BT Melodians Steel Orchestra visit to Pyongyang North Korea. 22nd April Spring Friendship Arts Festival

8th – 19th April 2004


 The festival was first introduced 22 years ago and has continued to develop and welcome performers from around the globe. This year 80 groups and soloists representing 46 countries participated. BT Melodians from Battersea performing on steel drums, the national instrument of Trinidad & Tobago, was the UK representative.  Presenting performances to the people of Korea throughout the trip the BT Melodians found the attendees to be curious and impressed with the steel pans (the only instrument of the 21st century) and constant press coverage from both TV and Radio interviews ensured that the people of North Korea were all given the opportunity to be introduced to the wonderful sound of the steel pans.


Performers were split up between 8 concert halls. BT Melodians performed four concerts with 5 other groups and soloists from Vietnam, Ukraine, Spain, India and China. Melodians arrangement of a Korean tune “Song of dear Home written by Kim Il Sung” received the most applause.  The unity and friendships that developed between the groups made performing more enjoyable. To perform on the same stage as the Chinese state Orchestra with accompanying soloists was awesome in itself.


An invitation was accepted by the group to perform for the British Ambassador David Slinn at a reception organised by the British Embassy. This was an opportunity for the BT Melodians to play a wider selection of arrangements than they had been performing at the concerts and the attendees were able to witness the diversity of the steel pan with songs ranging from the Beatles to Swan Lake. So impressed were the locals at the reception that during the performance of “Song of Dear Home” some of the locals joined in and started singing with the band.


The tour also included participation in the Opening Ceremony where all countries represented paraded throughout Pyongyang and were welcomed by crowds anticipated to be of over 100.000 people. At this point it was evident that the people of Pyongyang were also very keen to welcome the festival participants as their gifts of flowers, smiles and cheers to the groups echoed throughout the city


The group was also fortunate to visit the Tower or Juche Idea where recognition is given by all countries in memory of the great leaders contribution through his Juche Idea to his country, and in turn countries who have been inspired through his work.


The Arch of Triumph constructed over 18 months and standing at 170 metres was also a beautiful piece of architecture to view. Constructed by the people of Korea at the point in Pyongyang where Kim Il Sung gave his great speech declaring North Korea to be independent once again and in memory of the 20 years Kim Il Sung left North Korea in his quest to defeat the Japanese and free his people and country.    


A highlight of the tour was a visit to the Kumsusan Memorial Palace where The Great Leader Kim Il Sung is lying in state. To see the legend that is Kim Il Sung and observe the patrimony and grief of the people of N Korea making their pilgrimage to pay their respects was eye opening to say the least.


The 15th of April is a day of celebration for all of North Korean people. This day was the Great Leaders birthday and all the people celebrate his life on this day which is a National Holiday. All participating groups made the trip to lay flowers at his memorial statue in Pyongyang and then over to visit the Native House at Mangyongdae which was Kim Il Sung’s birthplace and family home for generations.


A Banquet was held in the evening at the Peoples Palace of Culture for all participating groups and other dignitaries. The guest of honour was the Prime Minister Following this a celebration was held in Kim Il Sung Square where an estimated 25.000 N Korean dancers danced in celebration to the music of a traditional N Korean band and singers. The BT Melodians joined the dancers at this Soiree and the atmosphere was one of unity and peace for all.


Another highlight for the BT Melodians was the visit to the Mangyongdae  Children s palace where they were able to meet some of the children aspiring to be future performers of both music and dance. A performance by the children following the tour left the group inspired and extremely positive. The children as young as 6 played instruments with such professionalism it was difficult to believe their performing capabilities were live in front of the group.


Press coverage of the BT Melodians was so positive that the festival committee have invited not only the BT Melodians to attend the festival once again next year but also for Leader of the group Terry Noel JP to act as British Liaison person and identify more performers to attend next years festival.


The BT Melodians accepted a Silver Award for their musical arrangement of the theme from Titanic which had been a favourite of the people of N Korea. This award was gratefully received by Terry Noel at the closing ceremony for all groups.


Only too soon the tour came to an end, and it was time to reluctantly leave Pyongyang and the people of N Korea who had made us so very welcome.


The festival was organised with such professionalism and commitment the group look forward to participating hopefully with the full orchestra next year.


Allie Brice

BT Melodians Steel Orchestra 2004


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©2004 Basement Recordings, Inc. All rights reserved.


Date: 04.27.04


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