Symphonic Selections: Variations on a Korean Folk Song

Symphonic Selections

As a former band geek, I love concert band pieces. In fact, my love for band, music, and my music teacher is what got me to volunteer for my beloved high school music teacher after I graduated, and I volunteered for a total of five years. During those five years, I was exposed to so many wonderful pieces, and one of them is John Barnes Chance’s “Variations on a Korean Folk Song“. Chance served in the US Army as a member of the Eighth US Army Band in Seoul, South Korea, and that was where he heard “Arirang“, which led him to compose this piece.

I absolutely adore this song. I remember being impressed by this work, falling for all the variations. Until hearing this piece, I never really cared for the original “Arirang”, but that changed after. This composition has the main theme and then five other variations. My favourite variations are the first and the last one, all because of the woodblocks :D Plus, the last variation culminates majestically. Seriously, that last part always gives me the shivers and goosebumps. Do give this piece a listen! It’s a fun piece with a little of everything for those who like different style of music, and it’s based on a Korean folk song, so that makes it even better :D Let me know what you all think or if you’ve heard of this piece before. Enjoy!


  1. I always think it’s cool how alumni would come back and help the band. My band director never let any of that happened because he wanted people to not dedicate their life to the HS band after graduating (because this would be the case if he did let people help). The band sounds amazing! I like how the music flows through and the dynamics are awesome. Then again, there’s high expectations with this being from a pro ensemble ;)

    • My band teacher always appreciated any help she got — whether it was a parent or an alumni, she always was grateful. Volunteering for her was a great opportunity for me, and I’d learned a lot under her mentorship. I only wished she hadn’t passed away :(

      Pro ensemble better sound good! If they didn’t, then they can’t call themselves pro XD But I think this group did a great job with this piece! I’m glad I found this version!

  2. Ahh, I love this piece. It’s so relaxing and it sounds beautiful. Thank you for exposing me to this kind of music – I wouldn’t have searched for it myself, honestly :)

    • Thank you for giving it a listen! I’m glad you like it! ^^ I can see that this wouldn’t be a piece people would sought out, but as a former band geek, I know this piece, hence the sharing!

  3. This is quite nice. I’m glad you posted this because I probably never would have given it a chance on my own. ^^; I’m apparently incredibly biased towards stringed instruments — without violins sitting on the left or a gayageum somewhere, I would have clicked the X and moved on — whoops. Different interpretations of Arirang are almost always great.

    • Yes, this is one of my favourite arrangements of “Arirang”. My other favourite is the one from D-War or whatever that movie was called! :)

      And I’m glad you gave this a listen!

  4. I thought this was a fun one to listen to :) This song actually reminds me of some Chinese folk songs that sound similar. The last part is my favorite part as well!

    • Yay! I’m glad you liked the piece and found it to be a fun listen! The different variations give the song more diversity to it, and I just absolutely love it :D And I wouldn’t be surprised if “Arirang” descended from that Chinese folk song you’re thinking of :D There had been a lot of cultural exchanges between the East Asian countries for thousands of years :)

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