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korea essentials No. 8

Traditional Music Sounds in Harmony with Nature Copyright Š 2011 by The Korea Foundation All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means without the written permission of the publisher. First Published in 2011 by Seoul Selection B1 Korean Publishers Association Bldg., 105-2 Sagan-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul 110-190, Korea Phone: (82-2) 734-9567 Fax: (82-2) 734-9562 Email: Website: ISBN: 978-89-91913-88-2 ISBN: 978-89-91913-70-7

04080 (set)

Printed in the Republic of Korea

Traditional Music Sounds in Harmony with Nature

Contents Introduction 6 Chapter 1

One Step Closer to Nature 10 Characterisitics of Korean Music Chapter 2

Genres of Korean Music 20 Jeongak / Court Music / Pungnyu Music / Minsogak / Vocal Music Instrumental Music / Religious Music Chapter 3

Pansori 48 Five Pansori Tales / Hometown of Pansori Chapter 4

Samulnori 62 Beginnings / International Debut / Encounters with Western Music / New Phase Chapter 5

History of Korean Music 74 Three Kingdoms Period (57 BC–AD 668) / The Introduction of Buddhism / Chinese Influence / Golden Age of Court Music / Popularization of Folk Music / Encounters with Western Music Chapter 6

Musicians 82 Folk Musicians / Court Musicians / Education

Chapter 7

National Gugak Center 92 1,400 Years of Tradition / Role of National Music Organizations / Preservation of Court Music / Organization / Ensembles of the National Gugak Center


Further Information 106 Recommended Gugak Albums 108

Delving Deeper • Basics of Korean Traditional Music 18 • Jongmyo Jerye 24 • Korean Traditional Instruments 44 • Rhythms in Pansori 52 • Five Pansori Tales 54 • Shin Jae-hyo: A Pioneer of Pansori 60 • History of the Samul 66 • Samulnori Instruments 67



Music has played and continues to play a vital role in Korean society, providing a rich vein of material both as a dynamic musical culture and as a case study for examining general questions about the nature of music in its social context. Korean music has a welldocumented history that spans millennia. It is a history that reflects an active engagement with surrounding cultures as well as indigenous creativity and innovation. The traditional classification of genres reflects an ordered society, each stratum of which—court, gentry, monastic, and folk—enjoyed distinctive musical forms and expressions. Korea is heir to one of the world’s oldest repertoires of notated music. Within the royal court of the Joseon Dynasty (1392–1910), music was carefully preserved by members of the Royal Music Academy (Jangagwon) as a sonic icon of the pure Confucian ethic that governed the lives of the royals and aristocracy. The landed gentry, the literati, cultivated refined traditions of sung poetry such as sijo (short verse) and gagok (long lyric songs), as well as painting, calligraphy, and the playing of stringed instruments—the gayageum and geomungo. During the past several hundred years, virtuosic instrumental genres based upon the music of shamanist rituals and agricultural ceremonies (sanjo and sinawi) developed into highly sophisticated art forms, as have folk songs (minyo) and dramatic narrative (pansori). Samulnori, a form of chamber music for four percussion instruments based upon the rhythmic patterns of the ancient farmers’ band (nongak or pungmul), was introduced in 1978 and has since enjoyed a worldwide following.


The resurgence of interest in traditional music in Korea following three-quarters of a century of cultural devastation through colonialization, war, and rapid industrialization is nothing short of miraculous; the study of this renewed interest provides a revealing history in itself. This book will examine the development of Korean traditional music. We will look at what makes it unique, survey its wide variety of genres, and review the dramatic history of the art form, which has risen from near extinction to achieve growing popularity. We will also learn about some of the more influential performers and discover where we might experience this most Korean of arts with our own two ears.


Chapter One



he 1944 edition of the Harvard Dictionary of Music identifies Korean music as being “the same as Chinese music.” The origin of this error can be traced back to M. Courant, who, in writing “La Musique de Coree” for Lavignac’s Encyclopedie de la Musique, based his research on literary documents rather than any experience or knowledge of Korean music. According to his study of ancient Korean documents such as Goryeosa (History of Goryeo), Akhak Gwebeom (Canon of Music), and Jeungbo munheonbigo (The Augmented Reference Compilation of Documents), Courant wrote that there were “a great number of Chinese instruments in Korea.” The first time Korean traditional music was really introduced overseas was in 1884, when Horace N. Allen, minister of the American legation in Seoul, arranged for ten Korean musicians to perform at the Boston International Expo. At the time, the

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newspaper reviews said that Korean traditional music had great value as an Asian music form. Another Korean music performance in the US followed a long while later in 1929. From the 1950s, Western scholars were able to hear Korean music for themselves thanks to recording technology and the spread of LPs. It was through this direct experience with Korean music that they learned just how different Korean music was from that of the country’s neighbors, China and Japan. The classification of Korean music as Chinese can be attributed simply to the fact that literature mentions the names of the five-tone (pentatonic) musical scale and the 12 chromatic pitches in Chinese characters. The notion of Korean music as a genre of Japanese music can be attributed to the spread of erroneous information during Japanese colonial rule. On hearing Korean music, it becomes clear to anyone that it is unique. Korean classical music of its own uniqueness

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Music of the Mind and Spirit In 1921, the Japanese musicologist Hisao Tanabe heaped lavish praise on Korean music. After listening to classical court music, or aak, he said, “This music is a series of mystical melodies that seem to open up the world that links the world of man to the heavens. Korean classical court music is voluptuously beautiful, finished off to perfection by court dance music. It is graceful and refined.” He added, “The world must be made to acknowledge Korean music as a unique and precious thing, an international cultural treasure.” The Chinese music critic Chai Ling said, “Korea’s ancient musical instruments are capable of producing flowing rhythms that express their esoteric and yearning sentiments. In comparing such music to popular modern love songs, it is clearly evident which has the more artistic value. Different in feeling from Western music or Indian Buddhist music, it is easy to get a feel for the Oriental religious perspective and for the gods from ancient Korean music.” Court dancers perform to court music.

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The gayageum, Korea’s most representative musical instrument

The famous American contemporary composer Allan Hovahness said, “Korean music is solemn and grand, with beautiful tones. It is one of the most expressive music types in the world, majestic and free. The naturalness and mysteriousness of its melodies are unmatched by any other music in the world. It is music of the mind and the spirit.” Jonathan Condit is an English scholar from Cambridge University who came to Korea to study Korean music theory. In his doctoral thesis, “Sources for Korean Music, 1450–1600,” he wrote: One of the special characteristics I would like to point out Korean music, from court music to folk music, is its great diversity and wide range of expression. Court music is thoroughly refined and stately, sophisticated and dignified, sincere and very, very beautiful. On the other hand, folk music is emotional and passionate. Just as court music has a long tradition, folk music also has a deep-rooted tradition. To explain the difference between the two, folk music is more spread through the masses and is therefore easier to understand. With court music, the deeper you penetrate it, the deeper it becomes and the more appreciative you become of its true essence. For

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An exciting performance of samulnori, a development of nongak, farmers’ music

heung (zeal) and han (harboring unresolved wishes). As is generally recognized, the emotional aspect of the Korean culture is more prominent than the rational aspect. With its roots in primitive rituals featuring ecstatic performances by shamans in mysterious communion with the supernatural, Korean native music is generally free and spontaneous in style and places great importance on improvisation by individual artists. In the popular sanjo (literally translated as “scattered melodies,� these are written for solo instrument with drum accompaniment), for example, the player can freely decide the length of his performance according to his mood or the audience response. In pansori (a musical genre in which a solo vocalist performs with drum accompaniment), when a singer is in the mood, he or she may perform for hours in exciting coordination with a drum accompanist. If the singer is not in the mood, however, he or she may perform for only half an hour. In this sense, Korean music radically differs from Western classical music, which is based on rational structuralism and the beauty of balance and control. The grafting of Korean traditional

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Korean music had been greatly influenced by shamanism.

music and Western music should be sought in the context of harmonizing two different cultures, one rational and one emotional, rather than that of harmonizing different musical styles or instruments.

Warm Timbre Generally speaking, Korean music conveys a gentle, warm timbre— this is particularly true of jeongak music. The subtle tonal color of the music can be attributed to the fact that Korean instruments are made of nonmetallic materials. In the West, even wind instruments such as flutes and clarinets are made of metal. In Korea, on the other hand, wind instruments tend to be made solely from wood; even stringed instruments have strings made of silk instead of wire. Nearly all of Korea’s wind instruments use bamboo. During the Joseon Dynasty, woodcrafts were developed to a greater extent than metalcraft and were used even for everyday objects. The Korean inclination for plant-derived materials may stem from a warm, emotional character that seeks to embrace all things.


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Chapter Two



roadly speaking, Korean traditional music can be divided into two major categories: jeongak (literally meaning “proper music”) and minsogak (“folk music”). If one were to draw analogies with Western music, jeongak could be seen as the Korean equivalent of Western classical music, while minsogak could be regarded as something akin to Western folk music. Of course, it’s a bit more complicated than that. Jeongak included both court music and music performed for the civilian upper class. To classify it by its components, it includes the Jongmyo Jeryeak and Munmyo Jeryeak, played for the important royal ancestral ceremonies; music played for other court ceremonies; and so-called pungnyu music enjoyed by the upperclass scholar elites of the Joseon Dynasty. By contrast, minsogak included folk songs (minyo), lyrical storytelling (pansori), shamanist music (sinawi), and other musical forms enjoyed by the common folk. Defined more broadly,

Genres of Korean Music 21

minsogak also included beompae, or Buddhist religious music. Korean music could also be classified according to how it was performed: instrumental music (giakgok) vs. vocal music (seongakgok). Giakgok includes solo instrumentals, duets, and ensemble works, while seongakgok consist of solo and accompanied vocal pieces.

JEONGAK The music of the upper classes, jeongak employs a slow tempo with a smooth and relatively refined texture. Reflecting Korea’s sedate, elegant, and intellectual aristocratic culture, jeongak creates a calm, dignified, and contemplative atmosphere. The music can be likened to the fine silk attire of Korean aristocrats. Even when the music crescendoes to a climax, its expression remains restrained. A performance of the jeongak, Korean classical music

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Jeongak includes ritual music (jeryeak), played during royal ancestral remembrance ceremonies; pungnyu music, enjoyed by the yangban elite of the past in their ordinary lives; lyrical poetry like sijo, gagok, and gasa; and the wind and percussion music (gochwiak) played during royal or official processions. Jeryeak included two works: the Jongmyo Jeryeak, played during the ancestral ceremonies performed by a Joseon king for his royal predecessors; and the Munmyo Jeryeak, performed for remembrance ceremonies for Confucius and Confucian scholars. Both of these we will learn more about shortly. The music of literati, or pungnyu, was wind and string music played indoors, typically enjoyed by the yangban elite at their private residences; it was sometimes played at the royal court, too, to celebrate fortuitous events. Gochwiak was a form of processional music and, unsurprisingly, included several forms of military music.

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The Jongmyo Jeryeak, used in the ancestral rites of the Joseon royal family

Court Music Jongmyo Jeryeak Jeryeak refers to music performed during court remembrance rituals. In the days of the Joseon Dynasty, when Confucianism was the ruling ideology of the state, Confucian ethics, morals, etiquette, and ancestor worship were considered extremely important. Accordingly, ancestral remembrance ceremonies were performed with religious regularity and according to strict guidelines. Once every spring, summer, fall, and winter, the kings of Joseon would go to the Jongmyo Shrine, where the memorial tablets of the previous kings and their families were kept, to hold remembrance ceremonies to praise the wisdom and achievements of their royal predecessors. These ceremonies, performed to music, were called the Jongmyo Jeryeak. The Jongmyo Jerye was a royal rite

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Today, gochwiak is preserved in the form of daechwita (“blow and strike”), military music whose name is a pretty good description of what it is. Daechwita bands consist of wind instruments such as the taepyeongso (a conical double-reeded instrument), nabal (clarion), and nagak (conch horn) and percussion instruments like the jabara (cymbals), jing (gong), and yonggo (dragon drum). All players wear bright yellow robes fastened with blue waist bands. The military band musicians were also known as jorachi, a Mongol word meaning “draftee,” which suggests Mongol influence during the later Goryeo.

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Later, a derivation of the daechwita, the chwita, was arranged as an orchestral piece for court banquets. Unlike the processional version, this one features string instruments. The chwita also has a more serene name, “Manpajeongsikjigok,” which means “to dispel all the concerns and troubles of the world.” One other form of gochwiak is the gilgunak, in which words were added to royal procession music and military music. Later, however, it came to be sung during excursions to the mountains, picnics, and visits to Buddhist temples. While not especially deep in meaning, the melody is as joyful as you’d expect for this kind of music. A performance of the Daechwita

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Korean Traditional Instruments Traditionally, instruments were classified under the Chinese “eight sonorous sound” system as metal, stone, earth, skin, silk, wood, gourd, and bamboo. The prime motivation behind the eight-part system was to establish a system of cosmological correspondences between these important ritual instruments and the eight trigrams, eight compass points, and other meaningful eight-part systems.

STONE Stone was thought to be symbolic of longevity and stability, which helps explain its usage in ancestral rituals. Only one instrument type is found in this category: the L-shaped lithophone constructed of resonant limestone or jade, each tuned to a specific pitch. • Pyeongyeong: Set of 16 tuned stone chimes used in ancient court music; derived from the Chinese bianging • Teukgyeong: Single large tuned stone chime

EARTH The use of clay in instrument construction is suggestive of the significance of earth as generative force, complementary to the cosmological dominance of heaven.



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• Hun: An egg-shaped clay flute with between five and eight finger holes distributed in various patterns

SKIN The skin category is comprised entirely of drums, the historic significance of which is found in the signaling nature of the drums themselves. • Buk: Barrel drum used primarily in pansori, pungmul, and samullori. The term buk is also used in Korean as a generic term for any type of drum. • Janggu: Double-headed hourglass-shaped drum • Sogo: Small hand-held drum • Nogo: Set of two drums pierced by a pole

SILK Silk strings represent purity and determination, an indication of the high value assigned to string instruments. • Gayageum: Long zither with 12 strings; modern versions may have 13, 17, 18, 21, 22, or 25 strings. • Geomungo: Fretted bass zither with six strings that is plucked with a bamboo stick • Bipa: Pear-shaped lute with four or five strings. • Haegeum: Vertical fiddle with two strings • Ajaeng: Bowed zither Sogo






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Chapter Three



ansori is a genre of musical storytelling performed by a vocalist and a drummer. As one of the most prominent genres among Korea’s traditional stage arts, pansori is characterized by expressive singing, stylized speech, and a repertory of narratives and bodily gestures. Its texts combine rural and erudite literary expressions, embracing both elite and folk culture. Recognizing its cultural value and uniqueness, UNESCO inscribed pansori on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2008 (originally proclaimed in 2003). Pansori is said to have come originally from the southwestern provinces of Korea in the 7th century, probably as a new expression of the narrative songs of shamans. It remained an oral tradition among the common people until the late 19th century, by which time it had acquired more sophisticated literary content and gained considerable popularity among the urban elite. The settings,

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characters and situations that make up the pansori universe are rooted in the Korea of the Joseon period (1392–1910).

Mono-Opera of Variety Pansori is a kind of mono-opera. The term pansori is derived from the Korean words pan, meaning “a place where many people gather,” and sori, meaning “song.” (Sori also means“sound” or “voice” in Korean.) It is called sori because music and literature are fused in it into a single performing genre. Pansori combines music and drama. For this reason, pansori is also known as changak (literally “vocal music”), geukga (“dramatic song”) or changgeuk (“dramatic vocal music”) in Sino-Korean characters. Pansori is performed by a singer (sorikkun) to the beat of a single drum, which sets the rhythm of the piece. The singer and drummer (gosu) work in tandem, the drummer setting the tone—sometimes solemn, sometimes cheerful, sometimes playful. When the beat of the drum slows, the audience senses the sorrow of the story; when it Pansori performancei


Rhythms in Pansori Jangdan, or the name given to the rhythms used in pansori, doesn’t mean the same thing as the “beat” in Western music. It is a comprehensive term, including modes of rhythm and strong, weak, and repetitive intervals. A variety of tempos are used in pansori, such as the jinnyang, jungmori, jungjungmori, jajinmori, hwimori, eonmori, and eotjungmori, in a range of andante, moderato, and presto. Mori comes from the word meaning “to drive by beating” and is sometimes pronounced as meori, meaning “protruding head.” These rhythms are selected every minute to represent different sentiments, such as sadness, happiness, idleness, and urgency, as well as to indicate the appearance of a specific character. They are played fast or slowly according to the storyline. Jungmori Jangdan (

= 72 ~ 108 )

12 4 Jungjungmori Jangdan (

= 60~ 96)

12 8

12 8

Hwimori Jangdan (

4 4

Jajinmori Jangdan (

= 116~ 144)

= 90~ 144)

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Pansori, characterized by its highly extemporaneousness nature, can grow longer or shorter depending on the audience.

Five Pansori Tales Pansori is a genre of performing art that narrates traditional Korean tales through a combination of songs and narratives. The number of pansori in Korea was once as great as the number of orally transmitted tales. From the mid-Joseon Dynasty onward, twelve pansori were chosen from among the many in existence and designated the “Twelve Pansori.” Only five of the original twelve works of pansori survive today: Heungbuga (The Tale of Heungbu), Simcheongga (The Tale of Simcheong), Chunhyangga (The Tale of Chunhyang), Jeokbyeokga (The Tale of the Red Cliffs), and Sugungga (The Tale of the Underwater Palace). The protagonists of these tales were generally ordinary people of no particularly high social status; often, these were characters that displayed very human weaknesses. The plots of pansori generally start with a tragic background story, but they nearly always end happily with boisterous humor. In this way, pansori provide audience the wisdom to overcome life’s tragedies and to persevere in the face of its challenges, and always with a smile.

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Five Pansori Tales Tale of Heungbu The Tale of Heungbu tells the story of Heungbu, a poor but good-hearted man who cares for a swallow with a broken leg. The swallow repays his kindness the following year by giving him a gourd seed that ends up bringing him treasures. Upon hearing of this, Heungbu’s nasty and greedy older brother Nolbu grows jealous and decides to intentionally break a swallow’s leg. Nolbu, too, receives a gourd seed, but his produces a goblin. The Tale of Heungbu depicts the lives of common people with a folksy atmosphere. Many audiences enjoy this story because of its humor.

Tale of Chunhyang The Tale of Chunhyang is the most famous pansori piece in Korea, considered the best in musical, literary, and production terms. It tells the love story between the title character, the daughter of a gisaeng (a type of female entertainer), and Yi Mongryong, the son of a magistrate. After the two marry illegally, Mongryong goes to Seoul, and a corrupt local magistrate attempts to force Chunhyang to become his concubine. She refuses and is sentenced to death, only to be rescued at the last minute by Mongryong, who has returned as a secret royal inspector. The Tale of Chunhyang is the longest of the five pansori pieces.

Tale of the Red Cliffs This story retells the Chinese legend of the Battle of Red Cliffs, with a basic plot coming from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. The Tale of the Red Cliffs showcases the creativity of the master singers of pansori. It is a heroic

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story, and the expression is accordingly grand, strong, and sublime. For this reason, female singers rarely perform the piece. It has many scenes depicting conflicts among the king, feudal lords, and a commander, so the singer must be capable of performing the vocals with grandeur. Despite its short length, The Tale of the Red Cliffs is considered the most difficult pansori piece to perform.

Tale of Shimcheong The Tale of Shimcheong tells the sad story of Shimcheong, a devoted daughter who sacrifices herself to the Dragon King of the Sea in order to cure her father’s blindness. Moved by her filial piety, the king sends her back to earth wrapped in a lotus flower, which is carried to an emperor’s palace. The emperor falls in love with Shimcheong and makes her his empress. The highlight of the story comes when Shimcheong’s father regains his eyesight upon meeting his daughter who had been presumed dead.

Tale of the Underwater Palace This piece is based on the traditional story of the rabbit and turtle (not to be confused with the tale of the tortoise and the hare). Thanks to its anthropomorphized animals, it is more exciting and farcical than any other pansori piece. In the story, the Dragon King of the Southern Sea is suffering from an ailment that can only be cured with the liver of a rabbit. He summons all of his ministers to go on land and find him a liver. The terrapin volunteers his services, journeying into the forest to return with a rabbit. He succeeds in luring a rabbit with the wonderful prospect of living in the palace. But after discovering his predicament at the palace, the rabbit persuades the king to let him return to the forest by explaining that his liver was so greatly in demand that he left it behind, hidden in a secret place. The audience may glean some wisdom from the rabbit’s actions.


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Chapter Four



amulNori was originally a traditional Korean percussion group organized in 1978 to give nightly performances of traditional music at a small theater in Seoul. From the very outset, SamulNori was a big sensation, which was amply justified by a long series of fantastic successes in subsequent performances at home and abroad. Today, the term “samulnori” has come to mean a great deal more than the name of one musical group: it has become a generic term for the musical genre currently performed by a number of groups. The group’s performances and activities are an important part of the history of traditional Korean music. SamulNori’s musical activities and performances have had a farreaching influence on stage arts at home and abroad. Deeply rooted in traditional Korean music, SamulNori has won tremendous applause from contemporary musicians and musical sympathies worldwide with its unique Korean sound.

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Beginnings It all began with the meeting of four outstanding musicians, each of whom had trained extensively and exhaustively. Availing themselves of that rare and significant encounter, they set ambitious goals for themselves and made a fresh start toward achieving them. The group was first organized in February 1978 on the occasion of the first Evening of Korean Traditional Art Performances at the Space Theater. During these performances, the four musicians—Kim Yong-bae on the ggwaenggwari (small gong), Kim Duk-soo on the janggu (double-headed hourglass drum), Lee Jong-dae on the buk (squashed barrel drum), and Choi Dae-hyun on the jing (large gong)—ushered in a new era in Korean traditional percussion performances. In a nutshell, the performers derived a truly extraordinary sound from very ordinary traditional music. The splash was soon followed by another performance at the Space Theater in April at that same year, after which the group was formally inaugurated as SamulNori. The name SamulNori, which means “the playing of four things,” A performance of samulnori

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History of the Samul The term samul (four objects) was originally a Buddhist term. Four percussion instruments are used in day-to-day Buddhist rituals: the temple bell (beomjong), temple drum (beopgo), iron gong (unpan), and wooden fish gong (mogeo). Later on, the term came to refer to the buk (drum), jing (gong), moktak (hand-held wooden gong) and taepyeongso (Korean oboe), and still later, the buk, janggu (hourglass drum), jing (gong) and ggwaenggwari (small gong). In fact, the four instruments used in samulnori have a long history in the everyday lives of the Korean common folk. You would be hard-pressed to find a Korean village without them. They were played during times of work, times of celebration, and village shamanist rituals. During times of war, they were even used in military bands. This latter point is evident in the clothing worn by samulnori performers, which resembles the military uniforms worn by soldiers in the Joseon Dynasty army. The melodies used also take their names from military terminology.

Samulnori 67

Samulnori Instruments Ggwaenggwari: A round-shaped brass instrument that is about 20 centimeters in diameter. The kind of ggwaenggwari used in folk music normally has a string instead of a handle, and is held around the wrist and played with a small stick. It is sometimes used to play the rhythm when singing “Hoesimgok,” a Buddhist chant to encourage for filial piety and good conduct. Janggu: A typical Korean rhythm instrument that looks like a double-headed drum with a narrow middle section. Similar instruments are widely used in West Asia, including the central Asian region. The left side (“roundtipped stick” or “palm” side) of the janggu is covered with cow hide, and the right side (“bamboo stick” side) is covered with horse hide. The left side of the drum is beaten either with a palm or with a round-tipped stick (gunggeulchae), while the right side is beaten with a slim bamboo stick (yolchae).

Buk: A drum used in folk music, which is easy to carry around thanks to a strap hanging from the player’s shoulder. The buk produces solid, deep sounds. In the past, buks were made by emptying out the inside of a paulownia or cottonwood tree, covering both sides of the trunk with cow or horse hide, and stringing together the hides on both sides with cords. Nowadays, they are usually made of wood planks pieced together.

Jing: A brass percussion instrument with a bottom measuring about 36.3 centimeters in diameter. It is made of high-quality brass. With its long and resounding reverberations, the jing is highly valued as an instrument. It produces sublime and soft tones when struck with a stick whose tip is wrapped in thick cloth.

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International Debut In 1982, SamulNori made its first official trip abroad. Making inroads into the international music scene was, in fact, one of the goals the members set at the time of their inauguration. Their first overseas performance was in Japan. Held from June through July 1982 in Tokyo, the event was jointly sponsored by the Korean Information Service in Japan and the Korea–Japan Friendship Association and staged concurrently with international conferences marking the tenth anniversary of the July 4 South–North Korea Joint Declaration. The group gave four performances and lectures. This was followed by the group’s debut in the United States in October and November 1982. It performed alongside art groups from 23 countries at the EPCOT Festival at Disney World in Orlando. It also took part in an international percussion concert in Dallas. Park Dong-wook, a Korean musician specializing in Western percussion music, also participated in the concert. SamulNori took advantage of the event to demonstrate the essence of Korea’s A 2011-man performance of samulnori in Ilsan in 2011

Samulnori 69

traditional percussion music and the best of percussion music. The event also set the stage for invaluable encounters between SamulNori and world-renowned artists like Steve Reich, Steve Gadd, and Nexus, facilitating samulnori’s advance onto the world stage. The participants in the contest were so impressed with SamulNori’s music that they invited the group to perform in their own countries, thus paving the way for its global activities. These developments were no accident. As pointed out earlier, the internationalization of samulnori was one of the major goals set forth at the founding of the group. Introduced to the world of nongak at the age of six or seven, the four musicians had a profound belief in the strengths of traditional music as well as in their own skills, and they had always dreamed of taking their music to the world. The members were not inexperienced in performing overseas, so they were quite realistic in pursuing their goal. In particular, Kim Duk-soo and Choi Jong-sil, former members of the Little Angels Children’s Folk Ballet of Korea, knew what to expect from foreign


82 Traditional Music: Sounds in Harmony with Nature

Chapter Six



orea’s traditional music has not been preserved and passed down via the classical method of musical scores. Rather, it has been passed down from person to person by oral transmision and with heartfelt feeling. This is why a musician’s personal history is considered so important, and why the musician is judged by this as much as by his or her musical talent. Korea’s traditional musicians can be divided into two general categories: folk performers descended from shamans and shamanist musicians, and classical musicians descended from court musicians. By passing down their music from generation to generation, shaman families produced many outstanding musicians. Among them, the performers of sinawi (instrumental musical accompaniment for shamanist dances) active in the region south of the Hangang River greatly contributed to the development of folk music, including pansori, sanjo (scattered melodies for solo instrument and drum accompaniment), and sinawi.

Musicians 83

Most court musicians passed down to their offspring not only their music but also their positions as court musicians. During the Japanese colonial period (1910–1945), court musicians began to add gagok such as the “Mannyon Changhwanjigok,” along with other musical genres popular with the masses, to their repertoire, evolving into a musical group that contributed greatly to the development and preservation of classical music. In the strict class-based society of the past, shamans and court musicians belonged to an extremely low social caste. However, they considered it their fate to pass down their music for posterity and lived as musicians their whole lives. Many of them developed and elevated the standard of their music to a higher dimension and took great pride in creating music. The people who devote themselves to Korea’s traditional music today are little different from those of the past. This is true of musicians in both folk and classical music genres.

Hwang Byungki, one of Korea’s greatest gayageum players


92 Traditional Music: Sounds in Harmony with Nature

Chapter Seven



he National Gugak Center (formerly the National Center for Korean Traditional Performing Arts) is the hub of traditional music in Korea today. The center provides for the continuing development of the traditional performing arts community in music and dance, while engaging in experimental activities such as performances featuring modernized versions of traditional musical instruments. It also engages in various educational activities, produces musical scores and recordings, compiles research data, and provides Korean traditional music classes for foreigners. The National Gugak Center came up with a slogan: “With 1,400 years of tradition, the National Gugak Center strives for the pure spirit of literati and refined culture.� In Korea, there are three more National Centers for Korean Traditional Music, in Namwon, Jindo, and Busan.

National Gugak Center 93

1,400 Years of Tradition Korean traditional music boasts a history of about 1,400 years. Renamed the National Center for Korean Traditional Performing Arts in 1951, its roots can be traced to much earlier national music organizations such as the Yiwangjik Aakbu (Department of Yi Dynasty Court Music) of the Japanese colonial period (1910–1945), the Jangagwon of the Joseon Dynasty (1392–1910), the Daeakseo of the Goryeo Dynasty (918–1392), and the Eumseongseo of the Unified Silla Kingdom (668–935). Through changes in the ruling dynasties, times, and ideologies during the 1,400 years since the first official music positions were created with the establishment of the Eumseongseo under the Unified Silla Kingdom, Korea’s traditional performing arts have evolved and have been passed down through national music organizations. It is truly astounding that the traditions of these organizations have continued for 1,400 years, considering how often Korea has been threatened by annihilation in the course of its A performance of the Seonyurak, a court dance, at the National Gugak Center

102 Traditional Music: Sounds in Harmony with Nature

both Korean and foreign, in addition to organizing about 30 days of overseas performances and lectures each year. It also oversees the rituals performed at Jongmyo Shrine and Confucian shrines, as well as other performances at non-cultural venues.

Ensembles of the National Gugak Center Court Music Orchestra There are about 80 members of the Jeongak Ensemble, including senior musicians in their eighties who once served at the Yiwangjik Aakbu. The senior musicians are carrying on the court music of the late Joseon Dynasty, and the musicians in their fifties and sixties, who learned from the seniors, are carrying on the traditions of Korean classical music as close musical companions, having studied together at the Traditional Performing Arts School in their early teens. A number of them have become members of the Korean Traditional Performing Arts Center, thus following in the footsteps of their great-grandfathers, grandfathers, and fathers. There are also fathers and sons as well as brothers and sisters at the National Gugak Center who have devoted their whole lives to traditional music.

National Gugak Center 103

Folk Music Group The traditions and musical strength of the National Gugak Center are also evident in its folk music. About 50 members of the Folk Ensemble specialize in pansori, gayageum byeongchang (songs accompanied by a long l2-string zither), sinawi ensemble, sanjo, minyo, and pungmul-nori (traditional games accompanied by folk music instruments). They are either experienced performers in their forties and fifties who mastered the principles of music on their own by learning music the traditional way (by oral transmission and by heart), or young performers in their twenties and thirties who learned traditional music through contemporary specialized educational training. The Folk Music Ensemble is noted for giving refined performances where folk music is preserved in its original form. It avoids the use of commercial strategies to appeal to the general public or efforts to win popularity through occasional performances.

Dance Troupe The National Gugak Center also has a dance troupe, whose very existence proves that the traditional performing arts include dance.

108 Traditional Music: Sounds in Harmony with Nature

Recommended Gugak Albums A Selection of Korean Traditional Music Vol. 1 (1987) SEM Gramophone Performed by National Gugak Center

Pansori: Korean Epic Vocal Art & Instrumental Music (1988) Nonesuch Records Singer: Kim So-hee The Royal Ancestral Shrine Music (1987) Korean Traditional Music Vol. 9 SKC Recordings Performed by National Gugak Center Ryongsanhoisang (1987) Korean Traditional Music Vol. 3 SKC Recordings Performed by National Gugak Center Jeokbyeokga (1988) SKC Recordings Performed by Park Dong-jin

Jindo Ssitgimgut (1993) Performed by Kim Dae-rye

Appendix 109

SamulNori: Master Drummers/Dancers of Korea (1988) SKC Recordings Performed by SamulNori

Kayakum Masterpieces by Hwang Byung-ki (1987) SEM Gramophone Performed by Hwang Byung-ki

The Buddhist Meditation Music of Korea (1990) Seoul Records Performed by Kim Young-dong

The Choongang Traditional Korean Orchestra Vol. 6 (1990) Performed by Choongang Traditional Korean Orchestra

Bullim Sori (1992) by Kim Soo-chul

Sujecheon, Byeolgok (2003) The Selection of Korean Traditional Music Performed by National Gugak Center

The content of this book has been compiled, edited, and supplemented from the following articles published in: KOREANA, Vol. 8, No. 3, Autumn 1994 “What Makes Korean Music Different?” by Han Myung-hee “What Kind of People Become Traditional Musicans” by Choi Jong-min “Korean Folk Songs and Folk Bands” by Keith Howard “SamulNori: Taking Korean Rhythms to the World” by Ku Hee-seo “Traditional Korean Music and Its Place in the Emerging World Music Canon” by Johnathan C. Kramer “Namwon and Koch’ang: Carrying on the P’ansori Tradition” by Kim Joo-young KOREANA, Vol. 12, No. 4, Winter 1998 “Korean Music: Harmony with Nature?” by Han Myung-hee “Conservatory with 1,400 Years of Tradition” by Song Hye-jin “Traditional Music: International Perspectives” by Kwon Oh-sung

PHOTOGRAPHS Korea Tourism Organization 5, 8, 11, 13, 14, 18, 30, 34, 44, 45, 47, 57, 58, 59, 61, 65, 66, 77, 84, 86, 90, 96, 99, 101, 103, 107 Yonhap Photo 12, 17, 22, 25, 26, 27, 29, 32, 35, 38, 39, 42, 43, 44, 47, 50, 51, 52, 54, 55, 56, 58, 60, 64, 67, 68, 71, 75, 78, 79, 81, 83, 87, 89, 91, 93, 102, 103 Ryu Seung-hoo 7, 15, 16, 21, 24, 30, 37, 41, 53, 63, 104 Image Today 65

Credits Publisher

Kim Hyung-geun

Writer Editor Copy Editor Content Advisor

Robert Koehler, Byeon Ji-yeon Lee Jin-hyuk Colin A. Mouat Jang Yeon-ok


Shin Eun-ji

Traditional Music  

Music has played and continues to play a vital role in Korean society, providing a rich vein of material as a dynamic part of the nation’s c...

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