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People of ORU: Dr. Kang

He’s the most charismatic, fun vocal conductor known. He pours his heart out into every class he teaches.

“I was born in a mountain village. There was no electric power until I was a fifth-grader, and there was no public bus—only once a day. It’s in nature,” Dr. Kang says, describing his time growing up in South Korea. “There are lots of farms. My parents did farm stuff, like planting rice, some cabbage, and other stuff.”

When he was only four years old, Dr. Kang won the grand prize in a music competition. “My mom was happy,” says Dr. Kang, remembering the exciting day.

His father was a miner and digger and developed lung issues, causing him to pass away when Dr. Kang was a ten-year-old child.

“He died at 58 years [old]. It’s very early.”

Following his father’s passing, Dr. Kang, though not the eldest child, was the eldest son and it became his duty to help his mother care for his other siblings. Despite this added responsibility on him, and his mother now a single parent, Dr. Kang and his siblings all grew up well.

His family didn’t have a lot of money, so from a young age he knew the importance of studying hard in school so he could earn scholarships and attend a good university. His country did not have a financial aid-type service, like FAFSA, to help students pay for school. Instead, families had to pay for the rest of the tuition after scholarships were applied.

“When I was young, when I listened to some music, I would memorize it, I would sing it, even though it’s not a childrens’ song, but like Korean pop,” says Dr. Kang. “I didn’t know the words’ meaning, but I’d just sing it.”

At primary school, his teachers admired his voice from a young age and would ask him to sing for them. Often, his elementary teacher asked him to wake up his fellow students from nap time by singing.

“My middle school teacher picked me as one of three to prepare for our county singing competition,” says Dr. Kang. “But we can only have one, so she trained us and she finally picked me. Then, when I got there, I got first place among middle school and high school [students], so I went to the state.” 

Throughout high school, the young Kang excelled and got first place in the competitions he participated in. His vocal music instructor encouraged him to major in vocal performance, but since music schools don’t offer many scholarships, he could not afford to attend a good music school. Instead, he considered a career as a history teacher because he loved Korean history and literature.

After high school, he got an excellent job, but was unhappy because he was in the lowest level of the company due to his lack of a college education. 

In his plans to study history education, he wanted it to be a famous Korean tenor recital.

“Everybody loved it. I loved it, too,” said Dr. Kang, remembering the performance. “I was imagining I should be there on stage. I want to be on stage. So, I called my high school music teacher and asked, ‘How can I start? Because I cannot live without music. My body, my mind, everything, my soul needs music.’”

As Dr. Kang was graduating high school, he almost gave up on his musical career. Because of his late father’s health issues, there were 10-years worth of medical bills to pay, and his mother could not afford it on her own. Because he could not pay for music school and the medical bills at the same time, he had to get a job to support his mother. However, determined to get into a public university, he told his mother he would join the military if he didn’t get enough scholarships to pay for school. He decided to work hard, study hard and pay for his own voice lessons with a university professor.

Again, another challenge arose. The cost of private lessons was $50 per lesson, and he couldn’t pay the cost. He explained his dilemma to the instructor, asking if he could offer the lessons at an adjusted price. After the instructor evaluated his GPA and college entrance exam score, he saw the potential in Dr. Kang and agreed to teach him at a lower price, $50 per month.

After his entrance audition, and after hard work and dedication to grow as a musician, he got accepted at the University of Seoul.

“I worked hard,” explains Dr. Kang. “Every time we had an exam, I would usually stay up at the library, take the test, go back home, and take a nap, stay up all night and study everyday—something like that. At the same time, I enjoyed my college years because we had a book club, mountain climbing, friends, and lots to do, and I was the class representative every year because I was funny, made them happy, and I had leadership.”

At the University of Seoul, Dr. Kang worked with the Opera Association president, and decided to become an opera singer and study- abroad in Italy. 

In this planning, however, he burned his face with oil. Through this injury, Dr. Kang found God.

“Every morning, I would go to the dawn prayer service at 5 a.m.,” says Dr. Kang. “One Saturday morning, I was dreaming and was late to church because I woke up at 5:30. ‘God, you know my situation. Please forgive my sins.’ I slept again and in my dream, I saw a big fire of the Holy Spirit that said, ‘Follow my law, and love one another.’”

Later, Dr. Kang bought a used van for $2,000 and fixed it up. Whenever he went out, it would break down, and he had to stop to fix it.

“Long story short, I hated the person who sold me the car. After that, the Holy Spirit spoke to me, and I thought it was the end of the world, like Judgment Day. I was scared,” said Dr. Kang, “Afterwards, I heard a gentle voice that said ‘Lift up your head,’ and Jesus was there. I couldn’t see His face, which was bright, but I could see His leg because it was in a white gown. He put his hand on my head, and I prayed ‘Jesus, so far, I didn’t know if You are dead or alive, but now I see you, you’re alive, and I will praise your Name until I die,’ in Korean.”

Dr. Kang woke up, saying, “Amen.” After that, he trusted God with his decision of whether he should go to Italy.

“Then, in my dream a few days later, [God] gave me specifics, so that’s why I’m here. I came to the U.S. because God wanted me to do conducting,” explains Dr. Kang. He listened to the voice of God, came to the United States despite the language barrier and now holds a Masters in Music from Georgia State University and a Doctoral degree in Musical Arts from the University of Alabama. He has taught now at Oral Roberts University for four years.

While teaching choral conducting and vocal classes Dr. Kang aspires to write a conducting book.

He also aspires to bring ORU’s Chamber Singers abroad to tour Eastern Europe, South America or wherever Jesus is needed. 

“If you travel to other countries, you can think big. Not only your community, you can have a better future for missions or whatever,” said Dr. Kang. “Evangelism on the street in the daytime, and offering a concert at night.”

In 2020, Dr. Kang received the College of Arts and Cultural Studies’ Outstanding Service Award. He firmly believes God anointed him as a musician, then a conductor, then a professor. He’s the man, the myth, the legend, Dr. Kang.

Stay tuned for a video feature on Dr. Kang at youtube.com/oruoracle.