Site hosted by Build your free website today!
Traditional Korean Music Pages
Contemporary Music

The 20th century has brought significant change to Korean society evident in all spheres of activity. The influence of the West can be found throughout the culture and has had profound effects on the traditional music culture. In the past, composed music as the term is understood in the West did not really exist in Korea as activity involving composition was limited to improvising over established melodies and themes. However in 1962 kayagum master Hwang Byungki composed a number of pieces including the piece Sup (Forest) for solo kayagum and this is considered to be the very first truly Korean composition. These pieces were revolutionary in Korean music culture as the role of the composer emerged and experimentation with the fundamental character of Korean music began. Composers began to transform traditional music practices as their compositions became more exploratory and bold.

Beginning in the 20th century students were educated in Western music and the presence of Western musical elements in contemporary works has become ubiquitous. Many composers have begun creating works which combine traditional Korean and Western instruments as instrumental performance techniques are explored and varied. The term Changjak-Gugak (newly-composed Korean music) identifies a movement dedicated to expressing the traditional spirit and feeling of Korean music in new ways. Some of the most influential contemporary composers and musicians are as follows:
  • Hwang Byungki
  • Hyo-shin Na
  • Yi Jiyoung
  • Kim Duk Soo
  • Kim Seok Chul
Featured Contemporary Piece:
Blue Yellow River
Blue Yellow River is a recent composition by San Francisco-based composer Hyo-shin Na. The work borrows melodic material from the traditional Korean piece Hwanghacheong (Yellow River Blue) an ensemble piece which was originally derived from a Chinese song. The inspiration for this piece came from a visit to Kyongju, the ancient capital of the Unified Shilla Dynasty, home to a famous stone statue of Buddha known for its remarkably tranquil appearance. The traditional Korean work is also very peaceful and it is said that even the Yellow River would turn blue under its spell of tranquillity. Hyo-shin Na wrote this piece for kayagum, cello, and double-bass, employing a number of unorthodox playing techniques. The rhythm is very free and actually at the top of the notation, the composer has written: "The piece actually has no meter. The bar lines are only written to help the musicians synchronise."
"I find that I can't support war-making politicians and their goals of a commercialized, materialistic, market-driven world. It's impossible to sit at home and write a love song when the world is in turmoil, but maybe instead of protesting with loud words and violent actions, I can write quieter, slower, subtle music."

Hyo-shin Na
Age, Birthdays, and You

When Koreans are born, they are said to be one year old and the age is increased not on birthdays, but on New Year's Day. Thus the difference between Korean age and Western age is 2 years until one's birthday. Then the difference is one year.

Contemporary Composers and Musicians

Hwang Byungki

Hwang Byungki was born in 1936 and began studying kayagum at age 15 in the city of Pusan where his family had fled as refugees during the Korean War. He states:"I had never heard the kayagum before, but one day I heard it and it sounded like an old man's voice and I was drawn to that sound." Later while studying law in Seoul he continued his kayagum studies and was soon well-known in traditional music circles. In 1962 Hwang Byungki composed a number of pieces including the piece Sup (Forest) for solo kayagum and this is considered to be the very fist truly Korean composition. This work was revolutionary as other Korean musicians began to create their own original works for traditional instruments, the role of the composer emerged and explorations into the fundamental character of traditional Korean music began. Hwang Byungki has composed a large collection of works and influenced the following generations of Korean composers. He served as professor of music at Ewha Woman's University from 1974 until 2001. His performances have been described as "an encounter with the supernatural" and about his supernatural relationship with the kayagum he states:"When I play the kayagum deep into the night while eating fresh chestnuts and dates and the sound coming from the paulownia wood reflect off the floors and some slither through the door while some circle inside, that is the secret nuance of the kayagum."

Hyo-shin Na

Hyo-shin Na was born in Korea and studied composition at Ewha Woman's University in Seoul. She then moved to the USA where she studied at the Manhattan School of Music and the University of Boulder where she completed a doctorate in composition. In Korea, Na had studied Western music and it was only in the USA that she began her first "serious studies" of traditional Korean music. She has written numerous compositions combining both Western Korean instruments and about this form of composition she states:"I don't think of them as Korean instruments or Western instruments, I simply treat each instrument as it is." About her compositions which include elements of Korean music she says:"I find that I'm no longer trying to write Korean music; nor am I trying not to write Korean music. When I write something new for traditional instruments it might not be so 'Korean', but then isn't this just a continuation of the old Korean music which never stayed the same for very long in any case?" Hyo-shin Na has won many awards and honours and has had her compositions performed all over the world. She currently resides in San Francisco.

.....a journey of a thousand li begins with a single step.....