Thursday, October 7, 2010

Gagok, Bongsan and Coffee with Bukcheong Saja Noleum Performers

October 7th, 2010
I still feel horrible. But I really had to drag myself to Prof. Hilary Finchum-Sung’s class, or burn that connection (partially anyway), so I went. It was totally amazingly educational, of course. The class subject was vocal music and devoted half to court/upper class forms and half to folk forms, her TA is actually doing an MA in 가곡 gagok, the most aristocratic of all the singing styles, and something that was MUCH more interesting when just watching her sing than when going to some concert with it dragging on a bit too long and sandwiched between things I enjoy much more (like every single folk performance genre). She demonstrated very carefully and the background explanation made the difficulty of the genre clear. We tried singing a little 시조 shijo, which is a considerably simpler but also aristocratic singing style and just the difficulty in that was too much for non-musical me. At the end of the folk section we sang 진도 아리랑 Jindo Arirang and Hilary demonstrated a bit of a song she’d recently sung on TV with her daughter, and it was quite impressive, although she claims not to capture the perfect Korean flavor. [Youtube example of 가곡 which comes in distinctly male and female versions, if you listen to the whole thing you should know that this is only 3 lines of a poem! Each syllable can be stretched for many syllables in the song and no, Koreans do not understand the poem when they hear this. Apparently it is meditative to sing and practice and very much a part of the Confucian aesthetic. The female version is more impressive, I think.]

I staggered home, my head pounding, and Karjam nursed me, then I slept for an hour and a half and headed to 봉산탈춤 Bongsan Talchum class. I would have skipped it, but I had an appointment with 지훈 Jihoon, my friend from 북청사자놀음 Bukcheong Saja Noleum at 9 after he finished their practice, so I went ahead. It was fortunate that I decided to go because I arrived a bit early and had a chance to interview the new office manager (the fourth since I've been doing Bongsan Talchum) about why they'd hired him (he has an MBA) instead of someone with a traditional arts background. In short, they're going to expand into more fusion performances, or appearing in shows before or after fusion performances, and are readying teams who can present Bongsan Talchum in new and interesting ways. I have not formed my opinion yet. And while I was there two guys for 고성오광대's fusion team showed up! And the one guy knows me, so... it was a good day not to be absent. I only practiced the key parts of the dance, and skipped everything repetitive, extra strenuous and stuff I have down pat. 원 중 Won Jung called right before class started to tell me he thought he’d made a couple small mistakes (in his audition to a traditional performing arts program in university) but overall had done pretty well, then he came and we talked more, I will relay those details when I find out if he goes to the second round or not.

I went to Starbucks with Jihoon and another Bukcheong guy, 이 우 Yi U, it has been quite some time since I met a Korean with no consonants in their name. We talked politics of performance, which was quite useful to hear it from their (performing) perspective, especially since they are in another group. Came home. Writing this. Need to collapse.

Photo off my cell: the new very very bright Posco Building across the street from the training center.


  1. OK, to be honest, I was thinking about how you know it's 3 lines of a poem - not in the "I can't believe that, it's baloney" sense of the phrase, but in the "hmm, where/when would she have first come into contact with that knowledge?" and, "what poem would that be?" and, (since I wasn't listening that well), "what are they actually saying?"

    So, I hope that in another update one day (when you've got time to spare), you might enlighten us, your faithful readers, with that knowledge.

  2. or we could just talk about it on the phone, because probably you're the only one who was curious, but the answer to how i know is (ta da!) because Professor Hilary Finchum-Sung knows her stuff!