Attn. Celeste: Deana (Hobby-Mathes) said you were interested in doing a story about our trip when I returned. Here is a little sample of the North Korean part of the trip, and we were in China 6 days as well. I have pasted below an article from a press conference in Atlanta yesterday detailing the reason behind the trip into the DPRK. It was an amazing and historic venture. You can call me at 361-7340 if you are interested in knowing more. Thx!
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Japan Economic Newswire
April 26, 2012 Thursday 10:45 PM GMT
U.S. chorus returns from N. Korea with hope for better bilateral ties
DULUTH Georgia, April 26
Although relations between the U.S. and North Korean governments continue to deteriorate after an April 13 failed rocket launch and a possible upcoming underground nuclear test by North Korea, a Georgia-based chorus and orchestra has hopes for better bilateral ties after recently returning from a performance tour to Pyongyang.
"We even had comments from several (North Korean) people that said they were actually a little scared to interact with the Americans," Global Resource Services Inc. President Robert Springs said in a press conference Thursday in Duluth, Georgia. "But after being with our group, they said, 'Now you are our brothers, our fathers and our grandfathers'."
The Atlanta-based humanitarian group coordinated the cultural exchange in which the 150-member all-male group, Sons of Jubal, performed April 16 and 17 during the Spring Arts Festival in Pyongyang.
Despite being there at a very sensitive time politically due to the recent failed launch, which prompted the U.N. Security Council to adopt a statement on April 16 strongly condemning it as a violation of council resolutions, the group focused on making a positive impact on "people-to-people" relations between the two countries.
Centered around North Korea's April 15 national holiday commemorating its founder Kim Il Sung's birthday, the annual spring festival was larger this year, according to Springs, because of the 100th anniversary of Kim's birth.
As part of the performances, the chorus performed American patriotic songs, religious hymns, Broadway songs and Korean folk songs at Morang Hill Symphony Hall, the home of the North Korean National Symphony Orchestra, which Global Resource Services is hoping to bring to the United States later this year.
"When we sang some of their songs...we were told that it spoke in a significant way to the hearts of the people," Sons of Jubal conductor Jon Duncan said in the press conference. "That linked us."
Duncan said he was moved when at one of the performances, the audience began to hum along while the choir sang the Christian song "Amazing Grace."
Of the groups from 24 countries attending the international spring festival in Pyongyang, Sons of Jubal was the second largest delegation and its performances were so popular that all seats were sold, according to the group.
Along with the performances, the musical group toured the demilitarized zone on the border with South Korea, visited two arts colleges and recorded an English version of a patriotic Korean song for Voice of Korea, North Korea's international radio service.
Springs, who has been to North Korea 64 times, said this trip was different in that he felt the group was given more freedom than in the past and added that the chorus was not asked to change anything with their musical program.
"We sensed a great deal of freedom that I wasn't sure we would have. I think that was earned through trust," Duncan said, adding that they were asked to perform one more time, but were unable to do so due to a tight schedule.
Three years in the making, the visit cost about $1 million, which the chorus raised themselves, and the North Koreans provided hotels, ground transportation, stage crews and the venues to bring the large American group over.
Global Resource Services, which has 15 years of experience in providing humanitarian aid to the reclusive country, hopes this latest trip will be a positive step toward reconciliation between the two nations on a personal level.
"It was nonpolitical, we were there as musicians to build goodwill and friendship with regular citizens and performances," Springs said, noting that it was hard to measure any "significant change" brought on by the new leadership of Kim Jong Un.
On bringing North Korea's national orchestra on a three-city U.S. tour, Global Resource Services recognizes the challenges, especially in light of the failed launch of what was believed to be a long-range ballistic missile, but is hopeful the orchestra will be able to visit Atlanta, New York and Oxford, Mississippi in late summer.
"I have been over there during all three missile launches or satellite launches," Springs said. "As quickly as things changed negatively, they can change positively."