chong-ak and sog-ak, the musical heritage of Korea
The two major divisions of traditional Korean music are usually transcribed as chong-ak and sog-ak. Chong-ak was the music associated with the ruling classes, while sog-ak was the music of the underclasses. Within these two forms of music are many subtypes. For instance, sog-ak includes folk songs, farmers' music called nong-ak, a form of dramatic song called p'ansori, Buddhist music, shaman music, and an instrumental solo music called sanjo. Music for the upper class consists of p'ungnyu (music for an ensemble), kagok and the indigenous Korean popular song, sijo.
One form of sog-ak I find fascinating is the p'ansori, which is a dramatic, narrative song. P'ansori, which are performed by solo singers, probably originated in the Cholla region as part of shaman rituals. Only five classic p'ansori are extant, which makes me eager to study them. I found a brief clip of one of the classics, The Money Song from the "Tale of Hungbo" [WAV] and also a longer p'ansori performance [AVI] for downloading.
Nong-ak (farmer's music) is particularly appealing to me because it involves a lot of percussive instrument. You may be able to hear the various drums in Young Nam Nong-Ak [WAV]. Typically there is a gong, a barrel drum, a drum shaped like an hour-glass and sometimes a reed instrument (taep'yongso) to provide a melody. Nong-ak dancers usually accompany their movement with the small sogo drum as well.
One of the more diverse forms of sog-ak is the sanjo. This form of music is based on the solo instrument, so there is a lot of variety in sound. For instance, here is a sanjo I found in my CD collection. This is a sanjo played on a komun'go [RealAudio], a six-string zither dating from the fourth century Koguryo period. I also found another improvised komun'go sanjo [WAV] online. If six strings isn't enough for you, try listening to the twelve-string zither, the kayagum. This Kayagum Pyongch'ang [RealAudio] comes from my CD collection, and you can listen to a bit of A Beautiful Summer Landscape [WAV] online as well.
Shamistic dance music is known as shinawi. This type of music is improvisational, in that the musicians would stretch out a piece to match the length of the shaman's dance rituals. When you listen to shinawi [WAV] you might notice that its instruments and rhythms sound a lot like sanjo or p'ansori music.
Although I am more interested in sog-ak, I am also studying chong-ak forms. I will confess I am still working hard to decipher the complexities of the kagok. This is a vocal form of music, with a musical ensemble providing the background. Here is a clip of a kagok performance [AVI]. It's short, but you can see what the performers look like.
The other very popular form of chong-ak is the sijo, which is a vocal song. The presentation of the lyrics is very important in this style. Listen for the singer's intensity during this sijo performance [AVI].
There is much more to be said about traditional Korean music, but I hope this has given you at least a glimpse at the musical heritage of the Korean peninsula.
By Denise Ahn
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