[Herald Interview] How Old-Fashioned Classical Music Store Pungwoldang Survived Almost 2 Decades

In a corner of Sinsa-dong, in Seoul’s Gangnam district, sits a nearly two-decade-old record store dedicated to classical music.

With a collection of over 200,000 CDs and vinyl records as well as some 3,000 books on the world’s greatest musicians and music history, the store – Pungwoldang – is no ordinary store. It is a salon, a school and a publishing house for classical music enthusiasts and musicians.

But above all, owner Park Jong-ho, 62, wants it to be a place where people come looking for great music, especially in the era of digital distribution.

“I’ve been a classical music lover since I was a kid, and I thought someone should maintain a place where people can enjoy music,” he said in an interview with The Korea Herald at his outlet. .

Before opening Pungwoldang in 2003, he was a psychiatrist.

In 2003 alone, some 3,000 record stores closed across South Korea as online shopping and MP3 music distribution changed the way people consumed music.

For Park, the change in media and ways to enjoy music doesn’t matter much, although CDs and vinyl are considered analog compared to convenient digital streaming services.

“The most important thing is the content – classical music, which itself exerts a powerful influence on human beings,” he said.

Instead of waiting to be swept away by the wave of digital disruption, Park has laid out a business strategy to help customers dive deep into classical music and maximize the enjoyment of listening to music.

As part of his strategy, Park and four music experts began giving occasional lectures on composers, pieces of music, and history, philosophy, literature, and messages. The sessions have now been moved online following the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a small concert hall located on the second floor of the shop, musicians organize showcases from time to time.

Pungwoldang has published around 60 books under its own imprint, including Park’s 2021 book “For Those of You New to Classical Music”, which has sold over 10,000 copies.

“The system is designed to create synergy. You buy a book if you don’t understand what the music is about. If you attend a class, you want to listen to more music than you learned in class, so you buy another record,” he said.
Breaking down misperceptions about classical music is also necessary for beginners, Park said.

Some people think that classical music is an art for the upper class, but it’s quite the opposite.

“Key composers were those who were marginalized and fought to free music from the aristocracy,” he said.

Until the first half of the 19th century, aristocrats were the patrons and consumers of classical music and musicians. But Ludwig van Beethoven had a rebellious spirit and never bowed down to the aristocracy.

For example, Beethoven used the text “Ode to Joy” written by the German poet Friedrich von Schiller in the last movement of his Ninth Symphony. It symbolizes fraternity and equality among the peoples of the world.

Gioachino Rossini delivered the groundbreaking ideas about the lower class in opera to upper class audiences. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart deviated from the path of being a comfortable court musician and chose to live a difficult life alone, he added.

“Most musicians after Beethoven not only focused on the aesthetic value of classical music, but also integrated its social functions and human values,” he said. “So listening to their music means learning their big thoughts.”

By Park Han-na ([email protected])


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