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St. James Episcopal School Students Perform in the National Independence Day Parade

St. James Episcopal School students, parents and faculty marched with the Korean American Association of the Greater Washington Metropolitan Area in this year’s National Independence Day Parade in Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of Sonny Chang.


School starts next week for many young Angelenos, but while we still have a few days of summer break left, we wanted to tell you about how some lucky students and parents from St. James Episcopal School spent a particularly memorable part of their summer vacation – marching in the National Independence Day Parade in Washington, D.C.

We first heard about the appearance from Sonny Chang, whose son Lucas is a rising sixth grader at St James and was one of the students who traveled to Washington for the event.  The performers included a student Samulnori (Korean drumming) group, traditional Korean fan dancers (also St. James students), and another Samulnori group made up of St. James parents.

We were eager to learn more, of course, and Natasha Dao, Associate Director of Advancement and Communications at St. James, told us the performers were members of the school’s Korean drumming group, made up of fifth and sixth graders, which has been active for more than 20 years (the school also teaches Korean drumming as part of its regular curriculum).  This is the first time, though, Dao said, that the school’s students have performed outside of Los Angeles.


Photo courtesy of Sonny Chang


According to Dao, the parade opportunity came about because St. James’ chaplain, the Reverend Aiden Koh, has a niece, Anna Koh, who is a board member of the Korean-American Community Association of the Greater Washington Metropolitan Area.  And that organization – which usually provides Korean drummers for the National Independence Day Parade – was having trouble finding people to perform this year.  Apparently, Dao said, pandemic-related 15-day quarantines for travelers to Korea were finally cancelled recently, so many Koreans in the U.S. – including many drummers who usually perform in the annual parade – book trips there this summer (the first time they could do so in more than two years) and were out of town for July 4th.  But then Fr. Koh told Anna about St. James’ Korean drumming group, and she asked him, just three weeks before the parade, if any of the students might be able to come to Washington.

“Fr. Koh didn’t give her big hope,” Dao said, “But the message was immediately delivered to the head of school, Mr. Reinke, who was very excited and eagerly hoped to send the kids there.”  Dao said the school’s music director, Dr. Ji Hae Lee, immediately sent out an email to all of the school’s rising 6th graders and their parents. And, “surprisingly in a few hours of Dr. Lee’s email message, 16 students responded to participate with their parents, and later a few of younger siblings and older ones who already graduated.”  In all, Dao said,  42 students and parents, along with three faculty members, including the assistant head of school, Elizabeth Desmarais, made the trip.

Dao told us that “all 5th and 6th graders [at St. James] learn Korean drumming during their fall and winter music class, and practice at least once a week.”  They also perform at school and church events throughout the year, including the Lunar New Year celebration, graduation, and Palm Sunday service.

Dao also explained that “Korean drumming is traditionally called, “Sa-Mul-Nori.” In Korean, ‘Sa’ means the number 4, ‘Mul’ stands for instruments, and ‘Nori’ means playing. Therefore, we use 4 different Korean drums – 1. ‘Kweng-Gua-Ri’ (Small metal gong), 2. ‘Jang-Gu’ (double sided drum), 3. ‘Zing’ (Big Metal gong), and 4. ‘Buk’ (Big drum).”

“All together, Dao said, “This creates ‘Samulnori.’ We marched together playing these Korean instruments in the parade, and this type of outdoor drumming performance is called “Pung-mul-nori.””



Dao said now that the school has done one traveling performance, “St. James would love to participate in more events and parades! We’ve applied for our rising sixth graders’ Korean drumming group to perform as the 2022 Student Performing Group at the National Association for Music Education Conference in Maryland. Our hope is that our students not only perform at NAfME, but at many other events outside of Los Angeles, to help show them how they can serve their communities through their performances.”  She also said the school hopes to expand its drumming group to include Chinese and Japanese drums as well as Korean.

Of course, finally, we also wanted to hear what the experience was like for the students…so Sonny Chang shared this report written by his son, Lucas (whom Sonny describes as “an excellent student who loves music, books, history, and community support,” and who was also a second place finisher at the US Archery State Championship in July).


“4th of July Independence Day Parade” by Lucas Chang


Lucas Chang at the National Independence Day Parade. Photo courtesy of Sonny Chang.

This past July, I spent the Fourth doing something that I found unbelievable– participating in a Korean drumming demonstration in Washington, DC for the Independence Day Parade. While I usually spend the Fourth passively, gazing at fireworks through my window with my family, here I was sharing something very unique to my culture on the national stage. Drumming is a revered tradition in Korea. Long ago, drummers performed elaborate dances to entertain kings and commoners. When I was very young, I picked up a Korean drum, and my mother showed me how to tap it in rhythm. Years later, here I was with my drum in hand, lined up on Pennsylvania Avenue with my classmates.

I was really nervous at first, as if my heart were doing its own drumming routine. I told myself to calm down. I fell into the drill that I had practiced countless times with Dr. Lee on the yard at St. James’ School.  It became automatic, and I could hear our syncopated percussion in our march down famous streets.

All around me were American buildings and monuments brimming with history– the National Archives, the Smithsonian Museum, the Washington monument, and the Reflecting Pool. I looked back and could see my friends Aiden and Conner drumming in time to the beat. They were at ease, too, and we took a few moments to notice the others in the parade.

There were Tae Kwon Do practitioners marching behind us, throwing kicks and flying through the air. Next to them were marchers in traditional military uniform, displaying a replica of the Korean “turtle ship” from the 15th century.

All around us, it was a wonderful mixing of history and the past, the iconic American themes blending in with ancient Korean culture. The parade finally ended with a fireworks display at night. When it happened, it was something distinct from my passive viewing back in Los Angeles. Here I was, actively participating in the magic of our nation’s independence, and I reveled in the diverse colors and sounds that help make our country a fascinating place.


(If it were up to us, Lucas would definitely get an “A” on this year’s “What I Did on My Summer Vacation” essay.)


Photo courtesy of Sonny Chang


Photo courtesy of Sonny Chang.


Photo courtesy of St. James Episcopal School


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Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN but has lived in LA since 1991 - with deep roots in both the Sycamore Square and West Adams Heights-Sugar Hill neighborhoods. She spent 10 years with the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, volunteers at Wilshire Crest Elementary School, and has been writing for the Buzz since 2015.

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