Having been involved with Western forms of music since I was five, the presentation “Pathos, Subtleties and Passion: Korean Contemporary-Traditional Music & Dance” on Friday, March 4 completely surprised me, reminding me of the myriad of opportunities Brandeis students have to be exposed to traditions and practices completely outside of anything we have experienced before. In two parts, an open class and following informal recital, the members of the World Music class and the Brandeis community had the opportunity to learn the sounds and context of Korean music.
Beginning with some background on the current professional music being performed, Dr. Ju-Yong Ha took on the daunting task of acclimating an audience predominantly used to Western music with the completely foreign Korean style. Beginning with the basics, he explained the scale (gyemyeonjo) and instruments of the five musicians: Eunsun Jung plays the gayageum or 12-string zither, Seungmin Cha plays the daegeum or bamboo transverse flute, Yejin Kim sings pansori, Woonjung Sim plays the janggo and buk – South Korean drum and percussion, and Hyosun Kang plays the piri and taepyeongso or reed instrument and horn instrument.
Three examples of modern Korean music – all derived from folk traditions – were given in the open class, that of sinawi, sanjo, and pansori, all three of which were also performed in the recital along with jeongak music – music of the upper class or the aristocracy. Extremely expressive and wonderfully intricate, each piece was an experience. Particularly impressive was the sinawi, an improvisational form based on Shaman ritual. None of the five musicians had any pre-planned musical directions, they merely took as a starting point the gyemyeonjo scale, listened to one another, and together created an intricate and impressive piece of music.
Towards the end of the class, when demonstrating the operatic style pansori, in which the singer must take on not only all the roles in the narrative but all the descriptive elements as well, Dr. Ha called on Yejin Kim to demonstrate a part from an aria. He asked her to sing as describing the sound of the wind, as describing ghosts, and as describing a bird, and it was truly remarkable how seemingly effortlessly she embodied each of these phenomena. Incredible talent goes into this music, as with any art, and I count myself extremely lucky to have been able to experience it.
For more information about this event, read the Justice review.