2011 TC Pressroom
Teachers College, Columbia University
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A Little Seoul Music

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Jin Yoon

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Most TC students dream of making an impact in the classroom. Hyeonjin (Jin) Yoon has changed popular culture, commerce and even a presidential election-and all with just a song.

Yoon grew up in Seoul with a mother who ran a kindergarten, and was interested in music education for young children. During her own pregnancy, reflecting on the academic challenges awaiting her daughter, she remembered a biology question that had always stumped her: "When a tadpole becomes a frog, which of its legs develop first?" So she wrote a song called "Tadpole and Frog" and published it on a children's cassette that was distributed to classrooms. 

Yoon moved to the U.S., but unbeknownst to her, the producer of a top Korean radio comedy program came across her song-without the author's name attached-and began playing it frequently. Soon it had become one of those tunes everyone could hum.

  • Time passed and election season rolled around. Opponents of Roh Moo-hyun, the South Korean president, had long delighted in pointing out his resemblance to a frog. Suddenly Yoon's decade-old kindergarten song was pressed back into service to ridicule the incumbent. Not long afterward, it surfaced again-this time as a cosmetics commercial starring  Jun Ji Hyun, one of Korea's most famous actresses.

Through it all, the unknown author-now a graduate student in TC's Music and Music Education Department-remained oblivious to the celebrity of her creation. Finally, during a trip back to South Korea this past summer, she learned the truth and her story came out. She was interviewed by the national media and sent on tour around the country. "It was like a fairy tale," she says. The fame was nice (as are the royalties, which have helped with tuition costs). "I made a song for my own child, and the result was a song that could make everybody happy, regardless of their age or class. It made my dreams come true."

But most important of all is it has made an impact in classrooms, too: "They don't ask the question about tadpoles on tests anymore, because now everyone knows the answer."

*The back legs grow first.

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