A Review of Jeeyoon Kim’s Over.Above.Beyond. (Namus Classics, 2018)

Jeffrey Hampton
Covering Contemporary Classical Music Artists
TDR Regular Contributor / June 21, 2021

Over.Above.Beyond. is the 2018 release from pianist Jeeyoon Kim on Namus Classics.  I bought my copy of the CD from the pianist’s website, but it is available on most music streaming platforms.  The liner notes open up with a user’s manual for listening that gives several easy-to-follow steps, providing an original way to enjoy the album.   This user’s manual encourages the listener to take a moment to breathe and be present while listening to the music, cultivating the perfect environment to engage their imaginations. It is recommended that the listener read the liner note for each individual piece which shares Kim’s thoughts and feelings while encouraging the listener to imagine their own scenes that they can look for when out in the real world and share on social media with #OverAboveBeyondProject.

This is a great idea! Listening to classical music can sometimes feel intimidating. But Jeeyoon Kim’s liner notes provide a rather original way to engage with the music for those who want to take the musical journey with her.  The first time listening to this album, I found myself enjoying the small anecdotes from each piece and imagining my own scenery and stories over the music.

The pieces chosen present a variety of composers, displaying some of their easily digestible, shorter works instead of hammering the listener with one titanic warhorse after another.  The first three pieces—Nikolay Medtner’s Forgotten Melodies I, Op. 38, No. 8, Edvard Grieg’s Wedding Day at Troldhaugen, Op. 65, No. 6, and Frederic Chopin’s Nocturne in D-flat major, Op. 27, No. 2—are wonderfully played, showing off fine attention to melody in all three works.  The works are played without an overwrought sense of sentimentality, which could drag the pace of the music.

The next piece, Johannes Brahms’ Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 21 No. 1, spans almost 20 minutes, making it the longest piece on the album.  Kim’s liner notes make clear her love for the piece, which is not often performed.  She encourages the listeners to imagine something different for each variation.  This piece is an emotional journey that needs unpacking, and Kim is up to the task.  The opening theme, easy to follow, is given to us with a thick, full-bodied harmony of luscious chords. Each variation grows organically from the last, and Kim never loses sight of that original theme from Brahms.  The piece, despite its length, never grows dull and is full of many wonderful surprises.  When one reaches the end, they can almost feel the sun on their back after an incredible journey.

The following two pieces are from the famous French impressionist composers Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy.  The pieces are not as heavy as what has come before and are both popular piano solos wonderfully realized here.  “Pavane pour une infante défunte” is both powerful, yet tender.  The music paints a picture of elegance fitting of a pavane, a dance that used to be performed by young princesses in the Spanish court.  Golliwogg’s Cake Walk is a playful romp full of humor.

The next piece is a rarity of a piece by Giuseppe Martucci. The Nocturne in G-flat major, Op. 70, No. 1 is wonderfully melancholic, with once again great attention paid to making the melody sing. Kim’s liner notes describe this one as an image of an old man remembering his past—an apt description of this nostalgic work that could have been written off if played by a lesser musician.

The album ends with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Twelve Variations on “Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman” K.265, a famous set of variations based on a melody most commonly associated with “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” This is the perfect lighthearted way to end the journey.  The playing here is dazzling—playful but elegant and ultimately delightful.   It is the second-longest piece on the album, but that does not weigh it down, as it leaves us feeling refreshed.

The “User’s Manual” provided in the liner notes gives a perfect way to listen to the record overall.  I found myself more engaged as I connected both with the playing shared by the pianist as well as the guidance offered.   I found it easy to picture various images of nature and even some of my own stories with the music. Many times a classical record gives us either a concert program or a collection of pieces all from one genre with no clue of how to engage in it. Personal preference for more programmatic presentations in albums, the idea of the user manual was a breath of fresh air.   None of the music is overwhelming, and it is all aesthetically pleasing to the ear.  Jeeyoon Kim’s playing shines here. It is confidently assured and beautifully realized; the pieces played are melodic and beautiful, but not overly sentimental—a guilty pleasure of a lot of musicians who will drag and distort a melodic line until it is unrecognizable.  For anyone who wants to embark on a thoughtful musical tour, this is the album for you.

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A Flash Fiction by Marianne Mandrusiak

Glancing sideways, Sarah raises her dishevelled flaxen eyebrows and gives me the signal. Oh, it’s on! Our favourite game to play is “detective.” We sneak away while the adults are talking about new co-workers or controversial politicians. Awkward flamingos, we walk on our tiptoes to mimic high heels and jut out our ribs, pretending that we have breasts. We hide in plain sight, under mahogany hall tables and behind corners with chipped drywall, patiently waiting to overhear juicy details that we almost never do. Sarah and I are silent as church mice until one of the adults, usually Aunt Carol, uses some ridiculous expression like, “Well, that just won’t cut the mustard,” which sends us running down the hallway, covering our mouths and shaking from laughing so hard. Convulsing, we flop onto Auntie Carol’s guest bed, finding spots amongst the coats that smell of strangers; old cigarettes, stale gum and vanilla bean perfume. We chortle until we can’t breathe, our obliques aching. The adults don’t come in to reprimand us, because much to our chagrin, they knew we were there all along. They also don’t care because we don’t understand politics or sexual innuendos. Bored of listening to fragments of incomprehensible conversations, we decide to play pretend. 

My role, as always, is that of the daughter. I hate playing the mom, which I suppose makes sense, considering that later in life, I will declare that I never want to have children. Sarah and I make believe that we are packing for a vacation. We are going to take a train trip, that’s it – first class! Going east, to visit her long-lost twin brother, Billy, in Waterloo. I heard the name of the city in an ABBA song, so I know that it really exists. 

Sarah puts on Auntie Carol’s friend Shelly’s fake-fur coat and an anxious thrill makes my face turn beet red. She looks glamorous surrounded by the ebony pelt, like she’s a ten-year-old Jennifer Love Hewitt (except blond). Her look is perfect for our first-class voyage.  

“Now, you need a coat too,” Sarah asserts. I’m too nervous about wearing someone else’s belongings. I shake my head, and some hair gets stuck to my fuchsia lipstick. I nicked some from my mother’s purse earlier, but she never minds unless I have a cold sore. Sarah calls me an old “fuddy-duddy.” Ironic for someone who would dare use that insult. I tell her I’d rather get into trouble for going through Auntie Carol’s things than for sifting through those of a stranger, so I open one of the dresser drawers, which is empty. I pretend to pull out a green crushed-velvet dress with a satin ribbon as a belt.

“You can’t just make-believe,” Sarah says, “you need to put on something real.” She feels entitled to make up all of the rules. Sarah has two younger siblings, and you can tell. 

Sarah opens the other drawers, looking for something to dress me with whilst saying in a piss-poor British accent, “Come on Luv, I’ll make you a cuppa.” This sends us howling again, remembering the film we saw in social studies class about the children who worked in the mines. (It wasn’t supposed to be funny, and we got in an awful lot of trouble with Mrs. Slavinsky because we kept trying to speak like the people in the docudrama). 

We are unprepared for what we see next. Sarah opens the bottom dresser drawer, and at first, I think that it’s full of comic books of some kind. Once my eyes have focused, I can’t make sense of the images. Naked women tied up, bent over with their mouths open. Men grabbing fistfuls of women’s hair, one woman screaming in pain as her breasts are being squeezed. Not just pain, though, her face holds something else…something that fascinates me. I’m not sure if any of the adults heard the drawers open or if the sound was muffled by The Beatles singing something about feeling alright.

Sarah and I should throw the magazines back in the drawer and slam it shut. We don’t. We sit there, silent, on the moss-toned shag carpet for a good twenty-five minutes staring at the pages and acclimating to the images, barely aware of the conversational din in the background. Individually, in our own minds, we speculate about each glossy, naked person’s back-story. Miraculously, nobody walks in on us. I don’t know what we would have done if they had. When we finally break free of our trance and put everything away, we pinkie swear never to talk about what we have seen to anyone and never to go back into that bottom drawer.

Sarah and I exit the room feeling like we have walked into another dimension. Our world has changed, and I suppose so have we. Suddenly self-conscious in our bodies, we slink around sheepish and close-mouthed, glancing surreptitiously at the adults. We see them with new eyes. We are investigating again, seeking some kind of an explanation and yearning to find clues. Back to playing detective, only this time we aren’t teetering around on our tiptoes and sticking out our chests. 

Marianne Mandrusiak is a writer and comedian living in Montreal, Canada. She was longlisted for the 2020 CBC Nonfiction Prize for her short story entitled “Bad Kisser.” Marianne is currently working on a short story collection, as well as a children’s book which introduces the concepts of environmental stewardship and the power of collective action. For details on these projects and others, follow her on Instagram under the handle @mandrusiaki.