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Korean priest brings gift of song to Japan

Priest wants to share hymns with Japanese people

Father Lee Sang-yun in the recording studio Father Lee Sang-yun in the recording studio
  • ucanews.com special correspondent, Tokyo
  • Japan
  • April 23, 2012
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After four years in the making, Father Dominico Sabio Lee Sang-yun has completed his labor of love: a CD of hymns that brings together some of the best of Korean and Japanese sacred music.

Entitled Present, the album's 16 songs include new compositions by priests and religious sisters, along with arrangements of well known Korean and Japanese favourites. Some of the tracks are presented with separate Korean and Japanese language versions.

There is also an interactive element, as some songs feature a melody-only track for karaoke fans to sing along to.

Fr Lee has been based in Japan for the past five years, having been dispatched to Hiroshima from Pusan, South Korea. It was this move that inspired him to start work on the collection.

“What I felt upon coming here as a missionary is that many don’t have a real sense of being loved by God," he says.

“In Korea there are hymns that really strike a chord, even in the hearts of people who don't follow Christ, and give rise to feelings of tenderness. So I created Present because I wanted to share these hymns with the Japanese people. Each of these songs is an unearned gift from God.”

The production was carried out in Korea, with a willing volunteer group of Catholic artists. Fr Lee also sang on one of the tracks, while in Korea on a short trip.

While keeping up with his daily duties, he oversaw the recording sessions at night via internet video transmissions. "Many times we worked all night long, with me asking for take after take until it sounded right," he says.

For the first run, 2000 CDs have been pressed, with funds coming from a variety of sources: among others, they include Fr Lee's elder brother who is also a priest, an old friend from seminary days and several of the musicians who performed on it. “As Catholics, they want this to be a gift to themselves,” says Fr Lee.

During the four years it took to produce, Fr Lee was diagnosed with cancer. This involved him in some additional struggles, but also made the culmination of his efforts so much sweeter.

“I'm not a musical professional, but I was able to bring this CD to the people of Japan," he says. "So the message I want to send, especially to young people, is if they have something they want to do, I hope they will gather up their courage and give it their best shot.”
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