Saturday, April 16, 2011

Mom Arrives in Korea and the K-Arts Students Have a Show

April 14th, 2011
We went to the airport on the new airport railroad and picked up mom. She'll be here for two weeks.

I ran off to 봉산탈춤 Bongsan Talchum soon after we arrived home. Class was sort of depressing. I made some silly mistakes when I intended to finally do this one part error free. I was just having an off night I guess but it really bummed me out.

April 15th, 2011
I woke up at 3:30 (two hours sleep) and got mom up (not hard because of the time difference). We went to 조계사 Jogye Temple for the morning prayers. I think our taxi driver there was drunk.

The prayers were good but because of mom's bad knees she can't do any of the prostrations, which is too bad. I did 108 before the service actually started, then during the main prayer suddenly my knee sort of popped and it started to be almost torture to do any additional prostrations. The service was particularly long with a series of prayers I haven't do much, but a nice 보살 bosal (volunteer in the temple) came and brought me a prayer book that included those prayers and I really enjoyed chanting, I understood a lot of the prayers we recited, much more than I understand the prayers I'm used to doing.

Before we left we bought some things, she bought 3 little gifts and I bought a ring for myself with 반야심경 the prayer Banya Shimgyeong on it. I think mom enjoyed the trip to the temple. When we left it was just starting to get light a little. We headed to the bus stop and took the bus back home and napped.

After we got up we went to the 찜질방 Korean bathhouse/spa. It was a good place to take mom, I think. We enjoyed all the saunas and pools before we joined Karjam in the co-ed area. I think we were there about 3 hours, but when we left Karjam decided to stay.

In the evening we went to the Korean National University of the Arts for the new student performance. All the new students in the School for the Traditional Performing Arts performed. The first piece was a court orchestra piece and I was really impressed. Honestly, that's not my favorite style of Korean music but I thought that the performance was highly professional, really I could not perceive any difference between their performance and that of any ordinary traditional music orchestra, despite the fact that all the players were freshmen (who would be approximately 18-20 American age). The next three pieces featured 거문고 geomungo, 가야금 gayageum and 해금 haegeum. Although I was looking forward especially to the geomungo, the piece was just a boring composition (it was a new work). The gayageum piece was Pachabel's Canon on 3 different pitches of gayageum (with three players per pitch). Blah. I am not a fan of trying to recreate a Western sound on a Korean instrument. It's a waste of the capabilities of the instrument. The haegeum piece also was nothing special. Next we had a vocal number with four pansori singers, a gayageum byeongchang player/singer, several minyoperformers and one women doing jeongga. I found their performance pretty good but not great, at least it got mom fully awake (she is jet-lagged). One really super fun aspect was hearing this type of singing with a knowledgeable (and supportive) audience. There was so much well done 추임새 chuimsae. The next piece was dance, a giant rendition of taepyeongmu and the only performance for the night with upper classmen (why? I see no reason why they couldn't have just had fewer dancers on the stage). It was frankly the most boring and soulless rendition of taepyeongmu I think I've ever seen. Mom fell back asleep.

Of course the important part of the show was the last act: the performance by the 연희학과 Department of Traditional Folk Theatre. The show opened with 13 (of 15 new students) on stage playing seated 사물놀이 samulnori. Actually they all began on 장구 janggu then they switched to samulnori. I was glad off the video camera as it made it easy for me to spot Ga-eun who stayed on janggu and Heesu who switched to buk. Of course as soon as I saw that Wonjung and Inseon were not there, I knew it was because they were in costume somewhere off stage. They entered the stage and the drums switched to a smaller configuration and one player re-emerged on 태평소 taepyeongso. Wonjung was dressed as the old yangban husband and Inseon as the old grandmother, his wife. They discovered each other and exchanged various fairly typical dialogue, then introduced the tight-rope walker. The tight-rope walker was very good, certainly 80% as good as the top performers, National Human Treasures, who I've seen. After he was featured there was a section for standing 풍물 pungmul performers, with Ga-eun as one of the two 꽹과리 ggwaenggwari players. She had a wonderful section being featured dancing with the large poof of ostrich feather whip that they manipulate much like a sangmo. There were several dance solos, including Heesu on sogo with wonderful manipulation of the sangmo. I am totally impressed. Two other Namsadangnoli trick performers came out (I think one was the same guy as the tightrope) and they dealt with spinning tops and disks.

It was absolutely a wonderful performance and I was so proud of the students. Afterwards I gave my students some drinks and told them they did a good job, while I was talking to Ga-eun Professor Kim Duksu came up and asked her who I was. I was a bit tongue-tied, but managed to ask him for an interview. He passed me off to another professor, a theory expert. I guess I'll have to try to ask him again at another time when I'm more prepared! I think mom had fun but she was really exhausted by the time we got home. 

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