“Korean Opera Singer,” Ensign, Mar. 2001, 67
Korean-born baritone Hans Choi was only 12 years old when he decided he wanted to be a professional singer. At that time, Western music wasn’t readily available in Korea, but after he happened to listen to a couple of old Enrico Caruso records, he knew he wanted to sing opera. Now, over 30 years later, he has gained international acclaim singing in opera houses and recital halls in Europe, Asia, and the United States.
Brother Choi received his first vocal training while a student at Yon Sei University in Seoul. In 1981, though not a Church member, he was invited to be soloist for a Christmas concert with the Korean Mormon Choir. Although he sang regularly for another church, “I was looking for a church and a doctrine I could relate to. When I met the members of the Korean Mormon Choir I felt welcome. Everyone was very kind. Not only did I sing with the choir, I eventually became its director,” he said. The assistant director was a young lady named Kyung Shin, who had joined the Church 10 years earlier. With her encouragement, Brother Choi accepted the missionary discussions and a copy of the Book of Mormon. His commitment to the Church—and to Kyung Shin—deepened, and he was baptized and married in 1982.
Two years later the Korean and Italian governments awarded scholarships to Brother Choi, and the Chois moved to Milan, Italy, where he spent the next few years studying at the Osimo Academy, the Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory, and La Scala Theater Academy. Brother Choi then took first place in the prestigious Verdi Music Competition in Busseto, Italy. “For me, winning the Verdi Competition marked the beginning of my professional career. … The day of the competition I was very nervous. I was afraid. I asked my bishop for a blessing. He told me to have faith in my ability and to have faith in the gift Heavenly Father had given me. I have always tried to follow that counsel. I feel grateful to the Lord every time I sing.”
In 1988 Brother Choi accepted an invitation to sing with the Philadelphia Opera Company, and the Choi family moved to the United States. Then in 1990 he entered the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. “I don’t think I would have entered the competition without my wife’s encouragement. … I was the first Korean ever to sing in the competition. I felt proud to be representing my country, and I wanted to do well. I sang four songs in Russian and then others in English, German, French, Spanish, and Korean. As I sang, a feeling of patriotism welled within me and gave me greater confidence.” Brother Choi not only won the competition, he became the first to be awarded two gold medals.
His career has included recitals at the Washington D.C. Temple Visitors’ Center and the Assembly Hall on Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah. He has also been a guest soloist with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. “It was a great honor to be invited to sing with the Tabernacle Choir. It’s a memory I shall always cherish.”
Intertwined with his professional career is Church service. “My Church membership has never been in conflict with my professional career. People within the music community know and respect the fact that I am a Latter-day Saint.”—Glen Nelson, Manhattan Second Ward, New York New York Stake