This thesis is an analysis of music used in, Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven, a 2006 theater work written and produced by a Korean American playwright, Young Jean Lee. Music in Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven (SDFH) is a unique window into contemporary Korean American thinking on ethnicity and gender. Although SDFH is discussed in insightful academic writings by Karen Shimakawa (2007), Seunghyun Hwang (2010), and Jisoo Chung (2010), their discussions are mainly bound to Young Jean Lee's theatrical techniques of ethnic representation that attempt to cast away the stereotypes of Korean/ Korean American people. Music and sound, which are carefully deployed to illuminate Young Jean Lee's criticism of Koreans' self-exoticism and Americans' exoticism of Asia, are little discussed by the above scholars. The musical repertoires used in SDFH include a Korean traditional music genre (p'ansori), a Korean children's song, a Korean church tune, a Korean popular song, and American popular music. By analyzing the use of these musics in conjuncture with social and staged conflict, I will examine the problems of exoticism and ethnicization of immigrants addressed in the play.
First, I will provide a summary of the music used in selected Korean American theater works to locate Young Jean Lee's use of music in the history of Korean American theater works. Two main characteristics: 1) music to express Korean Americans' rootedness in Korea, and 2) music in the new wave Korean American theater works in the 1990s and 2000s, will be discussed in order to grasp the relationship between the incidental music and the message of the play. Then, I will explore the characteristics of Young Jean Lee's musical use in general, focusing on her preferred musical style (alternative rock), and her unique theatrical style that allows the rich use of music. The next chapter, the main body of my thesis, will be an analysis of music used in SDFH. First, I will give a summary of SDFH in order to provide a theatrical context to her musical choices. Then I will examine the music in SDFH under the four main subjects: 1) music to set up exoticism, 2) music representing oppression, 3) music to critique self-exoticism, and 4) music to convey universal messages (in comparison with other music's pertinency to the subject of ethnicity). Building on the theories such as Edward Said's Orietalism (1978), Homi Bhabha's colonial stereotype (1994), Graham Huggan's self-exoticism (2001), and Herbert Gans's symbolic ethnicity (1979), I will locate Korean/ Korean American women's self-exoticism as a site of conflict between their resistance to patriarchal and colonial history, and desire to gain power through their ethnic and gendered performances in the multicultural American society. In the last chapter, I will propose another way to look at Koreans' Korean Americans' self-exoticism as an indicator of cultural confidence and tolerance. Recognizing younger generations' understanding of ethnicity that is little confined by colonial memory and victim mentality, I will suggest that self-exoticization is a practice of cultural diversity, which is gaining significance in contemporary Korean and Korean American culture.
Using a thorough textual analysis of the play, both the script (Lee, 2009) and the recorded performance (2006, Young Jean Lee's Theater Company, HERE Art Center, New York), as a main methodology as well as supplementary interviews and autoethnography, I will examine how each musical entry in SDFH reveals a web of power relations between the cultures of Koreans, Korean Americans, and mainstream Americans. My research will deepen understanding of the discourses surrounding contemporary Korean American ethnicity as well as the conditions of American society as a reflexive mirror of Korean American community.