Arts News

Reinterpreting Sanjo

Dr. Soh-Hyun Park Altino’s violin tour brings traditional Korean folk art music to the contemporary stage.

Words: Grant Dutro ’25
Photos: Nah Seungyull

Wheaton College Conservatory of Music Soh Hyun Park Altino Violin Professor

Dr. Soh-Hyun Park Altino

On September 25, the Wheaton College Conservatory of Music presented a concert featuring Dr. Soh-Hyun Park Altino, Associate Professor of Music (Violin), as part of the 2023–2024 Faculty Artist Series.

Altino performed a violin interpretation of sanjo, a style of Korean traditional folk art music. The concert was the first on her five-stop tour, followed by performances at George Washington University, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the University of Michigan, and the University of Washington, which all offer Korean studies programs. The tour was funded by the 2023 Korean Studies Grant of the Academy of Korean Studies and Wheaton College’s Faculty Global Research Award.

Sanjo is a genre of Korean traditional folk art music for a solo melodic instrument, accompanied by an hourglass-shaped drum called janggu. Although sanjo is typically played using traditional Korean instruments, such as the zither ajaeng and the flute taegÅ­m, Altino opted to bring the genre alive through the violin. Sanjo, which literally means “scattered melodies,” consists of several movements of increasing speed built on unique Korean rhythmic patterns called changdan. The solo instrument plays dramatic and expressive melodic phrases that draw from the inflections of spoken Korean.

Altino, who was born in Korea, came to the U.S. at age 16 to pursue further opportunities for her violin studies. Under the tutelage of renowned American violinist Donald Weilerstein, Altino received her bachelor’s, master’s, and doctor of musical arts degrees in violin performance from the Cleveland Institute of Music.

She entered the world of traditional Korean music while studying the kugak (traditional Korean music) elements of “Sanjo for Violin and Piano (1955),” a work by her maternal grandfather, acclaimed composer La Un-Yung. Being a Western-trained violinist, Altino began studying kugak and its musicians to interpret ajaeng sanjo for the violin. She also trained in the Kim Ilgu School of Ajaeng Sanjo with composer-performer Kim Ilgu.

In appreciation of her Korean heritage, Altino hoped to gain a deeper understanding of Korean traditional music and to give sanjo a wider audience through this tour.