Act 9: Whimsically 1
Around the time Jo Yunjae and his friends had gone out to play, there were teachers gathering at a conference room inside the school.
They were the teachers that had been the examiners of the prac test. In addition, the head of an opera company, Han Seungjoo who had been the guest marker showed his face as well making it so that greetings were happening nonstop.
“Hello. Mr Han Seungjoo. Thank you for coming despite your busy schedule.”
“Haha it’s nothing. I had an errand nearby anyway.”
He acted modestly and glanced around before asking with a tilted head.
“By the way, you mentioned that it was related to the marks but… may I ask what it specifically is about?”
“Ah, you see…”
After that, the teacher started a long explanation.
“Our school’s grades for the prac tests are decided by relative evaluation.”
“Ah, I see.”
“Yes. Since it’s such an important exam, it is set in stone as a regulation. You know how the parents of performing art students are strict in managing the marks of their children right?”
With a bitter smile, Han Seungjoo nodded his head. Although he was now the head of an opera company, he himself was from a performing art school so he knew very well how the parents were like.
If they had even the slightest of doubt on their children’s marks, they would promptly chase after it to the bitter end.
‘The competitiveness is way too fierce.’
He clicked his tongue but suddenly he realised that it wasn’t that strange for them to be like that. It was a performing art school they somehow managed their children in through an intense competition but admission was in fact just the beginning.
Theories, concours, pracs…
Only after supporting their children through the line of consecutive competitions could the children enter the universities which only allowed small needles to sneak through. And only then, could they earn enough money by just singing.
The results of the prac tests had significant impacts on the admissions into universities so would they just sit back and relax? If the school marked arbitrarily without following strict regulations, several teachers would have been half-forced to leave from the never-ending protests.
That was why they had a strict regulation when giving marks right…
Thinking up to that point, Han Seungjoo tilted his head. But what issues could there be for them to call an outsider like him again?
Heaving out a sigh, the teacher opened his mouth while staring at Han Seungjoo.
“Let’s see, you are probably aware that the grades go down the alphabet from A+ to C0.”
“Hmm… yes I do.”
“These alphabet grades are decided through a relative evaluation system – by comparing the students to each other. The problem here is that there are too many students with full marks in the opera department.”
“Full marks, is it?”
“Yes. There are exactly 5 people.”
Han Seungjoo abruptly stopped for a bit but soon came to an understanding. Five students with full marks… it wasn’t an impossible thing.
He had sat in various contests as a judge but had never seen a prac test with an extremely high skill cap like this one. If they were to mark them with the original standards of the prac tests, it was inevitable for there to be multiple students with full marks.
‘Especially numbers 6, 7 and 8 were…’
Suddenly, Han Seungjoo closed his eyes and appreciated the flashbacks of their songs he had until the teacher resumed his explanation.
“Giving all 5 of them A+ is impossible according to the regulations. A+ can only be given to at most 10% of the total number of students of that department so the opera department which has 20 students can only have 2 A+s.
Han Seungjoo nodded in understanding.
“…So the reason you called me is to choose two from them.”
“That is the case.”
Then, the teacher took out a bunch of papers which had been pre-prepared and laid them in front of Han Seungjoo.
There were five pieces of paper.
Within those papers that each contained a picture of the respective student were lines written beneath, on the song they sang, their voice type, order and the evaluations of each examiners…
“There is a regulation for when there are multiple students with the same marks and an adjustment is required. The examiners that sat the following prac must gather and mark it a second time, but this time with more care and a stricter guideline to ensure a fair judgment. For now, please do take these documents into account and we will immediately start the second screening.”
After that, seven markers who were then informed about the new marking criteria and rules replayed the prac tests that had been recorded to start a reevaluation. When the screen finished flashing after all five songs had been played, the expressions of the judges turned serene.
“Hmm… this is difficult.”
“Even if we use the new criteria, they would still be full marks.”
“…Can’t we just give all five of them A+?”
When one of the judges gave a complaint, another marker shook his head immediately in response.
“If the opera department is generous in our marks, would other departments stay silent? Even the piano department that has twice more students than the opera doesn’t have five A+s…”
“But it’s not a bad thing for there to be so many talented students right?”
The other judge replied with a bitter smile.
“It’s not bad but it will be a problem. In our Future Arts High with over 300 students, if others became suspicious of a group of twenty students receiving preferential treatment… it’s clear who would come out on top right?”
“But even so…”
Seeing the marker that still couldn’t throw away his lingering reluctance, the teacher opened his mouth with a whisper.
“In the first place, there are a lot of complaints from the Visual Arts and the Dancing Departments these days. They’re saying that because our principal was a conductor, he is caring only about the Music Department. If the opera department was to have a huge number of full marks during this time…”
A heavy silence befell the room.
Since the teachers that had been picked as the markers were all people teaching music at Future Arts High, they somewhat knew the strange atmosphere flowing around recently.
Three different roots despite being grouped under performing art – music, visual art and dancing. Because 150 of the 300 students were from the Music Department, there were quite a lot of events here and there.
There were concerts that would be held periodically as well as the master class and support funds for the concours…
It was impossible for the music teachers to not realise the discomfort that was being portrayed by the teachers and students of the Visual Art and Dancing Departments after all those investments.
“… Then what should we do?”
“We need to pick two, no matter what.”
“But, how? Should we cast lots? They are all great talents that would for sure get an A+ had it been last year!”
“But we still have to pick two!”
Within the group of teachers that were raising their voices, another teacher attempted to mediate them.
“Now, now. Let’s not fight between us. Now that it has come to this, let’s do another evaluation with higher standards. Extremely objectively so that neither the Visual Art nor the Dancing Departments could have any complaints.”
After gathering their heads together, the judges then decided to give the marks by relying on one, definite standard.
“Who has reached the highest level in terms of technique – let’s go with this.”
“…Well, it is the most objective viewpoint I guess.”
Without taking into account subjective standards like expressions and emotions, they decided to evaluate them solely on techniques.
Han Seungjoo who had been watching from the side had a slight change in his expression.
When singing, techniques were obviously very important. The singers first had to reach a certain threshold in terms of techniques to be able to express whatever they desired, however they wanted.
It was something that could be called the foundation of singing.
‘But that’s not all there is to it though…’
Han Seungjoo found this situation to be very regretful.
Talking only about techniques in a song evaluation was no different from talking about how similar a painting was to reality. The techniques that allowed people to draw things exactly like reality was indeed impressive but if that was the case, they could just take a photo; why draw?
Artworks which moved the hearts of the people should never be evaluated just like that though…
‘But it’s not right for an outsider to say this and that.’
He sighed and buried the regretful heart.
It was a shame.
Especially number 7; Jo Yunjae was it? That student was bound to come last according to the new set of standards.
‘The songs he sang were special though.’
Closing his eyes, Han Seungjoo thought back on it – on that moment when he saw the seventh student enter the room while sitting on the seat of the examiners.
Of course, the sixth, eighth, tenth and the fifteenth students’ songs were great as well. If the marks were given purely on technique, the 6th Kim WUju and the 8th Lee Suh-ah would’ve surpassed number 7 while the 10th Han Dasom and the 15th Jun Shihyuk would have been similar to Jo Yunjae.
However, that student called Jo Yunjae was somewhat different.
‘How should I say it…’
When he was singing the first song, ‘Elf King’, there was nothing special.
It was just that it was intriguing. He just thought that changing the vocalisation method during a song was quite a unique talent for a high schooler.
However, the second song was different.
‘In one word, it would be… experienced.’
His eyes were sunken deep.
Having the role to lead the opera company forward, he would always have a few questions asked of him. The standards for picking opera singers, what kind of opera singer was good and when was the prime age of opera singers…
The answers to those questions would vary for people and especially so for the prime age of opera singers but usually, the answer would be something like this.
From the 30’s to 40’s.
That was more so the case for male opera singers who would tend to be evaluated as having reached the prime of their career after reaching the 40s.
It was a lot slower than other fields.
Vocal cords were muscles either way so they were bound to age. Rather than the vocal cords of a forty-year old, the vocal cords of people in their twenties would naturally make clearer sounds. Technique-wise, there was nothing to point out from Kim Wuju who was only a high schooler either.
And yet, there was a reason why the prime age of opera singers was around 40s.
Han Seungjoo defined it as such.
‘Their life experience is different.’
And in addition, the emotions that are embedded from those experiences are different… that was what Han Seungjoo thought.
Emotions shaking the hearts of the listeners – songs moving people.
To sing something like that, the general view on the requirement was an accumulation of 40 years of experience.
‘And yet I could feel that from that student called Jo Yunjae…’
While he was in deep contemplation, the debates inside the conference room were nearing the end.
“Has everyone finished the reevaluations?”
“It’s easy if we’re basing it off of just technique.”
“Well yeah. Kim Wuju sings it perfectly, and is perhaps even better than current professionals… and there was nothing to point out from Lee Suh-ah either. Her expression on the second song was a bit weird though…”
“Jun Shihyuk’s gotten a lot better as well. Although he was good, it wasn’t to this level… did he awaken his talents or something?”
“Han Dasom grew at an instant as well.”
“Then should we announce the results? Let’s go from the last of those five students…”
With his hand touching his chin, Han Seungjoo raised his head up in a flash and said,
“There is something I would like to say.”
After finishing the prac test, we fervently enjoyed our day off.
First, we went straight to a restaurant for a late lunch with the menu being pork belly. Since we used our throat a lot, we should apply some oil on it with meat.
If I could add soju here, it would be the icing on the cake but I decided to hold back since I was still a high schooler.
‘Actually, I shouldn’t drink this time.’
After some thought I nodded my head.
Right. Back when I quit the ensemble and roamed around, I sang half-heartedly and drank but alcohol wasn’t very good on the throat in the first place. I was vowing to myself to limit drinking as much as I could when Chloe diligently eating her meal entered my sight.
On a piece of lettuce, she placed pork, garlic and sauce and threw it inside her mouth at once. She then started chewing with her lips closed and… despite her appearance, she seemed more like a Korean than a native.
“Hey, I think we need a bit more. Should I order more?”
Seeing Chloe nodding nonstop with inflated cheeks, I grinned and raised my hand. It was hard to even talk properly due to the chatter of the surrounding people and the background music.
However, this was what mastering the vocalisation method was for right?
Increasing the space inside my mouth, I laid the foundation for vocalisation and breathed out. When I bellowed ‘Excuse me’ with that voice, the old lady that was at a distance approached quickly to take the order.
“Can we have three more orders of pork belly and a bit more lettuce?”
After ordering, I sat with a satisfied expression when Lee Suh-ah stared at me with a dumbfounded expression.
“There’s a buzzer here so why bother?”
“Ha. A buzzer? Why use such an embarrassing thing? Just call them.”
I saw Lee Suh-ah watching me with a pitying expression and clicked my tongue.
There was the pride of an opera singer. Right? Call them with a buzzer? Why not just casually make a sound when it does the same thing?
After filling our stomachs up, we started going around to play. We entered a cafe for a dessert after which we went bowling.
We just borrowed one lane for all five of us for bowling and Lee Suh-ah was the worst out of everyone. Whenever she threw the ball it would enter the gutter and… according to her, it was because it was her first time.
When I mentioned that it was my first time as well before immediately getting a strike, her expression crumpled which was quite funny.
‘I didn’t say it was my first time including my previous life.’
And after around two games, we went to karaoke.
It might be a little weird considering that we sang at the prac test just now but… singing here was different from singing at school.
The karaoke turned out to be chaotic.
Noh Jusup and Lee Suh-ah had opera singing embedded deeply into their bodies and sang pop songs like opera. Plus, because Chloe was trying to sing with an awkward pronunciation, it didn’t sound like a song and was just cute instead.
In the end, it was Han Dasom and I who held the microphone the most.
“You like ballads a lot.”
Han Dasom’s song after her bashful smile marked the end of the afterparty.
The first semester was finally nearing its end and the only things left to do were the final exams.
With such thoughts, I closed my eyes on the bed of the dorms when the next morning arrived in the blink of an eye. The next day began as another normal school day flew by.
It was a peaceful day like nothing had happened.
Like that, I spent my days while studying for the final exams when suddenly, I realised something strange.
…Why aren’t the results announced yet?