High hopes and even higher musical notes at a Korean marriage ceremony
Author Hannah Stuart-Leach Illustration Luci Gutiérrez
SEOUL – Korean bride-to-be Sun Green stands at the altar in an elegant ballroom in downtown Seoul. Dressed in a glittering lace gown and vintage veil, she exchanges vows with her dashing groom, then flinches as the sound system crackles to life: “And I-I-I-eee-I-I-I will aaalwaays love you-ooo-eee-ooo-eee-ooo!”
Korean weddings are often lively affairs, but this high-pitched rendition of the Whitney Houston classic has guests rocking on their heels. The man responsible for it, Devione Rogelio Rodriguez Harris, is an African-American who works as an English language teacher. He is here at the invitation of the bride, who’d spotted his talents at a karaoke bar. “I noticed he’s good at the soprano style,” she says. “And he has a brave heart.”
Originally from Oklahoma, Harris, 30, moved to Seoul four years ago. A keen amateur singer, he has appeared in a few stage shows, but he has never performed at a wedding. “I was nervous when they asked,” he says. “In all honesty, I didn’t want to do it.” By “it,” he means “the dance.”
Per a specific request by Green, the dance takes place shortly after Harris has ended his Bodyguard number. It consists of him putting on a pair of shades and leading the groom up the aisle to the peppy K-pop hit “Honey,” leaping and gyrating like a man on fire. “Phew,” he says afterward, awash in perspiration. The guests look on with open mouths.
At the post-nuptial meal, people approach the bridal party to offer congratulations, but most seem distracted by the American sitting across the table. “Wow!” says a wide-eyed boy, not even pretending to be interested in the happy couple. “Where did you learn to do that?”
Later, Harris says that he may not take on any more wedding gigs, but he won’t give up performing altogether. “I like to sing to my students,” he says, “while they are writing or taking a test.”