Most musicians would not be flattered by the description “elevator music”. But providing music for elevators is merely a line in the resume for South Korean pianist and composer Yiruma, whose sentimental piano music can be heard via countless amateur YouTube cover videos, talent competition TV shows, student recitals, department store sound systems, and on street corners worldwide.
Be it at a wedding, a funeral, or during the emotional climax of a K-drama, Yiruma’s music has tugged at the heartstrings of millions worldwide. ZoneOut’s Paul Dougherty had the distinct pleasure of speaking with Yiruma from his studio in Korea ahead of the release of his new EP – Room With A View.
“YOU’RE PLAYING MY MUSIC!”
You have over two million monthly listeners on Spotify. Is it surprising to you that that so many people around the world listen to your music?
It is, actually. I guess with the COVID-19 situation right now people are staying at home, doing their own routines and listening to music that makes them happy or relaxed. I think solo piano music is good for relaxing, it is healing in some way.
How does it feel to hear your music performed out in the world?
It is surreal. When I went to Russia I was walking down the street near my hotel and a guitarist busking on the street was playing my music. I really wanted to go and tell him “You’re playing my music!”.
ROOM WITH A VIEW
The track ‘Berrylands Road’ on your new EP Room With A View is named after the street you lived on while studying music in England.
I was staying at my parents’ house in London, which was situated on Berrylands Road. I lived there for almost all of my time in London. I typically didn’t go out a lot. I had a lot of friends, but I was a person that liked to stay at home just making music.
Room With A View is basically about my personal life when I was in London. Feelings of loneliness, missing your family, your friends. There is a lot of that kind of feeling on this EP.
Do you find that you work best when you are alone in solitude?
Of course. I think most composers do.
What inspired you to travel all the way to England to study music?
I was really interested in writing music rather than just playing, and I was really fed up looking at the scores of classical music. I have been writing since I was nine, just playing around on the keys, finding melodies. I memorized them because I didn’t know how to write the score.
To study classical music in Korea you have to have perfect technique on your instrument. I wasn’t taught piano by a professional pianist, I was taught by a university student.
My father said to me “I think the Purcell School will be perfect for you”. They will teach you any kind of music, contemporary music, jazz…”. So I went to London to study.
Love, romance and nostalgia are recurring themes throughout your career. Were you always so romantic?
Oh, I was trying to be! ‘River Flows In You’ and ‘Kiss The Rain’ were written when I was in my early 20s. Yeah, I was really interested in love. Those pieces were about the feelings that you get when you are young. That’s why most of my early works are very romantic, nostalgic, sentimental.
Many people get married to your music. What music did you choose for your own wedding?
Actually, a famous Korean singer, Shin Seung-Hun, came to my wedding to sing a wedding song. He has been a friend to me for a long time. After the wedding we had a small party and I played piano. ‘River Flows With You’, of course, and some other songs of mine.
MADE IN KOREA
Korean culture – whether it is music, television, or cinema – is growing in popularity around the world. Why do you think Korean culture is so appealing to a global audience?
It’s like food, I guess. You have known Japanese food and Chinese food for a long time, but Korean food is kind of new. The taste, the texture, It’s a bit Japanese, a bit Chinese, but there is something unique about it. I think music is similar to that. Traditional Japanese music is more rhythmic, while traditional Chinese music is very melodic. Traditional Korean music is kind of in between.
I think that influence exists in my music – my music is melodious.
Follow Yiruma at yiruma.com
Yiruma’s new EP Room With A View is out now to stream