November 29th, 2010
Wow. It was a really long day. In the morning I went to the Korean National University of the Arts, the school that 원중 Wonjung (frequently mentioned on this blog) will attend, starting with the new school year (that’s March in Korea). I went today because I heard from연순 Yeonsun that 황종욱 Hwang Jong-uk was teaching a class there in 고성오광대 Goseong Ogwangdae and I really wanted to see what sort of teaching methodologies he was using and how the students were receiving the class. When I called him to ask if I could come along, he told me that 허창열 Heo Changyeol would be teaching the classes (there are two) on Monday instead of him. He told me though it would still be fine for me to attend and had Changyeol call me a few minutes later to set everything up. Which is why as the snow melted off the trees I was waiting outside 신이문 Shinimun Station to see if Changyeol was someone I knew, or not. It turns out he was someone I’ve seen (for example in the performance “Chushyeoyo” which I wrote about seeing before, and at the big meeting of all the mask dancers and before and after the Goseong Ogwangdae performance on 10/31), but I had never talked to him before. He’s 32, and went to Korean National University of the Arts (KNUA) for his BA (his major was mask dance drama, specifically Goseong Ogwangdae, graduated in 2007) and now he is writing his thesis for his MA (also at KNUA). He’s an 이수자 isuja for Goseong Ogwangdae and also a member of “The Gwangdae” an arts group made up of three of Goseong Ogwangdae’s younger members and four others (all current or former KNUA students). I hope to see one of their performances, but I guess they aren’t performing again until next year (the heavy performance season has ended now that outdoor performances are pretty unpleasant and luring people out of their homes for an indoor performance is harder).
The first class was for four fourth year students, but only two showed up. The two, a man and a woman, were both majors in 풍물 pungmul, but the man had actually learned and performed with 양주별산대 Yangju Byeolsandae and intended to become a regular member of their preservation association after graduation. He was also heavily involved with 평택농악 Pyeongtaek Nongak and registered as a 전수자 jeonsuja (the step below isuja, the same rank I have for 송파산대놀이 Songpa Sandae Noli) with that group. Personally I find 임실필봉농악 Imshil Pilbong Nongak more interesting, but both have their interesting points. The woman is part of a ten member all female pungmul performing team, five of the members are from KNUA. Both students told me they hadn’t thought much about future careers or anything, they’d chosen KNUA because they were into the arts and thought the opportunity to learn so many different art forms from such excellent professors was really too special to pass up.
The class started and went directly into motion; there was no period of lecture or discussion of ideas and concepts. I will have to also observe Hwang Jong-uk teaching to know if that’s normal, but I assume that discussions would happen slightly more with him, but be more concentrated early in the term. The students learn the basic motions (the set of motions I’m learning at 봉천놀이마당 Bongcheon Noli Madang) in the first term, this is the second term of the Korean school year. They are now learning (in the Goseong Ogwangdae class) both 원양반 Won Yangban and 말뚝이 Malddugi as an established set of motions that could be danced as an independent perhaps five minute dance solo. I believe they learned the former for the midterm exam and are learning the latter for their final. I believe that the motion set was developed by the preservation association and is used at Bongcheon Noli Madang, too, but what I’ve seen there is only the basic motions and a little rehearsal of Won Yangban, so I won’t know with certainty until later. While I was observing they were practicing Malddugi. Changyeol led them through the motions multiple times, counting, but often substituting a description or a sound for a number, there would be more numbers when he thought they had it right and certain more difficult parts would get more description. So he’d say “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 힘있게” or “크게 하늘 1, 뒤로 헛”. He often inserted accent sounds to sort of draw attention to where the motion should be more particular. After he’d they’d rehearsed without a break for twenty minutes they took their first break, breathing hard and opening the door to the just above freezing air. “If you know the steps you really need to start paying attention to where your head turns and your eyes go, you need to turn your head to follow the motion, not just see your hands in your peripheral vision.” He instructs them. “The motions have to reflect the character, malddugi is energetic, his motions are big.” After ten more minutes of practice they rest again, and then Changyeol plays 장구 janggu while the other two dance first together and then one by one to check their motions. When they rest Changyeol goes to each and shows what parts they need to really think about, emphasizing areas they weren’t quite getting. Mostly he just corrects the male student, whether it’s because he has a more sincere mask dance interest, or because his mistakes are easier to correct, I’m not sure. Both look good, although the woman’s motions are not masculine enough for the character.
They take another break and we talk more. Changyeol is from Goseong, and he started in his first year of high school, so he’s in his fifteenth year of practicing the art. He went to another school for a year or two before he came to KNUA, doing his mandatory military service in between the two schools. The female student wants to teach drumming privately, not in a school setting. The conversation turns to who can make a lot of money in traditional arts, they agree that if you work for the 국악원 National Gugak Center (formerly called the National Center for Korean Traditional Performing Arts), you can make a lot, partially because of what they give you, and partially because of what you can charge for lessons. (Side note: I have seen a lot of crappy practically lifeless performances by those National Gugak Center folks). The conversation then turned to the 원형 wonhyeong, the original form (a type of archetype) that all traditional performances of government registered arts must conform to (if the preservation association members are performing—if you’re just a club, presumably you can do what you want). Changyeol finds it troublesome and supports the creation of new work (using traditional performance vocabulary) and to some extent, fusion. He specified that the wonhyeong is a particularly large problem for the performances with 대사 daesa (scripts) because the Korean used in the daesa is no longer easily comprehensible. The three agreed that even if you make a really good performance, becoming well known or making money off it is a bit like winning the lottery. You keep buying tickets (making new shows, performing) in hopes someday your numbers will come up.
After class Changyeol and I went to an excellent little restaurant for lunch then we returned for the second year students’ class. I was actually surprised by how big the difference was between the 4th and 2nd year students. I learned that all the students in the 연희과 Department of Korean Traditional Dramatic Performing Arts (KNUA’s translation) take 봉산탈춤 Bongsan Talchum as first year students, then Goseong Ogwangdae, then third year is Yangju Byeolsandae and then fourth year they have to study all three (or just two?) again and prepare for some sort of performance-based graduation exam. Changyeol says that many students who are not majoring in mask dance feel like it’s a waste of time, that they’d rather just be working on their major (Namsadang, Shamanic Ritual, Pungmul and Mask Dance are the four majors so far as I know). The majority of students are majoring in pungmul. In the class of the second years, on the day that I came to class there were 12 students (two were too sick to participate but this being Korea they still came to class to look miserable and not be marked absent) two were shamanic ritual students, the rest were pungmul, but about three students were absent (each year has 15 students or so in the department). Amongst those at least one was a mask dancer.
The students will have their exam in the malddugi motions next week, as they were repeatedly reminded. They needed to be reminded though, many (the majority) had to look at other students or at Changyeol in order to move through the motion set, they hadn’t memorized it. At least one of those students was still hardly able to follow along. Changyeol teaches them motion by motion, slowing way down, in series of motions, then does it at normal speed, followed by a slow motion by motion review of the next section, all the way through the piece. Most of the students are stiff without a hint of the proper flavor, in fact I think some of the other new learners at Bongcheon Noli Madang look more natural. There is one man and one woman that look right, the woman’s motions are even properly masculine in flavor. The students practice repeatedly, in a circle, then facing forward again. The room is large; it could easily fit another 35 students without making it too crowded to do the motions, although at that point it might get harder to see the instructor. They take a rest after 15 minutes (the heaters were turned off after 5), a girl asks a question and another follows her, and Changyeol demonstrates some movements again.
Changyeol and I chatted while he took a quick rest, and he explained that the key here is 열정 passion, and said that clubs (like Bongcheon Noli Madang) have it while these students don’t, but he also emphasized how useful it would be for them to internalize the motions from Goseong Ogwangdae, as these are the types of motions that good pungmul players are making at the same time as they are playing (he demonstrates how the arm motions with drum sticks in the hands and a janggu strapped to the body look if they move as in Goseong Ogwangdae, or how much better 소고춤 sogo dance is if the dancer can move with the accents of Goseong Ogwangdae. He’s completely right. I know good players use these motions. But, Changyeol says, most students come to the university fired up about their own major and it takes a few years to realize the benefit they get from complimentary studies of other folk arts. Ironically he noted that most of the students from mask dance dramas, like him, are very excited to get to study pungmul, too. One more thing about student attitudes- apparently some students who are there for mask dance don’t like studying all the other mask dance dramas, they just want to study and practice their own drama. It cracked me up that later in the day seeing Wonjung at Bongsan Talchum class I told him what I’d learned about how he’d study Goseong Ogwangdae and Yangju Byeolsande and his immediate response was that he didn’t want to.
Later in the class he divided them into two groups, but never tried to make them do the motions in groups smaller than five students while he accompanied them on janggu.
Overall the visit and conversation was extremely useful, I had tons of new ideas and thoughts about transmission and I understand the role of KNUA much better than I did before.
I hurried home, ate and changed into exercise clothes and went to Bongsan Talchum. Today was the day that the KTV people were going to start filming. I hoped to arrive before them and practice a little bit so that it would be fresh in my mind when I did it with the cameras rolling, but the crew, two women and a man (with the camera) beat me there. They interviewed 박상운 Bak Sangun and then followed us to class. The class was fairly small, 9 people including the mom and her two kids. Unfortunately despite all the time I spent saying that I wouldn’t do anything fake, Bak Sangun came to teach us, which was sort of a disaster, because he’s never taught us before and we’re trying to adjust in front of the TV cameras. So I got pissed, and he left and we had class like normal. 김은주 Kim Eunju is awesome. I still made mistakes in front of the camera, but they weren’t because of someone else, they were all on me, and that’s fine. 영신 Yeongshin, who I haven’t seen for ages, showed up for class. It was great to dance with him, but most of the others who I can depend on weren’t there, so I really had to be on my toes, because if you start to follow along with someone else who’s making a mistake… anyway, I tried to answer interview questions but the problem was with all the Korean I’d done in the morning, it was as if my Korean was all used up for the day. I felt supremely inarticulate. Finally I told the cameraman that we should give up, because he could interview me on Thursday, too. Of course when I walked them out at the end of the day I was super articulate, but the cameras weren’t rolling and I wasn’t trying to be all academic and proper, but just speaking from the heart.