SBTS student founds worldwide music competition

Communications Staff — April 24, 2007

Seven years ago in Korea, Myung Whan (Johann) Kim had the idea of starting a musical competition to introduce youth to the spiritual and artistic value of hymns.

Little did Kim, today a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, know that within a decade his competition would expand to international proportions, involve a winners’ concert at Carnegie Hall in New York and provide an opportunity to spread Christianity in China.

Kim, a musical composer, university professor and former music minister at the 20,000-member Hallelujah Christian Church in Korea, noticed in Korea that many young people did not care about hymns.

“It bothered me to see that youngsters and children knew nothing about traditional hymns, which is a most important heritage of our faith,” Kim said. “Hymns have not only musical value, but also spiritual value because they teach sound doctrine that must be transmitted to the next generation.”

In 2001 Kim held the first hymn competition for youth in Korea. Participants in the competition played hymn arrangements on the piano, and judges evaluated each participant. Through practicing for the competition, many children grew spiritually by meditating on the texts of hymns, he said.

“The reaction of students and Christian parents was marvelous,” he said. “Christian parents saw their children, who didn’t know anything about hymns, practice hymn arrangements and then experience joy and spiritual progress.”

By 2004 a door opened to expand the competition to the United States, and Washington, D.C., was the first American city to host a portion of the competition. Though Kim still lived in Korea during the 2004 competition, he moved to the Louisville to attend Southern Seminary in 2005 and expanded the U.S. portion of the competition that same year. The 2005 competition broadened the number of instruments in the competition as well, including violinists and cellists.

The competition has continued to expand and this year includes participants in nine North American cities along with participants in Korea and China. The grand prize winners from every city will be invited to Carnegie Hall for a winners’ competition.

“God is concerned about the praise of His children,” he said. “Our idea is that God should be praised not only in churches, but also in the most beautiful concert halls.”

The Chinese portion of the competition will include only Korean churches in Beijing and Shanghai this year, but Kim hopes to expand the competition to Chinese musicians within two years. Bringing the competition to China is particularly significant because of the need to develop worship ministers in that country, Kim said.

“We pray that the Lord would use this hymn competition to motivate the next generation in China so that they can be equipped for this great ministry of worship leading,” he said.

Kim was scheduled to take a trip to China in mid-April to lead worship seminars and arrange details related to the competition.

Many of the competition participants play hymns arranged by Kim, who studied musical composition in Vienna. Approximately 100 instrumental hymn arrangements by Kim are available free of charge at his website Other arrangements are available for purchase.

Southern has helped Kim publicize the competition and will encourage participants who plan to enter music ministry to continue their educations at the seminary.

“We want to teach the next generation not only music, but also the meaning of praise and this great tradition of hymns,” he said. “If they continue to pursue education, they will be great students for (Southern’s) school of music.”

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