5 Questions to Elena Moon Park (musician, educator, producer)

Elena Moon Park is a true Renaissance woman. A freelance violinist, a multi-instrumentalist, a music educator, a producer, the list goes on indeed. Based out of Brooklyn, NY, she has graced the concert halls from Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center in New York to the Southbank Centre and the Melbourne International Arts Festival. She uses her diverse interests of ethnomusicology and anthropology to bring music to a wide array of communities and cultures as the co-Artistic Director of Found Sound Nation. In 2012, Park helped Found Sound Nation create a partnership with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs to launch OneBeat, an annual global initiative that unites musicians from around the world to engage in performances and community outreach for one month each fall. In addition to her work with Found Sound Nation, Park has done significant work in all-ages folk music. Her 2012 release, Rabbit Days and Dumplings, is an all-ages album of reimagined folk and children’s music from East Asia. It is a pleasure to have her in the UNEVEN MEASURES series, speaking to her experiences and looking back at the past.

First of all, how are you doing? How have these last six months or so been for you as an artist, and what have you been spending time on recently? 

Thanks for inviting me to share on this platform! This is a lovely series.

The last six months have, of course, been a whirlwind. But as someone without kids to take care of (which I know is another reality altogether), and with the fortune of having a job I can do from home, I actually found a rhythm at the beginning of the pandemic, in the act of slowing down and staying in one place. I did lose gigs, and anxiously followed the unfolding of the health crisis, but I was also reading a lot, reconnecting with old friends and family, and taking daily walks around my neighborhood, spending a lot of time noticing trees and plants. The “slowing down” actually resonated with the all-ages music album I was releasing at that time (at the end of May), which is all about taking a breath and appreciating life at a slower pace. I also spent a lot of time in the first month making “lyric” videos for the songs on the album, inspired by my daily walks, and featuring album artwork (by my collaborator Kristiana Pärn) along with the song lyrics.

At the end of May, the resurgence of the movement for police and prison reform/abolition led by Black Lives Matter shifted things, as many of us probably experienced. I spent a lot of time reconnecting again with people virtually or in person (but with a different focus), at rallies or on Zoom calls, reading and listening. There have been many heartbreaking and stressful moments in the past few months, but overall I remain hopeful by what is happening in these various movements. I’ve been particularly inspired by the words of artists and activists who have long been doing the work of rethinking/remaking systems such that resilience, compassion, empathy, and self and communal care are deeply incorporated into the process of movements towards justice, healing, and repair.

Now, as we transition to the fall, I feel that we are experiencing another big shift in energy. For me, as for many others I am guessing, this means learning how to continue incorporating and balancing self-reflection and slowing down with continual societal and political engagement, while navigating how to move forward with our artistic lives and careers.

Elena Moon Park--Photo by Adam Mirza

Elena Moon Park–Photo by Adam Mirza

You certainly are a multifaceted artist! Tell us a little about your work in folk and all-ages music, and how you see this work fit into our greater community in today’s world?

Sure! I met the Brooklyn-based all-ages musician Dan Zanes by chance–I was at the Bang on a Can Summer Institute in 2006, after taking a two-year hiatus from playing violin to study urban policy, and one day I happened to sing a song on stage with a group of Uzbek musicians. I’d never sung on a stage before, but I think because of that, someone recommended me to Dan, who was looking for a singing fiddle player for his all-ages folk rock band. I grew up 100% in the Western classical violin world, which I had essentially quit two years prior, so I didn’t know what I was doing, plus I’d never heard of “all-ages music” as a genre. But Dan and I got along on a personal and philosophical level. He invited me to play on a show, even though I really couldn’t improvise over the simplest folk song changes. But that first show I played with his band (which was a really great band!), playing these great Americana and folk rock songs for little kids and their parents, was probably the most meaningful and joyful musical experience I’d had up until that point in my life.

Dan’s approach to all-ages music is that music should be a communal experience–that everyone should be welcomed and encouraged into the music-making process–which is not something I had experienced much of in my classical music training, and is one reason why I quit playing classical violin in college. I discovered a similar shared philosophy with my Found Sound Nation colleagues (the arts nonprofit that I work with), Chris Marianetti and Jeremy Thal, who I also met at Bang on a Can Summer Institute: that sound and music-making are inherent in all human beings, and are thus a uniquely powerful way for us to tap into and share our individual stories, and to celebrate our collective humanity.

Soon after, all-ages and folk music became a way for me to look more deeply at my own story, family, and ancestral roots. In doing so, I could invite others into the conversation, learn more about their stories, learn about the songs they loved growing up, and about the cultural and personal traditions that are revealed through those songs. It’s a really beautiful way to start a conversation. As Dan said to me once, “The more I know about myself, and where I come from, the more I can share with you. And the more you know about yourself, the more you can share with me.” That process has been a joyful experience over these last 10-15 years of playing all-ages music… plus it’s full of funny, silly, bizarre, beautiful, sad, poignant, and wildly imaginative songs, which is a lot of fun.

What does cultural exchange mean to you as a musician, an artist, and an educator?

I think my approach to cultural exchange is similar to my approach to all-ages music–a core belief that music provides a unique lens through which we can listen to each other’s stories and experiences, and see each other’s full humanity (not to mention all of our creative glory). Also, there is an obvious but not-to-be-underestimated-or-ignored power in expanding one’s worldview through learning about some form of otherness, whether through travel or literature or simply building relationships outside of who or what you know. It expands one’s mind and experience, yes, but also expands one’s imagination and deepens knowledge of oneself. We’ve been leading these OneBeat global music exchange programs for almost 10 years now, and every year I am amazed by the impact of simply gathering people from very different parts of the world in one space for the purpose of sharing and collaboration. Granted, these are all incredible people who come with open arms and minds, but it is still quite a phenomenon.

Since this article will be part of our UNEVEN MEASURES series, what does the 19th Amendment mean to you as an individual and an artist?

I realize that this series is celebrating the anniversary of the 19th Amendment, and I honestly tend to have mixed feelings about anniversaries. On one hand, I recognize the importance of naming moments of change, but I also recognize that change doesn’t happen in one moment, that it’s often a slow and arduous process, and that there were and are still many struggles and shortcomings to address after this particular moment. That said, this question immediately brings up feelings of gratitude and love for women in my life, and in the world, who are always leading the way through incredible hardship. From my mother and sister and grandmothers to friends and artists who display such strength and creativity on a daily basis, to the women who have historically led the way in making meaningful change in this country, in particular Black women, throughout history and in the present.

Elena Moon Park--Photo by Alexia Webster

Elena Moon Park–Photo by Alexia Webster

Lastly, I found the “Random Thoughts” page on your website so poignant and refreshing. Could you tell us a little about it and why you felt compelled to include such a page on your website?

Thanks! It’s challenging to write about this without sounding cliche, but when all is said and done, I find the greatest sense of peace and meaning in my life when connecting with the natural world. Part of the reason I reconnected with NYC in a way at the beginning of the pandemic was because I took the same walk every day and watched the same trees change as springtime came and went. The pace of life in NYC is so fast that I hadn’t taken the time to do that before. I am actually kind of thankful that I was forced to stop and think about this connection here in the city. There’s just so much to be learned about impermanence and constant change and adaptability and interdependence from the natural world… and I find joy in thinking about these things.

As for those particular images, I love the stillness. And the silence. And I love the feeling of energy and visceral awareness that comes from being in a cold environment. I think that is why winter, snow, and ice are so powerful to me. Those photos and landscapes help me to remember this feeling of being alive and fully present in the moment, while surrounded by this beautiful stillness and silence.


UNEVEN MEASURES is a series dedicated to amplifying today’s women, trans, and nonbinary artists on the centennial anniversary of the 19th Amendment leading up to the 2020 presidential election. This series is made possible through a generous grant from The Elizabeth & Michel Sorel Charitable Organization Inc. to the American Composers Forum and their partnership with I CARE IF YOU LISTEN. The Sorel Organization is committed to supporting gender equity in music and addressing systemic inequities by providing greater visibility for women musicians from underrepresented communities.

I CARE IF YOU LISTEN is a program of the American Composers Forum, funded with generous donor and institutional support. A gift to ACF helps support the work of ICIYL. Editorial decisions are made at the sole discretion of the editor-in-chief. For more on ACF, visit the “At ACF” section or composersforum.org.