by Mikyoung Park

Her talents are extraordinary but her experience bespeaks a question every active Christian faces: There is so much to do. Where do I start?

Giving back to Luther Sem

Park’s third “Love All Around the World” concert to benefit Luther Seminary’s international students is set for 6:30 p.m. on May 12 in Luther’s Olson Campus Center. Park and other classically trained musicians have donated time to rehearse and perform.

The concert is open to the public and free. The seminary suggests a donation to support its International Student Scholarship Fund.

Park, already a doctor of music, now is a master of divinity student at Luther Seminary. She already holds a 2009 master of sacred music degree from Luther. Her husband, Joshua Choi, is a 2008 Luther Seminary master of theology grad. Aid from Luther’s international student fund has covered nearly the entire cost of their studies at the seminary.

So now Park is paying it back in her own way — by singing. Funding for international students comes primarily from Luther Seminary donors, but Park’s benefit concerts help. (The seminary doesn’t publicize the breakout.)

Luther Seminary’s international program expects students it funds to return to their home countries as church workers. Of the seminary’s 800 students, 73 are international, 30 of them Lutherans. International students come from 27 countries, including 13 from South Korea.

Giving back to God

Park, born in Seoul, came to the University of Minnesota in 2000 to study for a doctorate in voice. As a child, her parents had “made space for us to only study,” she says of herself and her three siblings. Her choice for that study time? “I stayed at home, read books, and played piano,” she says.

She began attending church as a 20-year-old college junior in South Korea. In the United States, she sang for other benefit concerts before starting to arrange her own at Luther. Singing, she says, is “the gift from God to me.”

Mikyoung Park

Park began attending church as a 20-year-old college junior in South Korea. In the United States, she sang for other benefit concerts before starting to arrange her own at Luther.

Aside from a great set of pipes, Park is a “wonderful person at identifying gifts and calling them out” in others, says Elizabeth Flomo, project coordinator for cross-cultural education at Luther Seminary’s Global Mission Institute. “She’s living out her gifts and skills and passions. She can seem as busy as the world, but it nurtures her.”

Of course, each day has only 24 hours. “How does she discern what to become involved with?” Flomo wonders.

Park wonders too. She does a lot: preparing musicians for the ELCA’s Global Mission Gathering, interning at Redeemer Lutheran in North Minneapolis.

In 2011, Park launched Redeemer’s Music Academy for low-income kids who can’t afford music education. Some can’t even practice at home because they don’t have keyboards, Park notes. She is the Academy’s education director, and also helps with Redeemer’s Sunday school and Wednesday evening programs.

Studies. Church work. Family. “Sometimes,” Park confesses, “I feel I lost my identity as a singer and I ask ‘Who am I?’”

Part of her discernment process is deciding whether to use her pending master of divinity degree to become a pastor. As a part-time student, she may finish at Luther Seminary in two years.

Back in Seoul, her family wasn’t Christian. When Park began attending church as a college junior, someone recognized her musical gift and asked her to sing a solo for church. A friend suggested “I Come to the Garden Alone.”

Just getting started as a Christian, Park didn’t fully know what the hymn meant. Yet people loved it when she sang.

The harvest is always plentiful, the workers always few. How do we know where to start? Even as we ask that question, the Spirit moves where it will — and it often moves in song. Remember Paul and Silas in prison (Acts 16)? So, when in doubt about what to do — should we just sing a new song, even if we don’t know exactly what it means?

More about music …

* More about the May 12 concert with Mikyoung Park and other performers is available at this website: www.luthersem.edu/gmi (and click “Activities and Events”).

* A version of “I Come to the Garden Alone” by gospel great Mahalia Jackson, a contralto who died in 1972, is available at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=_2eSfKqMRbA

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