Saturday, October 30, 2010

Day 2 of the Korean Mask Dance Festival

October 30th, 2010
I made it to the festival site before the first show started for the day. I walked up seeing my 고성오광대 Goseong Ogwangdae friend, 황종욱 Hwang Jong’uk but before I could say hi the director of 양주별산대 Yangju Byeolsandae had grabbed my face in both hands (which was sort of funny because she was in full costume with 한삼 hansam on her hands) she was so happy to see me.
“Wa, you’ve come all the way here!”
“Yes, hoijangnim, I’m really excited for the festival.”
“Are you coming to Yangju tonight?”
“Yes, I can come with this friend.” I said, reaching out to Hwang Jong’uk who was probably surprised to see me greeted so demonstratively. Then the Yangju director (김순옥 Kim Sunok) was surprised I knew him…). Of course at the end of the day when it was time to leave Hwang Jong’uk was long gone, but he’d been my back up ride, so it all worked out.

Today there was an announcer. Not just an announcer. A GREAT ONE. He was awesome. He knew a lot, and explained it concisely but in an engaging manner. He even looked perfect in 한복 hanbok and thick grey hair. He came out before Yangju Byeolsandae and between each show and did a great job, the best job of any announcer I’ve seen. On the way to Yangju I asked Bak Sang-un about him and he told that the announcer works for K.O.U.S. as an announcer and researches folk culture. I recognize his name, but I cannot place whether it’s from a publication or meeting him before or what.
Yangju Byeolsandae’s show was great. This time they had their musicians playing 해금 haegeum, 대금 daegeum, 태평소 taepyeongso and 장구 janggu along the back of the stage, somehow this placement changed the feeling of the show for me (usually they are to the side). I’ve already commented on their performances several times recently, one new thing that really stood out to me today was how the music changed and became quite melancholy after the concubine of the yangban is stolen away by a younger man.

The next performance was 통영오광대 Tongyeong Ogwangdae which of course I watched a week ago. Not that I didn’t enjoy seeing it again, I did. I feel like I’m memorizing all the member’s faces. Last time they came to Seoul the one member who is a friend of mine couldn’t come. I haven’t seen him since 2004 and I wanted to meet him face to face again, but when the show ended I couldn’t pick him out. That’s sort of embarrassing. We communicate a lot on the internet about mask dance topics. Fortunately in the evening at Yangju he came up to me (and he had a name tag on. I love name tags).

After Tongyeong was 은율탈춤 Eunyul Talchum. They are similar to 봉산탈춤 Bongsan Talchum so I felt the order of the line-up made no sense at all. (Since Bongsan was after Eunyul). I did have to go to the bathroom during all these shows, by the way. But there was basically no break, so no lunch for me and I just left the video camera running and went to the can during the least interesting to me acts. Who knows I may find a surprise later. The audience was much larger than Friday, but they were considerably less responsive. Some foreigners wandered through, some of them even stayed and watched for awhile, but still during the Yangju performance MBC asked me to give an interview (uh, I’m watching right now…). During the Eunyul Talchum performance suddenly a bunch of workers came and told all of us sitting in the prime seats that we had to move because the wives and families of G20 delegates were going to come watch. To tell the truth I was pissed off. I should move after I’ve been sitting there for two and a half hours, arriving fifteen minutes before the first show to get the good seat? I should move for some diplomat’s family even though this is integral to my Ph.D. research and they’re just showing polite interest? I should move even though if they knew we’d been moved to make room for them they’d probably be embarrassed about sitting in the now vacant seats? I didn’t move. If someone wants to bend over backward to make the G20 come off well, that’s great. But I don’t think that their minders should do that by having them show up half way through a show, necessitating a scene to be cut short and the announcer to come out on stage again and tell everyone what was going on and introduce the next scene again (in Korean which none of the diplomatic families could understand and he’d already explained the whole mask dance before it started). They left before that scene was over. Oh well.

The last show was 봉산탈춤 Bongsan Talchum. Their show started late. Even though Eunyul went over time (partially because of the G20 thing), Bongsan started fifteen minutes later and by that time a fair amount of the audience had given up and wandered towards the sounds of other activities in other areas. The Bongsan show started with the 사상좌춤 Sasangjwa dance and within a few moments it was apparent one of the four dancers did not belong with the rest. The dance is very slow, and though the movements are simple, it’s quite difficult because all four must be perfectly in sync with each other (and the small mask eye-holes, their telescope vision field, and the fact that the dancers aren’t always facing each other make that even more difficult). The rest of the show was fairly enjoyable, but there were several hiccups that someone like I could notice, if not a regular audience member. [Video excerpts from the Bongsan Performance]
Photos: Bongsan Talchum. The monk in yellow is No. 3, my favorite to dance as I often mention. The four white characters are the sa (four) sangjwa (novice monks). The guy with the lion is Mabu, different from monk 3 despite the similar costume. That's Halmi (grandmother) with the fan.

After the show I rode with 박상은 Bak Sang-un, as I already mentioned, to Yangju. Why Yangju? Because they were hosting the big meeting (and social) for the festival, with awards being given, a giant buffet, singing, dancing, drinking and speeches. I wanted desperately to go, and had felt very vindicated when I was invited (by 송파산대놀이 Songpa Sandae Noli first, then later by Goseong Ogwangdae and Yangju Byeolsandae). However, it turned out to be less useful for interviews and contacts than I had been expecting. Although I had some chit-chats with people the atmosphere was not conducive to interviews with anyone I didn’t already know well, and I didn’t have a bunch of new questions to ask the people I already do know well, so it was more of an opportunity to build up good feelings than anything else. I am happy I got to go (and I think my exposure in the room of 25 tables each seating around 10 people, minus the twenty or thirty empty chairs spread around the room although most of them may have been occupied by people who were moving around) will in the long run help me out. I got hugs and handshakes and a lot of smiles. The awards were done by the time we got there and most of the speeches as well. The different groups took turns going up on stage and singing and dancing to the amusement of all. I sat with 김명하 Kim Myeongha from Songpa most of the time, there were only four of us, Kim Myeongha, 김학석 Kim Hakseok (National Human Treasure) and 서병무 Seo Byeongmu (and of course, me). Seo was drunk and trying to speak English, hard enough to understand when he’s not drunk, so I was glad he was mostly not next to me. When our turn came up, instead of singing Trot (old people like it), a cheesy 70s or 80s ballad, or like the hip Goseong Ogwangdae team, a pop song (CLON), Kim Hakseok sang without a karaoke music track. Honestly his timing and general ability was severely hampered by alcohol. The other three of us had to do back-up dance. That was HARD. He was singing a traditional song, but without any adherence to a beat. At least one Yangju friend (김순홍 Kim Sunhong who is their seamstress extraordinaire) and one Goseong friend (이재 훈 Yi Jaehun with the long hair) got up and helped us out. I have a lot of observations on the behavior of the groups and various dynamics I observed, but some are not so flattering so I’ll keep those off the public blog.

Kim Myeongha dropped me at a subway station. Everyone else (except Kim Myeongha and I and whoever had left already) were going to spend all night partying in the hostel Goseong had secured, and I was invited, but Karjam would have blown a gasket if I’d even mentioned it. I know it would have really helped my long term relationship especially with Goseong Ogwangdae people, but I cannot neglect Karjam that much and he does feel very traditionally about his wife staying out even as late as I did.

Day 1 of the Korean Mask Dance Festival

October 29th, 2010
In the morning I had class at Seoul National University. The class was excellent again. I am not having much difficulty understanding Professor 박현순 Bak Hyeon-sun’s Korean at all, and she is so knowledgeable it’s really quite amazing. I’m knowledgeable about things, too, but the depth with which she can answer questions I asked such as “were yangban also regulating and taking a share of the profits from fisheries in the Joseon Dynasty?” (a question only tangentially connected to the topic at hand and certainly not closely related to her research)- well it’s just really great to have met her. As I sat in class and thought about the paper she wants me to write (what? I’m auditing!) I realized that the win-win scenario would be to propose we co-write the paper. She’ll get an English language publication out of it, and I can include an incredibly awesome historical analysis section to my paper on the Grandmother scene in Hwanghae and Gyeonggi Mask Dance Dramas. I proposed that to her as she drove me to the subway station after class (third time she’s done that) not enough time to really talk through it, though.

I rushed directly to the World Cup Stadium Subway stop, which is next to the park where the 4th Annual 대한민국탈춤제 Korean Mask Dance Festival was taking place. Or so I thought. Fortunately when I asked for directions, I was directed onto a shuttle bus because the walk was estimated to be 40 minutes!!! I arrived about twenty minutes into the performance of 하회별신굿탈놀이 Hahoi Byeolshin’gut Talnoli. My friends from the group were happy to see me, but I didn’t get a chance to say more than a few words because during the ten minutes between the two shows a TV crew cornered me and insisted on an interview (I was the only foreigner in sight, the entire audience must have averaged past 60 because honestly who else has time in the middle of a Friday? And I say that even considering the grandkids and a few housewives in the audience). The crew particularly insisted because during the show 이매 Imae (the mentally retarded character in the drama) has singled me out and insisted that I (and three Koreans) get onto the stage and dance with him, and of course I’d danced well (and tied Imae’s shirt closed and so on, since I was irritated I’d been dragged onto stage). So they wanted to include a clip of me on the stage and then the interview.

Photo: classic Imae pose

The next show was 동래야류 Dongnae Yayu, but this time there was any excellent announcing during their performance, in fact the entire announcing for the day consisted of a man and a woman behind the scenes, only communicating the bare facts of name and geographic home of the various groups. I later found out that they were people from Hahoi that were on the microphones. At any rate, I still enjoyed Dongnae Yayu’s performance. They had 12 musicians including the standard bearer, which really makes them the group with the largest number of performers on the stage. Some of the old ladies sitting by me (who gave me an excellent macaroon!) were copying along and responding on the lines, and kept up a running commentary throughout. They always wanted to know if performers were men or women, they cheered loudly when Halmi chased off the concubine and they and the rest of the audience exclaimed and giggled at appropriate moments (such as when the giant acupuncture needles come out). Having such an old audience actually meant the audience was much more appropriately responsive throughout the show.

The last show for the day was 북청사자놀음 Bukcheong Saja Noleum. Since the show began at 4 p.m. I was sort of surprised to see my friend 지훈 Jihoon dancing. The show felt a little frustrating to me, since just three weeks earlier I’d seen an extended version and it was still fresh in my memory, today was unsatisfyingly abbreviated. Many parts were included but then rushed, so that the perfect flavor wasn’t communicated. [Video file of excerpts from the performance]

After the show I talked a bit to one of my 고성오광대 Goseong Ogwangdae friends who was running a lot of organizational details backstage before I left.

The shuttle bus took me back to the stadium which has a Homeplus built into the ground floor, so I bought some good food before taking the subway home. Karjam walked down to the subway station to help me lug it home, he’s so sweet when he’s worried about my health.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

New Tibetan Videos on Youtube for your Viewing Pleasure!

October 27th, 2010
As I still feel fairly weak, so fortunately I didn’t have to leave the house except for a short trip to the bakery (Wing!) and the nearest market. I worked on my presentation for the EPIK (English Program in Korea) orientation on Exploring Korea, uploaded three of Karjam’s songs to Youtube (Nighttime in Lhasa, Tserjih Tsomo and A Nomad Boy from Amdo, all recorded 9/25 in Andong, the 9/30 performance videos will get uploaded eventually). Please visit the videos and comment on them (pretty please).

경진 Kyungjin came for dinner, I made lots of veggie side dishes including really awesome mushrooms and super duper soup.

October 28th, 2010
In the morning I woke up early and traveled across town to present to the EPIK teachers. The presentation went fine, except the group was so varied, it was hard to hit the right note (some people have been in Korea a few years, most 4 months then about 30% of them arrived a week ago, so how do you talk about exploring Korea?). At any rate there was something new in my info for everyone, of that I am certain.

Came home and Karjam and I went to 경희대 Kyunghee University to see Desang, Iwan and Koong who were attending a function there.

After that I headed to 봉산탈춤 Bongsan Talchum class. Today class was taught by 장용일 Jang Yongil again. It’s awesome when he teaches, but I was walking to class promising Georgy that I would take it easy, maybe just sit and watch. But I can’t do that when Jang is teaching! I had to go full out (and both knees killed, plus I felt pretty sick, so worn out Karjam came to meet me at the bus stop and walk me home). He didn’t talk a lot today and ended class 15 minutes early, but he did teach us really steadily. We worked particularly on 5먹중 (the fifth dark faced monk’s solo) and on 사상좌춤 (the dance of the four Sangjwa), but I mostly avoided his eagle eye when I screwed up. He also agreed to drive me to 양주 Yangju after the performance on Saturday (awesome!) and promised to teach us all the 사자춤 (lion dance) on Monday, when he’ll be teaching us again. The lion dance is usually for men, but I’m dying to try it. He also worked with us on our 대사 daesa and our entrances. He insists we need to know the daesa for the fourth monk by Monday. We had two extra people today, Jang’s students who he brought along. One of them is learning to drum to accompany mask dancing, today Jang would often start drumming with the other guy shadowing him then Jang would stop and the other guy would continue to drum on his own. Sometimes he just instructed him from the start without demonstrating, and he was constantly turning to him and saying “it speeds up at the end of this rhythmic cycle” and such. He made a few mistakes and went too fast a few times, but overall he did pretty well.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Below Freezing, Sangmo and Congrats to Wonjung!

October 26th, 2010
I stayed warm at home until I had to go back to the hospital to do the follow up on my knee. What with the conversations the previous day, I had learned that what went into my knee was actually a kind of steroid, which is total BS in my opinion. If all I wanted was for my knee not to hurt I could take painkillers (more than I do). Even worse, when I went to 상모 sangmo class in the evening and actually started really working out the knee for the first time since I got the shot, guess what, it hurt just the same as it ever has (or worse because it’s cold enough (below freezing) that I actually uttered the sentence I never thought I’d say “I miss LA weather.”) Yes, I still feel pretty low energy, but I refuse to let my body hijack my life anymore than it has the past couple days. And I’m freaking sick of Severance Hospital.

We only had six people in sangmo class tonight, all people whose names I know, three plus me being week 8 summer 2010 participants in the 임실필봉농악전수프로그램 Imshil Pilbong Nongak Training Program. The other two are 현석 Hyeonseok the high schooler I wrote about a couple weeks back and a junior member in the school drumming club of one of my week 8 fellows. That guy, 형제 (형재?) Hyeongjae is still in his very initial stages, so for once today I was the middle group (all by myself) with the other four in the advanced group on one side of the room while Hyeongjae and I both struggled with our own easier tasks. 이종휘 Yi Jonghui is back from the American performance tour he was on (and frustrated he can’t speak English and vowing he’s going to study). He checked all our progress and the advanced group started working on polishing their 나비사 nabisa, the butterfly movement where you circle right, then left, then stop your wand above your head, then move it straight back (not in a circle, but whipping it in a straight line) backwards and forwards, it’s a four count move. So 1 and 2 are the two wings and then 3 and 4 are the line between the two wings representing the body of the butterfly. You draw the line twice. He had them polish nabisa first by reviewing the three different 소고 sogo techniques used together with nabisa. The guys had to stand and practice their sogo without twirling the sangmo for a good fifteen minutes before they were permitted to twirl. Even though I still am not using sogo with my sangmo at all, for some reason Jonghui decided to teach me nabisa. Perhaps he taught me because it’s so freaking hard it’ll take me a long time to learn, so I might as well start practicing now. I did not manage to do a successful 8 count (two cycles) once. Either I’d twirl 1,2,1,2,1,2, and not be able to stop the twirl (in the right place) to do 3,4 or I just practiced the 3,4 movement trying to get a feel for it. My other movements are all getting better, though, slowly but surely.

During our break Hyeonseok explained that he wished he could have been born in an earlier era. This corresponds well with a paper of mine that I’m editing for possible publication at the moment. Study of traditional arts as time travel… intriguing?

Best news of the day? 원중 Wonjung was accepted to the Korea National University of the Arts!

Photo- not actually from the day of this post, but lately I've been eating a lot of open-faced sandwiches on the amazing (AMAZING) bread of the new local bakery.

Monday, October 25, 2010

To the Hospital Again

October 24th, 2010
I felt poorly. We went shopping for some clothes for Karjam, enjoyed some street food and otherwise I was on the computer (feeling poorly) all day. I inserted a lot of photos in previous posts, so you might want to scroll down and see some previous pages. Or at least click around to see Yeouido/Namsadang and Songpa Full Length Performance shots.

October 25th, 2010
I returned to the hospital, where numerous tests were done and results are waiting. I felt weak and poorly, and did not go to 봉산탈춤 Bongsan Talchum. Karjam was a doll and waited outside many hospital doors and prepared most of dinner. Hopefully tomorrow I can say something more interesting. I do have to go to the hospital again, to check in with the doctor on the knee thing.

I don't have to go to these windows...

At Severance Hospital you get the medicine the doctor needs here at this window after you've paid somewhere else (in the dept. you're being treated by) then you bring the medicine to the doctor. Or if I'd been willing to take antibiotics I bet I would have picked them up here, too. The board to the top left shows the list of who can pick up their medicine now.

Severance Hospital's central area has this giant hanging fish. It looked better a couple years ago, even with some saturation in PShop, I think it's just gotten a bit duller over the years. Seriously, how would you clean it?

The hospital sometimes looks like a cross between a spa and a hotel, not a hospital.

Apparently I belong to the fourth floor.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Performance in Honor of Yang Soeun

October 23rd, 2010
I had a hard time deciding which performance to go to on Saturday, at last I settled on the performance honoring 양소은 Yang Soeun, one of the modern masters of traditional arts. The performance was in 인천 Incheon, at their Arts and Culture Center small hall and began at 7. Despite leaving at 5, I barely arrived in time to use the facilities before the show began. The hall, seating around 300, was about 70% occupied. I made extremely detailed written notes of the entire show (because I was prohibited from other forms of documentation) but for research purposes I will just confine my observations to the points below:
1) The announcers (a man and woman, both in their 20s) did not wear traditional clothes (odd, since everything else going on was in traditional clothes). They announced a lot, but the info they gave was designed for an audience that was already well acquainted with the traditional arts, but the announcers themselves seemed to not really know how to engage with what they were talking about so the delivery was very dull.
2) The performances included three scenes from mask dance dramas, one each from 봉산탈춤 Bongsan Talchum, 은율탈춤 Eunyul Talchum and 강령탈춤 Gangnyeong Talchum. All three are from the same part of North Korea (which is why Yang Soeun was involved with all three, she was from that area and a key part of the effort to resurrect and strengthen what were (or some would say nearly) lost arts from that region. The performances included four performers from Eunyul, two from Gangnyeong and one from Bongsan Talchum, the music was provided by the same group of musicians throughout (all three use the basic arrangement of 장구 janggu, 피리 piri, 대금 daegeum, 해금 haegeum with or without other instruments such as 북 buk, 징jing and 꽹과리 ggwaenggwari). This actually seems (to me) to be a very effective way to create a new performance line up or tour a show. The musicians could perform musical numbers, the small number of dancers could perform some of the flashiest scenes and an audience could feel quite pleased.
3) The show was much too long. The first piece, the singing style native to that part of North Korea, was excellent. After the mask dance dramas a type of shamanic ceremony dragged on far too long, then a performance of 해주검무Haeju Geommu (Haeju Sword/Knife Dance) turned out to be the longest and most protractedly boring Geommu I’ve ever seen. The most excitement during this piece was the constant stream of people leaving the theatre having trouble to get past me (I was on the aisle, but the seating was so tight my knees almost touched the seats in front of me making it hard for people to get by). The last piece was just odd. I needed more contextualization and information than we were given. The piece, apparently developed by Yang Soeun, used the many performing arts of Buddhist monks in a new way, but the two dancers were shaky, particularly one of them, and the way he kept trying to look at the other dancer to know what to do was driving me crazy. This was the first time the performance had been staged, and again, it dragged on until the remaining audience heaved a sigh of relief when it finally ended.
4) Perhaps to take advantage of the facilities the presentation was designed to use PPT with video and photos of Yang Soeun performing and practicing showed during the announcements in particular, but the projector took too long to warm up each time, and then if we could hear the audio on the video we couldn’t hear the announcers, so it sort of fought for attention with the rest of the show.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Tongyeong Ogwangdae Performs in Seoul

October 22nd, 2010
I had Korean History class in the morning at Seoul National University, it was less interesting this week because instead of getting to the super interesting reading for the week, we spent over half the class going over what people would present and write their final paper on, which should have happened in some office hours or something, it was so boring to listen to, I had nothing to add, the professor told them some book or articles that they should check out, and asked clarifying questions but it took too long.

Sarah stopped by for juice and toast from the excellent new local bakery in the afternoon.

In the evening I went to a performance of 통영오광대 Tongyeong Ogwangdae at the 무형문화전수회관 Intangible Cultural Properties Training Center, and I took some video footage, it was really good, a lot of students of Tongyeong Ogwangdae showed up, and their great excited energy encouraged the performers and made it more fun for everyone. They performed the entire play, perhaps in a slightly shortened version, but all the acts. Before it started an employee of the 풍류극장 Pungryu Theatre made a really lame intro (I seriously wanted to interject), then the director of their preservation association made a long intro with great details and a lively description of each act. I hope to upload a short video like I did last week for Gangnyeong Talchum later on. Afterwards I chatted for a few minutes with 수미 Sumi and 정현 Jeonghyeon from Bongsan Talchum.

A Large Needle in my Knee

October 21st, 2010
Today I went back to the hospital and after having to talk to three people waited outside the doctor’s office. I immediately told the doctor that of course I knew the x-rays didn’t show anything, but instead of saying some weird stuff (like the general practitioner had) he poked around in various professional types of ways to identify the type of pain and how I was experiencing it. We talked very comfortably in Korean and he understood my concerns about treating symptoms but leaving the root issues alone (and wasn’t anti-traditional medicine, but told me that their hospital can’t recommend anyone to another hospital where traditional medicine is practiced). He did, however, convince me to get this procedure done through both identifying my issue as tendinitis in my upper shin (near the knee) plus meniscus issues with both knees (this is what Jason Tsou, taiji teacher extraordinaire also said, and his agreement with Jason made me more confident he knew what he was talking about). He wanted to inject fluid under my knee cap (I guess that’s where) which is something my mom’s had done, too. So I was a bit hesitant asking him if wasn’t that the sort of thing people who are a bit older than I do, but he insisted that it has a greater effect if younger people have this treatment and may prevent more serious steps later on. Georgy checked it out on the internet as I hassled with the insurance issues (ultimately I didn’t pay anything but it took a bit to straighten it out) and went to the window to pick up the vial of fluid (I took the photo with my fingers so you could see how large the vial was). The internet scuttlebutt seemed to be that the procedure is common, safe and effective, so I went back to orthopedics and was swabbed with iodine and alcohol and then the needle went in. That was painful. I mean, scarily painful. As in I used every English cuss word in just about 1 second.

I made some copies at Yonsei GSIS and then ran into 소영 Soyeong, we had a nice long talk on the street about the evolution of scholarship.

In the evening I went to 봉산탈춤 Bongsan Talchum, and 김은주 Kim Eunju told me to take it easy (it had felt a little weird at different times during the day), but I still danced at about 90% of my normal expended energy (partially just because I’m really excited to be back in the advanced group of dancers). We only had seven people show up, 원중 Wonjung still isn’t back to class and Thursday always has lower attendance. Several people only pay 30,000 per month and only come on Monday, but no one only comes on Thursday.

Then I stayed up too late preparing a presentation on exploring Korea.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Songpa Sandae Noli Performances for the Elderly

October 20th, 2010
Usually Wednesday’s are pretty boring, they’re my only day off. Today, however, 송파산대놀이 Songpa Sandae Noli had two morning performances. I rolled out of bed and got across town as fast as I could, arriving only a couple minutes before we left for the first site. At a park close to Seoul Noli Madang a large group of local elderly residents had gathered for an event in their honor. Although the event was supposed to begin at 10:30, it kept being pushed back. I had only brought Karjam’s little digital camera, which almost immediately ran out of batteries as the crew were putting their costume on over their white 민복 minbok (cotton peasant garb). The two 피리 piri players walked around with their 서 (the seo is the vibrating double reed of the piri, so just picture high school band and the clarinet or sax players except close to the size of a fat partially smoked cigarette), 탄종원 Tan Jongwon flirted from behind his mask, 전철규 Jeon Cheolgyu who was playing 해산어멈 Haesan Eomeom, the midwife who exposes a naked extended belly and dances with exaggerated butt-wags, looked a little less happy to be standing around for awhile in his costume. 이영식 Yi Yeongshik who has been teaching some of the more active elderly in a special evening Songpa dance class kept seeing people he’d taught and he’d want to say hi, except he kept forgetting they couldn’t see who he was. Everyone seemed to have a different story on how they’d played hooky to come dance that morning. Yi Yeongshik had actually walked out of a meeting at school (he’s a principal), Tan Jongwon had gone to work and left his regular shoes there, then run out in his 미투리 mituri. Yi Byeongok had called and said he couldn’t come teach class (please reschedule it) and he’d miss a departmental meeting. Jeon Cheolgyu is a publisher (I think he’s the boss or close to it) for several magazines and he could be absent in the morning without a large problem. 김학석 Kim Hakseok, one of our two National Human Treasures, is retired. 이영순 Yi Yeongsun, one of the only female members of the group is a private 장구 janggu teacher (although she dances for Songpa). Notably 함완식 Ham Wanshik, our other Human Treasure and the group’s director, was absent (as was his son, 함승헌 Ham Seungheon who is doing a graduate degree in public health). Both our 해금 haegeum and 대금 daegeum players are college students, so it wasn’t surprising they were available, I am not sure about most of the rest, but it was pretty amazing how many people were there and ready to dance even on a Wednesday morning!

The elderly locals sat around at long folding tables and were served appetizers, fruits and 떡 ddeok (a cake from pressed cooked rice) until finally things got rolling with Professor 이병옥 Yi Byeong-ok leading some initial pressure-point pressing and introducing the acts. First a woman (who is an 이수자 isuja) sang경기민요 Gyeonggi (province) folk songs, then Songpa performed the 취발이마당 Chuibali Scene, then four young men played 사물놀이 samulnoli (a modernized form of 풍물 pungmul played while seated with more complex rhythms on only the four percussive instruments without 소고 sogo, 태평소 taepyeoso or 나발 nabal). We rushed out to the other performance site, but what with the issues with parking, we were quite late (and the people parking the cars, all essential people, were even later). Oddly I ended up being the person hearing the organizers freak and having to apologize and explain that the other site had started much too late. The minyo singer had to start without the 장구 janggu player, which made it really hard for her, then although we intended to do two scenes, they even shortened the Chuibali Scene (drastically), even the samulnori players played for only 5-6 minutes or so.

Cell phone photos:

After the performance, which was also for a group of elderly, but this time on the fourth floor of a community center in a large room that probably is normally used as a church, they served us lunch. Lunch was 갈비탕 galbitang (rib stew) so I had rice and side dishes, but despite the current price of kimchi, they weren’t stingy at all. Afterwards I talked to the office manager (and 이수자 isuja) 김영숙 Kim Yeongsuk for a little bit about politics inside the group and then came home via the grocery store.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Fusion Music in Karjam's Future and Sangmo Class

October 19th, 2010
In the morning Karjam and I went to meet our friend 조은정 Jo Eunjeong, who was formerly a 가야금 gayageum instructor at UCLA (I took her class for a quarter, but I must admit I’m hopeless on the instrument). She and Karjam have rehearsed together and even performed, unfortunately due to a lack of follow through by others who promised to get us the performance footage we only have this little video of them rehearsing together. They sounded much better than this after rehearsing more. They will start rehearsing together from next week and we have various plans that after they become more fixed we will share with everyone.

Back home I worked on slap dash video editing on the crappy (but easy) video editing program we know how to use (as opposed to the really fancy program we cannot figure out how to do almost anything with yet and we’re pretty frustrated with). I just made up a little something out of some clips on a digital camera (not a video camera) from the 강령탈춤 Gangnyeong Talchum performance the other night. Due to frustrations with Youtube’s compliance with the Korean Real Name Internet Verification Law, I have not been able to upload this yet (I'll link it here when I do- working now!).

Tuesday is 상모 sangmo day, so of course I went to the 임실필봉서울전수관 Imshil Pilbong Seoul Training Center. It’s still midterm period, so there was only one more student than last week (and he was only absent last week because of his great grandmother’s funeral), he’s one of the two high schoolers in the class, both of them want to go to Korea National University of the Arts. 이현석 Yi Hyeonseok, the one I included a photo of last week, is a first year high school student (out of three years), the other is a second year student (I haven’t learned his name yet). At first I was having a bad day because I felt that I was almost making negative progress, I was even more frustrated when 태원 Taewon (again he was our only instructor) had me practice 반대사위 (not sure on the spelling, but backwards or clockwise spins). It was incredibly frustrating that I couldn’t get into a spin rhythm, but I felt much better when second-year couldn’t do it either. The second hour of class I worked on 양사위 (spinning on one side for 1.75 spins, then switching directions and spinning to the other side for 1.75 spins) together with the other students! Taewon said we had to do it 400 times (and the count is 1,2,3,4=1, 1,2,3,4=2, 1,2,3,4=3 and so on), I am not sure if we did or not, at any rate we spun for forty minutes and I was able to keep at it, although of course my spin stopped and had to be restarted quite a lot more than the spins of the others. After our intense exercise we sat down and had a very serious conversation about Korean education and the future of students who go into the arts (like the two that were there with us). That was a bit depressing.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Little Kids Learning Traditional Arts

October 18th, 2010
I had 봉산탈춤 Bongsan Talchum in the evening, as usual for a Monday. On the way to class 원중 Wonjung called to tell me how his final audition had gone, he sort of got lost in the song and had to double back to sing the part he’d skipped over, but he didn’t think it went too badly. His voice, however, was almost gone. I talked to the security guard guy, went upstairs and sat with 김은주 Kim Eunju (the teacher) for about twenty minutes, then changed clothes and we had class.

The class was pretty ordinary, except we gained another male student, 병호 Byeongho, who is also a student at Korea National University of the Arts in the traditional theatre department. He expects to graduate next year. I have definitively regained my role as a senior and advanced member of class (a role I lost after not practicing more than a handful of times after June of 2006). As usual on Monday I tried to keep my perspective on the annoying kindergartener who practices with us. The kid is too young to really understand what to do, and is constantly goofing off, arguing with his little brother (who mostly sits with mom while she reads to him) and running around poking people (not me) in the butt. I am torn as I want him to love Korean traditions and applaud his mother for bringing him, but he’s just too young to start yet, and he’s really irritating. I know Kim Eunju well enough to know she’s a little irritated, too, but she’s much too sweet to let on. The thing is, when else could he learn? If there isn’t a program at his school, it’d be hard for him to find a class with other kids. Our class is supposed to be an “adult” class and in the past (January 2005-June 2006) the only kids there were 1) the kid who actually performs the part of the monkey for Bongsan Talchum Preservation Association performances (who practiced reasonably single-mindedly) and a mentally retarded middle school boy from the neighborhood. Now we’ve got a high school girl and two high school boys, plus this little kid. Since the high schoolers are and will apply to arts university, they're actually just about the best students, but this little boy is a different thing altogether. Yet who could argue with having him attend?

After class ended I stayed and practiced taiji (I guess I’m feeling better, since I still had some energy left over after Bongsan Talchum), and taught a little to 정현 Jeonghyeon who was staying after to rehearse for an audition for a musical next week.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Trip to Incheon

October 17th, 2010
The big event for the day was a 송파산대놀이 Songpa Sandae Noli performance in 인천 Incheon (a city neighboring Seoul) at the 은율탈춤 Eunyul Talchum training center. But for some reason I just did not leave the house at the right time (had I forgotten how long it takes to get there? Was my brain just not in full operation?), and arrived much too late, already halfway through the performance. There was no announcing at all while I was there, and the crowd was thin consisting mostly of old people who presumably live near there, and young women (perhaps early middle schoolers or late elementary schoolers) who appear to be associated with Eunyul Talchum. They were actively using 추임새 chu’imsae (in a sort of automatic fashion, where each appropriate place has chu’imsae but not in the way that truly encourages the performance through directly responding to how the performer is doing and lifting them to new efforts). I would have liked to find out about those students, but after the performance in addition to being scolded, I had to accept being treated like I’m unable to navigate the transportation system (when really if I’d left an entire HOUR earlier I would have arrived a nice half hour before the show). This mainly meant that I was sent to the subway in the first available car and could not hang around and talk to the Eunyul people. The question will wait for another day. I was dropped at the subway together with 박주현 Bak Juhyeon, the 대금 daegeum player for the group. He and I talked almost the whole way to Seoul, or mostly I asked questions and he talked.

In 2002 when he was a freshman at 한국예술종합학교 Korean National University of the Arts (the same place that 원중 Won Jung wants to go), an older student introduced him to 송파산대놀이 Songpa Sandae Noli and he started to play for the group, he was entered into the official group register in 2005. He should graduate next year (yes, he says, it’s taken an exceptionally long time even accounting for mandatory military service). He also had to audition, even though he’d gone to middle and high school for Korean performing arts and had played 대금 daegeum throughout that time. He said that about 100 students are admitted to the school of traditional arts per year, of those 4-5 are daegeum players. Of the students admitted for Korean traditional music, about 8 or 9 in 10 (his words) went to at least 국악 gukak high school, if not middle school as well. He hopes to get a stable job in Seoul, so he can keep playing for Songpa after graduating, but a stable job (with a traditional music orchestra) in another area will be preferable to staying in Seoul and freelancing.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Namsadang in Yeouido Park

October 16th, 2010
After Georgy left for her conference and I took care of various computing and what not Karjam and I headed to 여의도 Yeouido to the big park there for a sort of competition/festival held all weekend by 남사당 Namsadang. The scene was much mellower than I had expected. When we first arrived we found a namsadang troupe playing풍물 pungmul near the entrance of the park, I took a few photos and the group was really excellent, so I had high hopes. However when we walked past a lot of tents (that weren’t being used in many cases) to the area near the stage, the three performances that happened on stage while we were there were average at best, all student groups, one of which was only elementary school students. The stage was directly in line with the sun (which was already getting lower, hence it was very hard for the audience to watch the performances) and the audience was not very thick. Honestly Karjam had more fun watching the inline skaters doing fancy runs around cones than he did watching the performances. We left, walked around 여의도 Yeouido a bit then came home.

After dinner we met Georgy at the movie theatre and watched a Chinese action film (subtitled only in Korean). Georgy and I agreed we could get through about one line of a subtitle (out of two) but there was a lot of specialized vocabulary that we didn’t know.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Gangnyeong Talchum Performance

October 15th, 2010
I will spare you my general range of frustrations with Korean medical practice (don’t worry, nothing is really wrong except my knees being so aggravated by all the mask dance and sangmo practices) but I will at least point out one really annoying thing: Why does Fulbright require me to get insurance that is only accepted at THREE hospitals in Korea? (Or other places I could apply to be reimbursed I suppose). My 1,000 USD insurance for the year is ultimately much less useful than the less than 100,000 (less than 100 USD) insurance I got Karjam (which is honored EVERYWHERE).

I picked up Georgy’s business/name cards, went to the 아현시장 Ahyeon Shijang for 반찬 banchan (side dishes) and some vegetables after my frustrations with the hospital.
Cell phone photo of my favorite banchan making ajumma:

At 4:00 I headed to the 국악원 gukakwon to watch a performance “추셔요” (Chushyeoyo) by one member from 봉산탈춤 Bongsan Talchum and two other mask dancers. Normally I don’t enjoy the neo-traditional performances very much, but I’m curious about them from a research standpoint and due to the Bongsan connection I thought it’d be nice to attend. Fortunately since the performance started so early the traditional music shop attached to the Korean Musical Instrument Museum was open and I slipped in for two CDs, one of 가곡 gagok since I suddenly find it so fascinating, and one a group 산조 sanjo production with solo and ensemble pieces on it. I admit I partially liked the packaging on the sanjo CD (which is a double box set and features one sanjo piece for each of the standard sanjo instruments, plus 시나위합주 shi-na-ui ensemble and 산조합주 sanjo ensemble) but the gagok CD was the shopkeeper’s favorite female gagok recording (but didn't have such nice packaging, it's from the mid-90s).

The performance featured four musicians who each played multiple instruments (sometimes as sound effects, sometimes as musical instruments and they also sang). In some cases I found what the musicians were doing more interesting than the three mask dancers. All their instruments were traditional, but to make sound effects to accompany the drama they used them in some interesting/unconventional ways at times. The musicians did a great job moving the story along, too. For example at one point the characters are traveling and one man sang 아리랑 arirang (a folk song) from different regions of Korea to illustrate their journey from one place to another. The three mask dancers were all young (late 20s approximately) and they entered in traditional masks and 민복 (white peasant style traditional cotton clothes) with large containers (chests and a rice cooking pot) which contained clothes and masks which they changed (humorously) into at a certain point in the story. Much of the story was slapstick and the dialogue, though delivered in a mask dance style (aurally similar) was in modern Korean and easy to understand. The jokes were things like peeing on the audience (a particularly suave college kid held out a paper cup, caught the pee and drank it to even more comic effect than if the "peeing" had included only audience avoidance), or when the blind man tries to identify the animal and finds a tail in the back and then finds another “tail” in the front. The movements were consistently from the mask dance dramas the three represented throughout the drama, even after they’d changed into the non-traditional masks. It was interesting, but also outdoors with the wind blowing and I hadn’t worn enough clothing.

I met Georgy at the train station and we hurried as fast as public transportation would allow to the 무형문화전수회관 Intangible Cultural Properties Training Center and the 풍류극장 Pungryu Theatre for the performance of 강령탈춤 Gangnyeong Talchum. We were a tad late, but like last week the tiny theatre was practically empty because people are so unused to having to (gasp!) pay for traditional performances (again, it was the paltry sum of 5,000 which for the quality of performers is a HUGE bargain). I was sorry to miss the initial introduction, throughout one of the members of the troupe introduced each act (and wrapped up the previous act) in a very engaging fashion including pointing out the special facets “this next act contains all of our basic dance movements” another time “Gangnyeong Talchum is particularly known for having more singing than other mask dance dramas” etc. The performance was quite good, I like how most of the masks are worn on top of the heads for Gangnyeong Talchum so you can see the performer’s faces.

--a short Youtube video of highlights from the performance shot on Karjam's camera, not the video camera--

Georgy and I met Karjam for a snack near our house after the show. She has a conference this weekend in Seoul.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Visit to Changwoo Theatre and Won Jung's Audition

October 13th, 2010
I stayed home doing computer work (mostly photos) all day, Karjam came home after his exam fairly pleased with himself, in the early evening we took a walk on 남산 Namsan (maybe I can upload photos later) while practicing his Korean prepositions.

October 14th, 2010
In the morning I went to class with Professor Hilary Finchum-Sung, the day’s lesson was on shamanic music. Her largest point was that the music used by hereditary shamans is often much more elaborate/sophisticated because they have been training throughout their life, whereas the spirit-descended (spirit infected/possessed) shamans often have to play catch up quickly, though they do sometimes hire the musicians of the hereditary shamans (often relatives of hereditary shamans) to accompany them. She offered an opportunity to attend a performance by her TA 기쁨 Gibbeum (seriously, I saw it written) and other students, I accepted. After class we bus/subway-ed our way to 북천 Bukcheon (a traditional neighborhood near 인사동 Insadong) and the small (approximately 80 seat) 창우극장 Changwoo Theatre. After a delay Gibbeum and her group (she’s the leader) of three women and three men singing 가곡 gagok accompanied by several musical instruments (양금, 장구, 가야금, 징 and probably others, I was really focusing on the singers) began the performance. They sang two extremely interesting pieces, her group is called 월하가인 Wolha Ga-in if you have a chance, see them. Then another group, called 아나야 Anaya played and sang several totally put-me-to-sleep numbers which could best be described as soft jazz with some Korean instruments (mostly overpowered by the guitar, bass, top hat & snare and chimes). In other words, I am not recommending this group, although competent, they were not exciting. [Anaya on Youtube, some of this is better than what they did today by far example 1, example 2, example 3]

After late lunch with Hilary I rushed home, grabbed a change of clothes, 미투리 mituri and 한삼 hansam and left for 봉산탈춤 Bongsan Talchum. On Thursdays we practice in the largest room on the 9th floor (북청사자놀음 uses the really large practice room above the theatre on that day), so I always visit the 봉산탈춤보존회 Bongsan Talchum Bojonhoi (Preservation Association) office before class. Today when I got there 원중 was jumping up and down to tell me he had made it to the second round in his application to the Korean National University of the Arts. So now I can tell you about the first audition.

There were 39 students who applied as specialists in 풍물 pungmul performance of some kind—they chose a piece on 장구 janggu, 꽹과리 ggwaenggwari, to show off 상모 sangmo skills while playing 소고 sogo or other such piece for their audition. Four students did mask dance, three 봉산 Bongsan and one did 강령탈춤 Gangnyeong Talchum. Six students did 무속 musok (shamanic performance and Won Jung didn’t have any details about what specifically they did, so sorry, I’m not sure) and three students did some aspect of 남사당 Namsadang. On the first day they all played 설장구 seoljanggu (while sitting) and on the second day they did the specialties listed above. Five test examiners sat in a row and watched them, with 김덕수 Kim Deoksu (a professor at the university), one of the most famous janggu players in Korea, a founder of the group 사물놀이 Samulnoli in 1978, and the child of a Namsadang 인간문화재 National Human Treasure, sitting directly in the center his arms crossed and his brow puckered in a frown. Won Jung told me he was so scared he even screwed up the easiest part of the beginning of seoljanggu. After he did his mask dance solo on the second day they asked him to sing the song that is sung by 취발이 Chuibali, the character he danced, and after he ended told him he’d done well. Of all these students (my math makes is 52) only 13 can enter the university. That must mean that 23 advanced to the second round, because Won Jung told me that ten more will be eliminated after the second round of auditions, to be held on Monday. At that time Won Jung has to sing, not his strongest point. I really hope he can make it. [video of 김덕수 Kim Deoksu playing 설장구 seoljanggu)

photo: Won Jung showed me the results on the computer, he was pretty pleased with himself.

Bongsan Talchum practice was pretty ordinary, we worked on the daesa of the 3먹중 (third dark faced monk) and practiced all the other normal stuff. 수미 Sumi, who has been absent, is back since her high school midterms are now over.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

K-Pop Releases by U-KISS, Ga-in and 2PM

There are quite a few releases as theme songs for dramas, and some ballads, but since I don’t really care about those, I’ll skip right to the three notable recent releases.

First, U-KISS, a ballsy group if their name, Ubiquitous Korean International Super Star is any indication. They are another of the very calculatedly created groups with the half Korean member (who is ¼ Chinese and ¼ Portuguese), the Korean-Americans, the guy who formerly lived in China, etc. so that they can travel around and be charming in interviews in multiple countries and languages. The new song is 시끄러. My immediate reaction was, wait a second, isn’t that non-Korean model at least five years older than the boys, but I guess it could just be that women mature faster than men… But I’m a big proponent of male nudity (upper body only) so this video won me over.

Ga-in of the Brown Eyed Girls has released her first single, Irreversible, which is unfortunately a ten minute movie (which I don’t understand or find appealing). Fortunately a few days later she released this “dance” version that skips the story and is a much more reasonable length. The song (when not distracted by the movie) is okay, but she’s not the BEG’s best singer, I’m still waiting to hear Je-a’s solo release, that’ll be worth hearing!

The cookie-cutter approach to song (and video) production in K-pop is certainly worth criticizing, and I do not hesitate to point it out. Yet the stronger groups do have their own sound, where just a couple beats of the song already let you know who the group is, even if you’ve never heard the song before. That’s certainly true of 2PM, and of this song, “I’ll Be Back.” The song should be somewhat more popular than the previous release from the hit group, as it strongly references 2PMs biggest hit “Again and Again” (2009). The video is sort of ordinary, showcasing the dancing abilities of the group as well as a very unsubtle use of make-up on the boys.

Almost Empty Sangmo Class

October 12th, 2010
Karjam spent all day intently studying for his Korean midterm. I went to E-mart and picked up some things I cannot easily find elsewhere and took a nap. I still am not fully back to my high energy self. How irritating!

I went to 상모 sangmo class in the evening. It was decidedly empty, as midterm exams are starting any day now for most students, and almost all the sangmo learners are students. The only other people there were the first year high school student, 이현석 Yi Hyeon-seok, and this guy who is really really good and has been learning for four years, 박찬곤 Bak Chan’gon, who is an economics junior at 동국대 Dongguk University. Even the instructor 이종휘 Yi Jonghui was absent, we had class with 변재원 Byeon Jaewon teaching on his own. He found several problems with what I’m doing but I feel woefully unable to correct them and make real progress. I am attaching some photos of the way that Hyeon-seok’s sangmo is assembled differently than mine- it starts as a very long piece of white fabric which is looped and looped and shoved together until it makes an authentic white flower in front, more magnificent than my pre-made tie on white flower. For the earlier photo he actually knelt down. He's 15 American-age yet 188cms tall. In the background of the first photo you can see asst. instructor Jaewon and in the second you can see Chan'gon.