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Fast Chat: 5 Minutes with Joungmin Sur

The musical compositions of Joungmin Sur, congregational pianist for College Community Church, Mennonite Brethren, Clovis, Calif., have been commissioned and performed by several California State University, Fresno, performing groups and other Central California choirs. She grew up in South Korea and in 2001 won Korea’s Sungnam International Composition Competition.  

Interview by Kathy Heinrichs Wiest

How did you come to be a musician?

Music seemed like somebody else’s dream that I could not even hope for. But in high school I took composition lessons and always loved to compose. One of the top professional choirs in Korea would sometimes hire young composers like me who were not famous or accomplished yet. I auditioned a piece and they liked it and performed it.

What, for you, makes a composition effective?

Music is communication. If I am honest with my feelings it will transfer the feelings to the audience. It never works for me to just decorate my work with musical technique. It has to be true to how I feel. Then my music will speak.

How did the hymns you wrote for College Community Church come about?

My church was celebrating its anniversary with arts—poems, paintings and music. But I had to return to Korea at that time and wasn’t certain I could come back. It was a dark time for me. When my church asked me to compose hymns for the celebration it showed me that even though we were far apart, my church and I were still together. I brought the pieces back with me when I returned to Fresno.

Your composition about the April 2014 Korean ferry accident tapped into some deep feelings.

At first I couldn’t put down any notes because of my deep anger and rage about the accident, but God gave me this message that peace and reconciliation is the only answer for those kinds of accidents.  It was a healing experience for me and I titled the composition “Prayer.”

Listen to Joungmin’s composition, “Prayer,” at

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