How Internal Transformation Transcends the Voice – Soprano Hera Hyesang Park on Her Spiritual Journey, New Album Signing

By Jennifer Pyron
(credit: Junseob Yoon)

Last week, Hera Hyesang Park virtually performed at Berlin’s Meistersaal with pianist Sarah Tysman to announce the signing of an exclusive agreement with Deutsche Grammophon. The Yellow Label’s “Moment Musical” includes songs by Purcell, Handel, Hahn, Duparc, and Schubert. Park also performs Jin Choi’s “Leaning on Time,” arranged by Seulki Chungi, “Like the Wind that Met With Lotus,” by Joowon Kim and La Un-Yung’s “Psalm 23.”

Each song was carefully chosen by Park to portray her internal journey of becoming an artist. Park’s inner investigation reveals her life’s mission and challenges cultural, racial, and gender stereotypes. She understands the power of music and self-honesty to be the key ingredients of self-discovery. Ultimately rising above paradigms and reaching to the core of her artistry, Park defines what it means to be a free spirit.

OperaWire initially spoke with the soprano while she performed at the Glyndebourne Opera Festival in 2019. Park told her story about how after receiving her degree from The Juilliard School and going on to then receive young artist awards from the Met, she lost her voice for a year. She could not connect with the core of herself and needed to know why.

Park had to stop at the start of her career and retrace the steps that could show her what internal obstacles were preventing her from moving forward. She made a trip home to Seoul and embraced her past. Observing the patterns that no longer supported her and courageously facing them allowed her to transform and heal.

When she returned to the states and met with her English teacher at the Met, Park had a revelatory lesson that changed her perspective forever. But the lesson did not require her to sing. It required her to answer a question prompted by two words written on the board:

“I am”

With this deeper question at the front of her mind, Park began to emerge and restore her voice. She places value in gaining insight about self-reflection and finds hope in the messages she wishes to convey to the world.

As she announced her agreement with Deutsche Grammophon, OperaWire caught up again with the soprano to bookend what has been her most transformational year.

OperaWire: How did you determine the repertoire for your Deutsche Grammophon debut performance and album?

Hera Hyesang Park: I thought a lot about what I felt was best for me. I came to my final decision once I determined what songs I love to sing the most and what messages I most believe in. At first I considered the triumph arias because they show the full range of my voice. But, singing that many arias one after another created a repetition of cadences that I felt was not right for me.

I have always wanted to share something Korean, a religious Korean song. This type of song is very personal to me. Instead of making myself perform a list of songs that might impress others, I decided to take a chance on myself and perform songs that resonate with my core values such as Un-Yung La’s “Psalm 23.”

The decision to sing a religious Korean song empowers me and connects me on a very personal level with others. I choose to believe more in myself and express more of myself in this way.

“The Lord is my Shepherd.”

This message reminds me of why it is important to take courage during difficult times. It reminds me that I am guided and protected even in the face of danger and darkness. I know that I have a peaceful home forever in my heart. This message is simple, honest and true. It holds real meaning and value for me.

OW: You have had a truly challenging year. Can you elaborate on your inner journey and your rediscovered artistry? 

HHP: I feel happy as always. I feel blessed and grateful. I don’t know where to begin to tell my story because right now I am focusing on enjoying my present life. In the past it was only about me. But I will say that lately I have been thinking about what it means to be an artist. Yes, I feel grateful and I love what I do, but I feel it is time to add a little more.

OW: How does this compare with how you managed your career before?

HHP: For example, I’ve started asking questions about the types of messages I send to the world. This wasn’t a normal question for me at the start of my career because I was managing the business of getting started. I felt it was top priority to prove myself and seek to fit in somewhere. Then, once I felt I fit in I thought I would be happy and that I would feel joy and excitement around me.

Now, if I look at the calendar I feel like I have a new energy that allows me to feel beyond grateful. Beyond happiness. I feel more responsibility. Maturity. I can tell now that what I do as an artist is not really about me.

Before I established my career, day to day, I did my best. I can look back on this time now to see all I did. Based on this, I feel I can look confidently look into the future without feeling pressure or anxiety. However, in order to successfully create this future ahead of me I must now ask myself the question about how I will make it better. The responsibility ultimately falls on the messages that I choose to share and how I choose to show myself. How to be an artist that delivers art’s purest form. This is what I think about now. How I make this transition as an artist depends on the transformation I go through myself, as an individual.

I am naturally energetic and outgoing on stage however, sometimes this makes me feel exhausted. Sometimes I feel like I give too much of myself. Therefore, it is time to transition into the artistic role of allowing for more of the art to give itself. In the end, I believe there is only art. Only pure art remains.

OW: How do you transform yourself? Any best practices or meditations to guide you? 

HHP: Yes, meditations and learning how to feel energy more so that I can communicate with myself better are really helping me. In the beginning, I start by visualizing myself as an individual that functions as a single form. Seeing myself in this way shows me how I might blame myself when things don’t go well and how I might congratulate myself when things do go well. However, I am not capable of functioning as this single form because I am constantly in an up and down emotional flux.

Therefore, by observing myself in more than one way, I can see the happy me, angry me, mature me, childish me, and so on. All of these parts create me and it is important for me to see each of them. Each one creates one big picture. A picture of me at one with myself and able to communicate with all the other parts that create this self. Ultimately, this teaches me how I can speak to the parts of my internal self that might get upset and address my internal needs in the moment. I take time and understand how to best help myself. I figure out what it is that I need in a healthy way and intentionally cultivate internal wellness from that point. This practice develops individualism and a mature understanding about what it means to feel grounded in one’s own self.

OW: How did this practice specifically impact your singing?

HHP: Since I started this practice it has helped me relate more to the art of singing. For example, when I sing I feel a lot of different emotions and now I can analyze this process better for myself. I can choose to be more objective instead of living in the emotions, which makes me feel superficial. I can see more of the character that I am learning and allow my imagination to develop a deeper connection with a fuller picture. I feel I can practice self-honesty and this creates more space for the art to come forward.

In the past, I was searching to feel more emotions and using my energies to seek more instead of choosing to be more detached in a mature way that allows the art to become a deeper experience for all.

OW: What do you think is your life purpose? Have you discovered more about yourself in this way?

HHP: I feel my purpose is to make the world a little better by living a healthy life and knowing that the talent I have been given is in essence meant to bring more light to the world. I truly feel this for myself. I feel that every day is a gift to sing and I choose to realize this gift.

Check out her performance from last week here.


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