Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Sangmo Class with Yi Jonghui

February 15th, 2011

I got a lot of work done on the computer in the afternoon to the extent that every additional minute to type meant another amazing rush of words onto the page—bam bam everything coming together-- then rushed to 상모 sangmo class. And frustratingly 이종휘 Yi Jonghui was over an hour late (he's never been more than ten minutes late before and that only once). This was complicated by the fact that he had a new phone without any of our numbers in it and until I called him, he couldn't even tell us he was running late. When I got there 현석 Hyeonseok was already there, playing 장구 janggu, as was another woman, who turned out to be a 교포 gyopo (Korean-American) but no, I didn't talk to her. Maybe next week.

Before Jonghui showed up 구철회 Gu Cheolhoi (my first sangmo teacher) showed up. I was weirdly nervous. I think partially because I know I'm still not that good. But he was really surprised to see me. Probably thought I'd never spin a sangmo again after the week with him last summer. It was awkward to have him there, but fortunately a couple minutes later 진영 Jinyeong showed up, very happy to see her. When class finally started, it was such a weird adjustment to be back to Jonghui's style again. He forces us to take no breaks and do everything perfectly. He hassled me a lot to get some moves (more basic motions) right, but then praised my 나비사 nabisa (the most difficult motion I know).

Today after sangmo class when we were packing up our sangmo in our bags Hyeonseok started talking to me a lot more than he has in the past. His opening salvo was "I'm not good at this so I'm working towards being a professional – If I want to be professional I have no choice but to work, so (after much practice) I'm good at this." And "sangmo isn't fun at first. It's hard and frustrating and over 90% of the people who start quit it then. But if you get past that, then it's alright." We talked all the way to the subway and waiting for the subway and the stops until my transfer (he mostly talked and I listened and tried to follow along because he was talking to me as though he would another young person and young people have their own ways of talking these days. Most of the college kids I talk to sort of match the way I talk (a bit more formally) but Hyeonseok was talking with a lot of slang and full use of the habit of Koreans to not speak the subject and even the object of sentences if –they- think it's obvious.) He's getting more excited about his future prospects (I think he was really happy that I had complimented him on his drumming, which is frankly amazing) and really thinking about applications to university. He feels that students from arts high schools have a disadvantage when applying to KNUA, but he agreed with me that KNUA wants to see solid basics more than the most talented advanced performance. He went through a long list to me of which schools have better chances of sending their applicants to KNUA. The schools with good odds had two students accepted this year, so I don't see big difference from one (Hyeonseok goes to the same school 원중Wonjung was going to, and Wonjung was the only applicant that got into KNUA this year). It was really interesting to hear him lumping himself in with the professionals already, but he is performing (and probably earning money from it) already and he's definitely driven and hard working. Another subject of the conversation was that he is from a poor family and they don't have enough money for him to take lessons, not really, or not the number of lessons he wants to take. Instead of studying 봉산탈춤 Bongsan Talchum directly with 손병만 Son Byeongman he plans to start attending the evening Bongsan class, it's a lot cheaper. He told me he's planning to ask the teacher if she'll waive tuition for him. (And he's only planning once a week, which is around 30 bucks for the month- almost nothing!). So I sent her a message and told her that I wanted to secretly sponsor him to attend class. Among the many things Hyeonseok wants to learn is 바라춤 Barachum (the dance of the cymbals) it's a dance performed as part of the 영산재 Yeongsanjae ceremony (intangible cultural asset #50) by Buddhist monks.


  1. wow, I should study his language use! I could learn a lot from that. I imagine you won't easily find that in a formal classroom (sigh.. but then, we all know they'd prefer to encourage other use of the language).

    Interesting how the tight for money situation is reflected no less in the arts, I assume. I mean, I suppose the reply could be, "well, why should the arts be any different?" I recall reading an article in the 매일신문 which said that this year (I mean, 2010, sorry!) the expenditures for private education had fallen a bit (not dramatically, but fallen was definitely a change, as it had risen each year previously).

    Now, for a guy like him.. what are his alternatives (beyond what you mentioned)? What other methods does he have for pursuing his art? In what other ways do financial concerns affect teaching, teaching methods, etc.? Are well paid teachers any happier about their work than those who aren't? Do they have significantly different things to say? Does a well-funded performance look better? You experienced several hardships at the winter intensives (such as super cold temperatures); how does funds (or, things which might appear to be a reflection of different budgets) affect the experience?

  2. well if he talks the same way when I interview him and record him, then I'll forward you the file but usually people slow down and are more formal when i pull out the recorder.

    i don't think he has many alternatives. including think about how much more college prep classes would cost than arts classes! So he really would have no chance of a top academic program...

    Of course well funded performances CAN look better and well paid teachers are happier... but... that doesn't mean the rest is crap.