Classical guitarist Khan Park was performing on a street corner in Center City one afternoon when he was approached by a man from the Curtis Institute of Music, who told him he tries to teach his students the way Park plays tremolo. Park was surprised and flattered, he said, because he’d only been playing the instrument for seven months at the time.
Before beginning guitar lessons in the fall of 2012, Park studied molecular and cellular biology at Bryn Athyn College. He put his collegiate plans on hold in December of that year, however, to pursue a career as a musician in Philadelphia.
“Music has always been something I wanted to do full-time while I’m young,” Park, 27, said. “Desperateness and other emotions like that are very potent as a musician, and I think it’s important for me to be able to materialize those emotions by putting them into music.”
Now, Park makes a living by busking around Rittenhouse Square, 30th Street Station and Old City, as well as performing at events like fundraisers, anniversaries and birthday parties. After his first gig last summer, he’s played professionally about once a month since.
Although Park gets by on the money he receives from paid gigs and busking – he said the best times for tips are during warm weather and on weekends – life as a musician can be financially difficult.
“I’ve had to figure out ways to make my budget lower, like finding the cheapest rent around,” Park said. “It’s not easy, but it’s livable.”
Despite the challenges, Park said coming to Philly has been a crucial learning experience for his career.
“I knew how to play one song before 2012 and now my repertoire is up to an hour, including my own music, classical pieces and my favorite music, so I’d say I’ve improved exponentially since [moving here],” Park said.
Musically, Park said he’s most influenced by Spanish classical guitarist Andrés Segovia and Sungha Jung, a fingerstyle guitarist from Korea. During his travels around
“I think I know at least two-thirds of all the buskers in Philadelphia,” Park said. “We don’t talk a lot because we know we’re all busy, but we say ‘hi’ and give each other tips sometimes.”
Soon, Park plans to follow some advice he’s gotten from other buskers and play in New York City in spots like Central Park and Bryant Park to earn more money.
While he said he’s primarily devoted to furthering his music career, Park has other aspirations he’d like to accomplish eventually as well – including returning to college to study biology.
“I still want to finish up my degree – I’ll be a junior if I go back – but first I have to figure out a way to pay tuition and everything else,” Park said. “I just love science. I want to know the answers to questions such as where human beings are from and about the origin of the universe. The knowledge of biological science is fascinating, so that’s what I’m going to study if I return any time soon.”
Park said he views both science and music as ways to better comprehend his everyday experiences.
“If I have any understanding of any speculations on life, I understand them through music and through biological concepts,” Park said. “They are intertwined in my brain somehow.”
Park also hopes to become a published author of two books. The first will be centered on his life in Philadelphia, as “part memoir, part love story,” and the second is a science fiction novel, which he said he’ll focus on after finishing the memoir this winter.
“[Writing a book] is something I have to do before I’m 30,” Park said. “The times that I’m inspired to write poetry or any kind of essay come very occasionally, but when those moments strike me, I love it. I can’t make comparisons between writing and music, but if I had to choose one of them, I’d choose writing. Life happens once, so I want to do both.”
For now, though, Park plans to continue studying music and playing guitar, whether it’s on a street corner, at a party or in a venue.
“There are stages of learning music,” Park said. “The first is to be able to play the music, like memorizing notes and everything, and the second stage is to [recognize what] you’re feeling from the music and be able to play that. When you’re playing it, those are pure, happy moments, and that’s what I love about music.”
Cheyenne Shaffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.