By Heather Santos (The United States Army Field Band)June 19, 2009
"I never dreamed as a young boy growing up in Seoul that I would be a Soldier in the United States Army," said Sgt. 1st Class Samuel Chung, a baritone with the Soldiers' Chorus of The United States Army Field Band.
Chung, a native of South Korea, came to America when he was 20. He still recalls the exact date-March 17, 1988.
"My family was extremely poor. We came to America to escape that," admits Chung.
Sgt. Maj. Joel Dulyea, noncommissioned officer in charge of the Soldiers' Chorus, is moved by Chung's story.
"His description of the conditions under which his ancestors lived and the opportunities they found in the United States are inspiring to me," Dulyea said.
The unassuming Chung knows all too well what the word sacrifice means.
As a young boy, his family, though financially challenged, sent Chung to the Seoul Music and Art High School-the most expensive school in Korea.
Though he studied at an esteemed music and arts school in his native country, Chung's first experiences with employment in the U.S. had nothing to do with music, nor were they prestigious. They were jobs that included painting, cleaning and bussing tables at restaurants.
Yet, it wasn't long before he was officially bitten by the music bug again.
In 1996, Chung entered the University of Southern California (USC) to study voice at the tender age of 30. He thoroughly enjoyed the experience and developed a close working relationship with the staff and faculty there.
However, in his senior year, his voice teacher at USC left to take another position at Shenandoah University in Winchester, Va. Their bond so strong, Chung followed suit. And, in the summer of 1998, Chung earned his bachelor of voice performance degree, graduating, with honors, from Shenandoah University.
Chung was offered a full ride to the University of Maryland University College shortly thereafter. But, the family could not financially survive without additional income.
Chung chose to forego his studies, and he took a job as a landscaper at Fort George G. Meade. He didn't know it at the time, but it was fate for it was here where he first heard about the Soldiers' Chorus from a coworker on the Installation.
Though he did not immediately apply to the U.S. Army Field Band, the seed was planted.
Chung continued to seek music opportunities while he worked various jobs. He submitted applications for national competitions and young artist programs with big opera houses. Unfortunately, his life, his career did not allow him much by way of musical performance experience. All of his submissions were revoked.
True to his nature, Chung did not give up. After many failed attempts on the music front, Chung recalls opening up Opera Magazine in mid-2002. There, he found a vacancy for the Soldiers' Chorus. Though the opening at the time was for a Soprano (the highest singing voice for a woman), he forwarded his resume and a recording of one of his vocal performances to the Field Band.
He hoped to get a phone call.
Approximately a month or two after submitting his resume and vocal recording, Chung found himself auditioning for a baritone position with the Soldiers' Chorus. The audition process to become a Soldier-musician with the Field Band is arduous and highly competitive.
Chung admits he was a bit nervous and remembers, "I just kept thinking about my kids. I thought that the opportunity to sing while serving my adopted country would be the best of both worlds for me!"
"I was here when he auditioned," noted Sgt. Maj. Dulyea, who added, "He was competing against two baritones who sang very well. However, Samuel [Chung] sang an Italian aria that was outstanding. His tone, timbre and range were unmatched by the other candidates."
The panel of judges agreed. Chung was offered the position.
Sgt. Maj. Joan Mercer was the auditions coordinator for the Field Band when Chung tried out for the chorus and vividly remembers Chung's reaction to being selected.
"He was in tears, and he told us that just one year before [his audition], he was part of the lawn maintenance crew that worked on the area outside of the Field Band's building. I thought, wow, what perseverance to go for something he really wanted," she said.
It has been almost seven years, and Chung has never looked back. As he considers his career with the Field Band, he is amazed and proud.
In addition to performing with the Soldiers' Chorus as they tour the Nation, Chung is also a featured vocalist with Bel Canto, an operatic educational outreach team that performs recitals and offers vocal workshops.
Here, Chung presents vocal performance techniques and exposes students to the genre of opera.
Bel Canto disbanded due to personnel turnover, but that didn't stop Chung. His determination and dedication, once again, came to the forefront.
Last fall, he reformed the group, changed the vocalist line up, and now the small ensemble performs as Cantare. They have already begun singing during Soldiers' Chorus concerts, and Chung highly anticipates the group's first individual appearance some time later this year.
Chung comments on many favorite moments in his career thus far, such as singing the National Anthem for a crowd of more than one-hundred thousand at the International Speed Boat competition's final ceremony in Pittsburgh last year, an event that was broadcast on the Speed Chanel across the Nation.
But, by far, notes Chung, was performing with the Soldiers' Chorus at President Ronald Reagan's funeral service.
"To be called upon to participate, to honor a former President was a tremendous feeling," he said.
Chung feels the performance was particularly poignant for him because of his son.
"My son was a first grade student at the time, and he saw me on television as the memorial service was broadcast. He talked about it to everyone at school-about how I, his father, performed at such an esteemed event. My son's admiration of me touched my heart very strongly," he reminisced.
Chung has three children, Faith, Hope and Love. And, he is extremely grateful for his wife and her support of him throughout their lives together, throughout the hard times.
He is also grateful to America.
"When my wife was pregnant with our children, it was the United States that helped us pay the hefty medical fees. It was the United States that accepted my poor family from Korea. It was the United States that helped me to escape being poor," Chung articulates.
"So, I appreciate America for so many things, so many times," he added.
Chung is also grateful for his job at The United States Army Field Band and vows, "I am going to try my best for the Field Band, because this is my way to pay back the grace of America."
Sgt. 1st Class Chung has served as a Noncommissioned Officer (NCO) in the United States Army for close to seven years, and he exemplifies a true commitment to service to our Nation. His dedication is one such story that illustrates why the Secretary of the Army dedicated 2009 as The Year of the NCO.
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