(Yonhap Interview) After 20 years at top, pop tenor feels 'blessed' to serve his country
By Woo Jae-yeon, Lee Eun-jung
SEOUL, March 6 (Yonhap) -- South Korean operatic pop tenor Lim Hyung-joo shed tears while singing a popular Korean pop song about a letter sent from an army private. It was during his last concert in front of some 50 fans in western Seoul last week before starting a mandatory military duty.
"I am crying not because I am enlisted into the military. They are tears of gratitude for fans who have given me huge love for the last 20 years," Lim said during the concert last Wednesday.
"I've had my share of success and failure. I think it is a great blessing that I can go to the army at this moment of my life (when I am loved by many fans)."
The song was one from his new album "Around Thirty" that was released on Feb. 28. The tenor starts his mandatory military duty next Monday.
"I am a bit embarrassed to join the military at this age," said the 30-year-old tenor during a recent interview with Yonhap News Agency. "I am worried if my physical strength can keep up with the grueling training there," he added half-jokingly.
This file photo of Lim Hyung-joo is provided by DGNcom, which represents the artist. (Yonhap)
He made his debut at age 12 with his solo album "Whispers of Hope." Since then he has released a dozen albums including "Salley Garden" in 2003 and "The Last Confession" just last year, becoming one of the most active crossover singers in Korea.
In 2003, he sang the national anthem at the inauguration ceremony of late President Roh Moo-hyun. In June that same year, he held his first solo concert at Carnegie Hall in New York. Lim counted the two performances as the most memorable ones while "every performance is very meaningful to me."
He was awarded a U.N. Peace Medal in 2010 in recognition of his charity work, becoming the first Korean to be so recognized. In 2015, CNN chose him as one of the three most recognizable popera tenors in the world.
Recalling his debut performance back in 1998, Lim said, "It was two months after my first album came out. I never imagined I would still be singing 20 years from then."
Lim believes joining the military will open a new chapter in his life.
"Since I've spent two-thirds of my life with music, serving in the military will mark a turning point where I can take a moment to look back on my life. A new experience will certainly have a huge influence over my life as a musician."
When he is discharged in December next year, he hopes to release a new album that marks the 20th anniversary of his debut and hold a solo concert.
Teaching is yet another passion for Lim, who has given lectures for masters classes on classical crossover music at Civica Scuola delle Arti, a public art university in Rome.
"When I return, I will put more of my energy into teaching students. If I compare it to sports, I will be a player as well as a coach," Lim said.