Sunday, November 7, 2010

Songpa Sandae Noli, the Market, a Crappy Dance Performance, Karjam Googles himself and Visitors

November 6th, 2010
I arrived at 송파산대놀이 Songpa Sandae Noli’s practice room just before ten, and left with the rest of the group in the car of 임채현 Im Chaehyeon, one of the two 피리 piri players. The senior center we were performing at had a two story building, we changed in one of the top rooms. I sat with 함완식 Ham Wanshik (the director of the group and the younger of the two National Human Treasures) and talked about his ideas for shortening and making the scenes more focused on meaning driven by miming rather than dialogue. He asked me how to do this, just as I was asked yesterday. I have side-stepped this as well as I can, answering that I am not an expert mask dancer, but that I will provide audience feedback anytime I’m asked. I have opinions, but I am much more interested in seeing what they’ll do on their own than seeing –if—they’d listen to my opinion (there is no guarantee they’d listen, or that my opinions would work as well as I might think). Hahm also asked for video copies of what Karjam and I have filmed, to create a more holistic record. They only film the yearly full length performance.

The performance required two of our people to change clothes –FAST- and I was one of the people on prop/clothes duty, but I was also on video (me) and suddenly photo (Kim Yeongsuk’s camera) duty as well. I ended up just doing the documentary duties, which means my video looks like crap because I didn’t have the tripod. The old people seemed to be enjoying themselves, there was a 풍물놀이 pungmulnoli performance before us, by the same guys we often share a stage with, and afterwards they were holding 제사 jesa, a sort of ancestral remembrance rite. I wish I’d been able to watch the whole thing but I have to follow my primary subject, Songpa, so as soon as the show was over we were upstairs eating together.

After we went back to the office I was asked if I wanted to go with 김학석 Kim Hakseok (National Human Treasure), Kim Yeongsuk and Tan Jongwon to the market to buy a heater for the office. The trip took forever because the roads were so crowded. We found a heater, or actually two, then went to 동대문시장 Dongdaemun Shijang for lunch (second lunch?) and ate the most amazing 빈대떡 bindaeddeok I have ever tasted. It was fabulous. After that it was too late for us to get back to practice, so we went our separate ways. I bought a couple family presents and another blanket before leaving the market.

Karjam and I went at 이영순 Yi Yeongsun’s invitation to a dance performance in the evening. She knew people in and associated with the show and was able to get complimentary tickets (which otherwise were 30,000 each). The show was in one of the smaller halls at the National Theatre of Korea. The performance team was the team of 김은희 Kim Eunheui, someone I’ve never heard of before, and the performance was billed as the 밀양검무정기공연 Milyang Knife/Sword Dance Full Length Performance. I had a hard time staying awake because there was nothing interesting enough in the show to keep me from succumbing to a level of exhaustion (my body is really not doing well, as I type I have an ear infection. What next?!) and the warm, dark atmosphere. I made notes about the content of each show and the announcing (over the top in tone and regurgitating of surface facts in content). There were 9 parts to the show, all dance except for one 대금 daegeum solo. Which wasn’t bad. The dancing was blah. The presentation was pretty, but the impressiveness was (I think) supposed to come from seeing 13 people doing a very close approximation of completely synchronized traditional dance, rather than from the talent of anyone of them. Kim Eunheui herself danced a few solos. Whatever. The 3아주마 ajuma who sometimes dance for the UCLA Korean Music Ensemble (who only have a few years training and have other full time jobs) could do better. Which is saying a lot. It lacked any sort of emotion, it felt plasticky. Cardboard cut-outs of dancers, not real dancers embodying anything in particular.

Karjam was searching on the internet and found (on and other sites) that a company called LLC or something has made a book called “Asian Singer Introduction: names of seven performers, fourth being Karjam Saeji” this is the link. Seriously, how weird is that? If they’d ever contacted us, then I’d understand, but if they just combed the internet, that’s so weird! This follows shortly on the news via Karjam’s daughter that there is a book on Tibetan musicians floating around in his hometown right now that has a chapter or at least a significant entry on him. Where do these books come from if they never bother to even check their facts by contacting the artist himself? In other news on the Karjam front, the new CD with the best songs from the 2010 Northwest Folklife Festival has been released, this includes one of Karjam’s songs (so cool!). The recording sounds really awesome, you can buy it as a single song for MP3 download from Amazon if you want to support Northwest Folklife (not Karjam, we don’t get money from that, but if you ever want to support Karjam’s music, please go to, the best music site of all).

At nearly midnight Maya and Robert (UCLA friends who got together with each other at a time we were all three in class together) arrived, they’re leaving in Japan but visiting Korea for six days.

Photos: I actually took these days and days ago. Just some street shots. Keeping the flowers (to beautify Seoul for the G20) from getting too cold. The bus stops tell you how long till the next bus. The buses have designated lanes in the middle of the street, and some Korean apartment buildings.

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