Wonmi Jung, 30, is a South Korean singer and songwriter currently calling Jamaica Plain home. She has an eclectic repertoire encompassing jazz, pop, Korean folk and Brazilian music. A graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music (NEC), Jung has worked alongside musicians like Ran Blake, Dominique Eade, Sunny Kim, Jason Moran and Joe Morris. She was a member of the Jayu Quartet and NEC’s Wildcard Honors Ensemble and has performed at fine arts venues across the U.S. and South Korea.
Gazette was delighted to interview Jung about what it’s like to be a musician living in JP.
Music has always played a big role in Jung’s life. She studied classical and pop singing, sight-reading and music theory as a child in South Korea. After she graduated high school, she reached out to vocalist and composer Sunny Kim to study jazz. It was her first time studying this kind of music and it blew her away. Kim helped Jung build on her vocal techniques with ear-training, arranging, theory, composition and improvisation.
“Without her, I would not be where I am now,” said Jung. “She was the one who introduced me to New England Conservatory of Music, where I shaped a significant part of my musical identity.”
Jung’s parents weren’t always supportive of her decision to pursue music professionally, but after some convincing they eventually came around. Jung first came to the states in 2009 to attend the Musicians Institute in L.A. She came back in 2012 to study jazz at NEC and graduated with a master’s in music in 2018.
Since graduating, Jung has worked as an independent musician while also teaching music to children at KidsArts in JP. She has also been performing concerts in Boston New York and South Korea. Jung has also been focusing on producing her first album, Unspoken Words, which she plans to release by the end of the year.
Influenced not only by music, but by art, poetry and theater, Jung refers to herself as an improviser, building elaborate performance “rituals” with an audience participation element. In 2017, she developed a unique style of performance that involves creating spontaneous songs with words given by audience members. She calls the experience PO-ONG (“embrace” in Korean.)
Most recently, Jung was a featured musician in the Make Music Boston on June 21 in which she engaged listeners at Jamaica Pond in an interactive musical piece called “Stones/Water/Breath/Time”. The environmental and experimental piece by Dean Rosenthal involved participants throwing stones into the water to create layers of sound.
Jung takes her inspiration from nature, and especially trees. Two of her tree-inspired songs “Rooted Feet” and “From Us to Somewhere Else”, composed with fellow JP musician Chase Morris, were performed at Tedx San Diego last year.
Jung enjoys JP for its diverse people and its natural beauty. She can often be found people-watching at Jamaica Pond, especially in the warmer months. She has found a strong community of fellow musicians here. Some of her favorite local musicians include Priya Carlberg, Matt Deligatti, Erez Dessel, Jolee Gorden and Jon Starks.
“JP is a town of musicians and has a lot of musical events,” said Jung. “Naturally, there are house concerts and jam sessions regularly.”
As far as her advice to young musicians out there, Jung said, “Try to focus on your musical hunger. Always question who you are and if you are showing that in your music.”
When she’s not making music, Jung also enjoys painting to music and cooking Korean food for her three housemates.
Jung hopes to return to Korea one day to be around her aging relatives, but she’s in no hurry.
“I enjoy making music here,” she said.
Read more about Wonmi Jung and listen to samples of her music on her website wonmijung.com.