From the moment PennSori, Penn's pop/K–pop a capella group, began its Spring concert with a medley of songs from internationally renowned Korean band BTS, an immediate infectious energy filled the Houston Hall Class of ’49 Auditorium. People didn’t need to understand all of the words to enjoy the sheer passion in the performance.
Based on the popular Korean talk show You Hee–yeol’s Sketchbook, their Spring show, entitled 'Sori’s Sketchbook', took place on March 15 and 16. The show was an incredible display of singing talent and creativity, showcasing each of the group’s members while incorporating their high quality showmanship and humor. The solos were outstanding, from President and Marketing Chair Hong Nguyen (W ’20) nailing a rendition of Korean duo Davichi’s “Don’t Say Goodbye” that incorporates Vietnamese lyrics, to Steve Shin (C ’19) delivering a sweet, crooning cover of “If You Leave Me Now” by Charlie Puth, to Nayoung Kwon (C ’19) providing a stunning, pristine performance of “The Song Only I Can Sing.” As each member took turns at center stage, the others complemented them perfectly with harmonious backgrounds, balancing the bass noises and background melodies perfectly. Later on, Hong and Edward Kim (C ’20) discussed their experiences with a capella and PennSori, starting with how they joined the group.
“I’ve always loved singing and I knew I wanted to join a singing group in college,” Hong said. “I got a few callbacks from different groups and I fell in love with PennSori at those callbacks—I got a family vibe from the group and felt that it was where I wanted it to be.” Edward added, “You’re really immersed and form a family. Coming to college, Freshman fall was a difficult transition from a small school, but then Hong introduced me to Sori and that led me to audition for the group freshman year”
Discussing their involvement in Sori, both highlighted its value in providing a community. “For me, Sori has been my home at Penn—my friend group is basically Sori,” Edward said, “Coming in as a freshman, there were a lot of upperclassmen mentors who taught me how things work, and after they graduated, I took on a leadership role which allowed me to see that transition. The upperclassmen always said it was like passing on a mindset, and as soon as I met [younger members] I wanted to carry on this transition and be there for them." Hong noted that “Some of the people in the group I know without a doubt will stay in my life for as long as I live."
As president this year, Hong was responsible for managing the group. “Changes I’ve made include trying to place emphasis on interacting with other performing groups and building lasting relationships outside of our own members, making programs electronic to be financially and environmentally conscious, planning on doing studio recordings for songs, and redefining PennSori to be a more inclusive and diverse group,” Hong said. As part of the last change, Hong rebranded PennSori from a Korean–American acapella group to a pop/K–pop group and performed in Vietnamese, a language other than Korean and English, for the first time in a Sori show.
Edward also took some time to describe with the process that goes into preparing for performances. “We have two music directors every semester, this one being Rachel Cho (W ’19) and Jin Young Cho (C ’21); they do most of the work that goes behind scenes, which would entail writing the music itself,” Edward said. "[Rachel and Jin Young] have to produce arrangements maybe once a week so we can go through the semester, and they do a phenomenal job of managing the workload entailed. When we perform, it’s nerve–wracking and thrilling because we don’t want to be the one to let everyone else down—we work to do our very best and it’s the most rewarding when all the alumni join the medley at the end and we see the audience cheer.”
With Sori’s Sketchbook being the final performance for the group’s seniors, both students left some glowing praise for the departing members. “A lot of my best friends are in that group—Steve joined the same time as me and has been like an older brother, my best friend Nayoung has been there for me at my best and worst, and I’ve enjoyed getting to know Rachel and Seyeon [Kim (C ’19)],” Edward said. “The legacies of departing members will always stick with us, but it’s still going to be hard to say goodbye since I spent so much time with them.”