A LaGrange man traveled with a Christian choir to perform in an international music festival in North Korea.
Steve Vickery, minister of music and administration at Western Heights Baptist Church, has been singing with the 150-member all-male chorus and orchestra Sons of Jubal for more than 25 years. The Georgia group consists primarily of ministers of music from Baptist churches.
The group often travels and performs internationally, but this is the first time they have received an invitation to sing in North Korea. The invitation was extended through Global Resource Services, a humanitarian aid program that the Southern Baptist Convention participates in.
“GRS was asked to send someone to the festival and they chose us,” Vickery said. It took about three years to plan the two-week trip.
The group sang in China and then traveled to North Korea for an arts festival that was part of the festivities of the 100th anniversary of Kim Il-Sung’s birthday. Kim Il-Sung is North Korea’s founding father.
Although the group was guaranteed one concert, their popularity carried over to a second invitation to perform while in the capital city Pyongyang.
“We were received warmly and even had an encore. We were told that we’re the only ones that GRS has recommended that has received an encore. That resulted in being invited back the second night,” Vickery said.
The group performed the same concert the next evening for a different crowd. Among the selections were classical, show tunes and religious music.
“All the music had to be submitted and approved before we performed. Everything we submitted was approved,” Vickery said.
The group also toured a college-level music school and a children’s music school.
“The arts are very important in North Korea,” Vickery said. “We saw a full musical children’s program that was phenomenal.”
Vickery and the other members of the chorus paid their own way for the trip. He was willing to do that for the opportunity to travel into a “closed” country.
“You can’t just go to North Korea, you have to be invited. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity,” he said. “GRS has three goals: respect, relationships and reconciliation. We were there as an act of good will, trying to heal through the arts.”