Korea's folk music tradition, with its generous use of bright rhythms and melodies, offers a more energetic and capricious contrast to the nation's collection of classical music works. Folk music represents the soul and sound of traditional Korean villages with an eclectic array of music forms including numerous folk songs, various forms of instrumental pieces, pansori, and shaman ritual music. Some of the most prominent pieces and folk music forms are as follows:
- Folk Songs
- Pungmulnori & Samullori
- Shaman Ritual Music
|Featured Folk Music Piece:
Song of Chunhyang
|Song of Chunhyang is the most popular of the five remaining works of pansori, Korea's unique epic narrative vocal form. There is an ancient legend associated with this pansori work which tells of a small southern village called Namwon and a village girl called Chunhyang. Apparently Chunhyang was quite ugly and unpopular, often finding herself the object of scorn and menace. She is eventually imprisoned and then executed under false charges. Soon after, the village of Namwon falls into disarray. A number of magistrates die under mysterious circumstances and the village suffers several years of poor harvests. One village magistrate suspects that a curse has been placed on the village by Chunhyang's angry spirit. To appease her, the magistrate writes a tale of deceit and treachery, but also of love. Chunhyang is described in beautiful terms and in the end marries the most handsome lad of the village. This seemed to satisfy Chunhyang's angry soul as Namwon then enjoyed great prosperity. The text used in this pansori work "Song of Chunhyang" is this very text penned by the village magistrate centuries ago. That's what the legend tells us.||
|"The philosophy of the Orient is predominantly mystic. High value is placed on nature, as may be seen in the concept of earlier times of music as a bridge from man to nature or to the gods. The sound of a plucked string in which man participates in the act of creating the tone and listens as it follows its course as determined by nature is highly satisfying to the Oriental conception of musical art."|
- Hwang Byungki(contemporary composer)
|Days, Children, and You|
Korea has a national holiday dedicated to children. If you would like to celebrate it, Children's Day is observed on May 5th.
Folk Music Pieces
1. Sanjo The word sanjo literally means scattered modes and refers to the fact that these pieces employ a variety of rhythmic and tonal modes. When court musicians first heard these sanjo pieces, they didn't think of it as music but rather a disorganised collection of scattered modes. Kayagum master Kim Chang-Jo is credited with creating the very first sanjo piece around 1890 and since then this solo instrumental form has been adapted for most other traditional instruments. The music relies heavily on improvisation and the most prominent musical characteristic is that the piece increases in tempo as it progresses through the various rhythmic modes. The accompaniment of the janggu is also important in establishing the rhythmic foundation for the instrumentalist. A sanjo is technically quite brilliant, particularly in the strident rhythms found in the final sections of the piece.
2. SinawiSinawi is an instrumental music form used in shaman ceremonies to accompany dancing and to help bring the shaman to a higher state of consciousness. The music is highly improvisational and the instruments weave together a thick layer of melodies played over the rhythms of a janggu. Sinawi also influenced the development of both pansori and sanjo music forms.
3. PansoriPansori is an epic narrative song form unique to Korean music culture. Musicologists do not necessarily agree on the origin of the music form but one recent theory suggests that it developed out of Korea's story-telling tradition, that story-tellers gradually began to include musical elements to make their performances more captivating for the audience. The development of pansori was strongly influenced by shaman rituals as illustrated by common elements which exist in both music forms. The vocalist alternates between speaking and singing as the story progresses and uses a fan and a handkerchief to help illustrate the various scenes of the story. The speaking sections are referred to as aniri, the singing as sori, and the actions as ballim. The barrel drum player or members of the audience can call out words of agreement or encouragement throughout the performance and these vocal exhortations are called chuimsae. Pansori was popular in the 18th and 19th centuries and documents show us that there were originally 12 works but today only 5 works remain in performance practice. These works are performed entirely by a single vocalist accompanied by a barrel drum which is rather challenging as full performances can last up to 8 hours in some cases. The text of four of the remaining works are traditional Korean stories while the fith work is based on a traditional Chinese story. The 5 remaining works of pansori are: Song of Chunhyang, Song of Shimchong, Song of Heungbo, The Underwater Kingdom, and Song at Red Cliff.
Song of Chunhyang:This is the most popular of the five remaining works of pansori, Korea's unique epic narrative vocal form. There is an ancient legend associated with this pansori work which tells of a small southern village called Namwon and a village girl called Chunhyang. Apparently Chunhyang was quite ugly and unpopular, often finding herself the object of scorn and menace. She is eventually imprisoned and then executed under false charges. Soon after, the village of Namwon falls into disarray. A number of magistrates die under mysterious circumstances and the village suffers several years of poor harvests. One village magistrate suspects that a curse has been placed on the village by Chunhyang's angry spirit. To appease her, the magistrate writes a tale of deceit and treachery, but also of love. Chunhyang is described in beautiful terms and in the end marries the most handsome lad of the village. This seemed to satisfy Chunhyang's angry soul as Namwon then enjoyed great prosperity. The text used in this pansori work "Song of Chunhyang" is this very text penned by the village magistrate centuries ago. That's what the legend tells us.
Song of Shimchong:This epic tells the ultimate story of faithful servitude and sacrifice. Shimchong is the only daughter of a blind man. Together they live in poverty and Shimchong must venture out daily to beg for meager scraps of food to support themselves. Finally, Shimchong sells herself as a sacrifice in exchange for 300 bushels of rice. Shimchong is thrown off a high cliff into the sea but this is where the story takes a curious twist. The ever-powerful Jade King saves Shimchong as she wakes up inside a lotus leaf. The two are married. Later Shimchong is reunited with her father and his sight is restored.
Song of Heungbo:
This pansori piece is also a highly popular piece and a famous traditional folktale in Korea. It tells the story of two brothers, Heungbo and Nolbo, who wander through life with different minds. Heungbo is the kind guy while Nolbo is quite selfish and nasty. One day, Heungbo finds in his garden a baby swallow with a broken leg. Heungbo bandages the leg and nurses the little swallow back to health. A year later, the swallow returns with a gourd seed for Heungbo. After Heungbo plants the seed, the gourd grows quickly and what should he find inside the gourd but great treasures and riches. Upon hearing this news, Nolbo finds a swallow for himself, breaks the swallow's leg, and then bandages it up again. Sure enough, the swallow returns with a gourd seed for Nolbo. However, Nolbo opens the gourd revealing devilish things which bring misery and hardship to his life. In the end though, Heungbo invites Nolbo into his house and they live a merry life together with Heungbo's family. Moral of the story: Be nice to swallows because if they don't like you, you've got problems.
The Underwater Kingdom: The Underwater Kingdom tells the story of a dragon king who rules the underwater kingdom. The king is sick and has been told that he needs a rabbit's liver in order to cure his sickness. He sends a terrapin up to the land entrusted with the task of bringing him back a rabbit. Problems arise when the terrapin arrives on land only to realise that he doesn't actually know what a rabbit is. After a few encounters with other animals the terrapin finally does manage to find a rabbit and bring it back to the dragon king. But in a delightful twist the rabbit outwits the king and succeeds in escaping from his dragonic clutches.
Song at Red Cliff
4. ChapgaThis is a song form which was in vogue around the beginning of the 20th century. It shows influences from panosir and folk songs, has various structural forms, and uses texts from numerous different sources. The chapga form includes ipchang (standing songs) and chwachang (seated songs). The specific characteristics of chapga songs differ according to region.
5. Folk SongsAs Koreans are known for their natural singing ability it should be no surprise that the nation has cultivated a large collection of folk songs. These songs are normally classified according to five regions of the nation: northwestern region · Seoul & Kyonggi Province · eastern region · southern region · Cheju Island. Each region has its own collection of songs and vocal styles which are quite distinctive. Also, each region bases its songs on a slightly different melodic scale. There are a number of folk songs common to all regions of Korea although they might exist in slightly different variations. Some of these common folk songs are: Arirang, Miryang Arirang, Doraji-Taryong, Banga-Taryong, Kangwondo-Arirang, Nongbuga, Yukjabaegi, Susimga, and Cheonan-Samgeori.There are also collections of folk songs associated with various activities, such as: farm songs, fishing songs, work songs, ceremonial songs, marriage songs, and children's songs.
(classic recording from 1934)
(classic recording from 1934)
6. Pungmullori & SamulloriPungmullori is a form of farmer's music which uses lively percussion and the melodic wanderings of the taepyongso. This music was performed in villages at various farm festivals, occasions ,and celebrations, also included dances and games. Samullori, which literally means "four-piece-play", is a modern percussion form created in 1978 by Kim Duk Soo and three of his associates. This music is based on the traditional farm music pungmullori and employs ggwaengari, jing, janggu, and buk. This music is rightfully brilliant and energetic, popular both in Korea and internationally. Kim Duk Soo has combined this samullori music with other Korean and Western instruments to create music with both Korean tradition and Western jazz elements.
7. Shaman Ritual MusicFor centuries Korean people have cultivated shamanism, developing a large collection of lively mystical performance rituals. The musical elements include vocal songs, instrumental accompaniment, and purely instrumental pieces, such as sinawi. The rituals are normally led by a single shaman accompanied by a small energetic instrumental troupe. Rituals are performed for several purposes, such as sending wishes or appeals to the gods, to contact the souls of ancient people, or simply to entertain and appease the gods. The musical characteristics of these shaman rituals differ somewhat according to region much like the various folk song styles. A number of shaman songs have become quite popular and have essentially been assimilated into the general folk music tradition.