Tuesday, May 31, 2011

How to Survive in (Academic) Graduate School:

All of this advice is in no particular order. And these are just tips, not a failsafe recipe for success. But I think they're fairly legitimate pieces of advice and if you want you can add other tips in the comments section.

A. Do what works for you and don't take advice (including mine). Seriously. People tell me to sleep. I concentrate better when I'm tired. If I'm too wide awake I want to jump up every ten minutes and bake a pie or go for a bike ride or something. The hours from 2-3 in the morning might be my sweet spot. I know for a fact that I read better during daylight and write better when it's dark. Others might say the opposite. Anyway, I come up with my ideas when well rested or caffeinated and then I write when I'm tired. I had to ignore other people's advice to figure out that's what works best for me. Don't worry, I revise that tired writing later. 

B. Do not go to an academic graduate program unless you're honestly ready. You know what you want to do with your life and why you want to study ___. If you are just treading water after your undergrad or avoiding a bad job market, please stay home. I don't want you messing up my program with your half-baked juvenile crap. Grow up. Travel the world. Do whatever you need to decide what you'd like to spend the rest of your working life on. DO NOT FORGET: graduate school isn't the magic door to huge bucks and massive success (unless you're in Harvard Law or something, but I'm talking about academic graduate programs, not professional programs).

C. Invest in noise-cancelling headphones. Seriously. I cannot believe I was more than halfway through my PhD (and I did a separate MA at another school) before I realized the magic insulating and focusing properties of a good pair of headphones. Plus they're better for your ears (they don't hurt or lead to ear infections if you wear them too long). The music sounds better. In fact I use them as a barrier against the world even when I don't have music on, I wear them if I'm in a coffee shop or often at home, if I'm in work mode. It cues people into the fact that I'm focused elsewhere and not interested in a conversation. And even without playing music, it still reduces how much of the noise around me I'm hearing.

D. Do you want to be successful in a good program? You will not be spending many Friday nights in clubs. You will not be going to many parties. You will not be running off to Vegas with your BFF (the first time I ever used that acronym and probably the last) for a long weekend. You will be studying. Your socializing should contribute to your studying through allowing you to blow off steam, network, bounce ideas off someone, actually force you to find time for a good meal, etc. But you're a grad student, so just get used to the fact that you don't have as much free time as your non-grad student friends. And if they've never been in graduate school they might not understand that. Be gentle but firm. Do not spend a lot of time griping about it, though. No one likes listening to a whiner. Either we're grad students and we understand or they are not and they just don't understand, but they still don't like listening to you whine.

E. Sitting in a chair all day writing and reading is bad for your body. Our bodies were built for running away from saber tooth tigers and looking far towards the horizon and hauling a deer carcass back to the camp/cave/cabin. Figure out what you're going to do about it, or you may not recognize your body when you finish your degree. At the moment I'm rocking out to "Copy & Paste" and clenching my butt cheeks so that I bounce up and down on my chair. BoA would approve. I do a lot of other exercise type stuff depending on where I am and what's going on (in the field, fortunately, a lot of my research is better than an exercise program). But seriously, I've still gained weight. Seven months before my Ph.D. started I was 58 kilos (I was also on the top of a mountain pass in Tibet but that's another story). Today I'm 62 (and that's thanks to my fieldwork, I'd actually gone up to 64!).

F. Think ahead.
Recommendation letters: You will need someone to write them sooner than you think after entering the program, even just keeping your funding often requires a faculty recommendation. They might say it's a formality, but you can't turn in an empty sheet of paper. Choose the classes in your first term with the requirement that at least one tenured faculty member of the type that writes letters (ie. not with the "star" faculty member who jet-sets around the world and has his secretary deal with most details of his life) is going to get to know you. Two would be better.
And since you'll always need letters keep a good relationship with several people you can ask for letters. Figure out in advance how many letters you'll need in a certain period and ask ONCE for all the letters. It's just as easy to ask for 5 letters as for one letter, but it's really hard to ask five times for five letters. Supply the form they need, your resume, the abstract for the ___ you're seeking funding for even if you haven't written the entire proposal yet. If you have a hint that they want to fund people who work on X, tell your professor that and ask him/her to mention your work is related to X. I started giving my three letter writers (my chair, another professor from my department who knows my work well and the professor who knows my fieldwork region the best) charts personalized to them of what I was applying for with deadlines, the way they'd be submitting (online, in a sealed letter to me, in letter sent to B address) and other details like the emphasis in the recommendation (the X). In this way I managed to keep them up-to-date, keep all the info together and not irritate them with my shotgun approach to funding (my advisor was asked for 18 letters for my fieldwork year, although as you can see below he didn't end up having to write all of them). Of course they'll need reminders, too.
Funding your research: Figure out what fieldwork grants or research grants you're going to apply for in order to do your dissertation when you're in your first year. Think about what you need to get those grants. Write down their deadlines. The deadlines will vary by a month or two from year to year, if that. Usually the due dates one year are within a week of the date the next year. Add more grants to your list if more come across your radar, or new programs open up. When I was in the summer of the year before my fieldwork would start (as in 12 mths before fieldwork) I already knew everything I'd apply for. I continued to methodologically apply until I got back good results. If I hadn't gotten those results I'd have still been applying for another 4 or 5 grants. Some of them were only for 2,500 bucks, but grad students can't be choosers.
The Job Search: I don't want to jinx myself, but I'm being as pro-active as I can.
The Readings: If you want to teach in the future and you're going to assign readings to your students (not just use a textbook), hold onto all this stuff you've been assigned. Keep files on your computer of PDFs in folders for related subjects (I definitely advise the PDFs). Keep all the bibliographic info with the papers. It's so annoying to have to find it again later. Make a filing system for the physical copies.

GIt is very important to have a healthy ego about your own intellectual ability and your possibility of contributing to your chosen field. I'm not saying that you don't need to be realistic, you do, but if you spend –all—your time second guessing yourself you will 1. Make it hard for people around you to take you seriously and that includes your advisors. Some of those advisors do not actually read anything you read, they write your letters of recommendation based on their belief that you can finish the project/fieldwork/research/program successfully, and most of that belief it based on if you seem to believe in yourself when you talk to them about your projects or when you speak up in class.  2. Slow down your own progress through the program. Do you want to finish in a reasonable period of time? Then make up your freaking mind and just go for it. Stop hedging around.

H.  Multi-task. I know this should go without saying, but it's amazing how many people don't. There are a lot of things you have to do that aren't related to your research that can be effectively multi-tasked. Talk to your friend on the phone and clean your apartment. Set your computer to back-up all your files while you take a long bath. Watch that TV show you can't give up online (at the time of your choosing) while doing aerobic exercise. Memorize vocabulary words while you ride your bike or stretch. Everything you multi-task that can really be multi-tasked (like talking on the phone and washing the dishes) means you get to sleep a few minutes earlier tonight.

I. Work on more than one project at once. When you run into a roadblock with one (when your ideas just aren't flowing) set it aside and work on something else. Don't sit there and get frustrated. It's just a waste of time.

J. Know realistically how much time you need for writing and revising papers. Then add 25% more time onto your estimate. Start so that you should be finished at least two days before the deadline. Because deadlines don't make you more productive, that's a freaking myth born of desperation. When you go back and re-read the papers you "pulled out of your a--- a few hours before the deadline" guess what—they suck. You could have done so much better. And someone else in your cohort did write a better paper. And next time there is some funding decision to be made in your department, that professor might say that your classmate is better than you are.

K. Give back to your community. I know if you're not aiming for a certain type of job your resume won't be improved (much) by a post in student governance (and your advisor may warn you it'll make it harder for you to finish); but your community needs your input. When you get to know them you'll be surprised how amazing the students in departments you never brush shoulders with are. I think the type of student who finds time to give back despite a huge workload (and potentially a family) is a cut above the rest. Of course there are lots of off campus options, too. But campus governance is an awesome way to network with people outside your field and share information/get the perspective of people who won't be applying for the same jobs after graduation.

L. If you have someone in your program with young children (like not in school yet), esp. a woman who has recently given birth, try to give a little extra support. These graduate students-slash-parents are superheroes, but they're also in an incredibly hard position. If you're going to be compassionate to anyone in your program—be compassionate to them. They have less time for everything so if you discover something that might be useful for them (an obscure scholarship for parents, a half-price sale every Monday afternoon at the bakery near family housing, a source for the paper they're working on) let them know. 

M. Start getting your bibliographic references in one of the reference programs right away and keep doing so. You'll thank yourself later.

N. This didn't happen to me, but some of my friends got guilt-tripped into thousands of hours of work, such as translating, for their advisors. You gain something from being helpful. And you might need some money. But at a certain point you're in graduate school to get your degree not to be a professor's under-paid labor pool. Learn when to say no. Say no before he/she offers the next project. As you turn in a project, tell him/her that you've decided not to take on any more _______ until you finish _______. Letting them know not to come to you next time will make it easier to turn down the offer when they come to you anyway.

O. Don't get pigeon-holed. Don't allow yourself to be only a translating slave, only a TA, only a this or that. Develop your various skills, get various types of experience.

P. Sometimes take undergrad classes. It's okay. Just go take that class in taiji (tai-chi), or the foundational history of East Asia course. Take it Pass Fail. Audit it. Just go learn something without the stress of a huge research paper attached to it. Undergrads get offered some really awesome courses by some really amazing professors. 

Like I said at the beginning, this is in no particular order. And really I should be writing Chapter 4, not writing this. So please add what I forgot in the comments!

Happy Studying!   

Seoul to Jinju and Back to Seoul

May 29th, 2011
I woke up and took a bus to Jinju, where I met Heike, my German friend who is the chair of the poli-sci department at the local university. We had a long talk, watched some performance, wandered, look at Jinju fortress, etc.

A little after 5 the 송파산대놀이 Songpa Sandae Noli team showed up. Everyone was surprised to see me, except perhaps the office manager who knew I'd be going and hadn't invited me to ride down with them. Of course if I had done that I wouldn't have had a nice long talk with Heike. The performance was the standard 1 hour version.  강차욱 was missing to 함완식 introduced the group, the instruments and the art, then they went through the acts with, I noticed, two new 소무 Somu masks. Hmmm. The noses didn't look even a little Korean, are the masks catching up to the plastic surgery craze? (That's a joke since the people in the group are hardly the type to do plastic surgery, I think it was just poor construction). After the show 이영식 led the audience to learn the motions, I got some great photos of everyone in the crowd with their arms up.

The office manager had invited me to ride back, so I did.

May 30th, 2011
On Monday Karjam had another day of recording in the studio. We recorded until around 4, although he lost his voice around noon, again.

Then I went and met 황종욱 Hwang Jong'uk, the manager of 고성오광대 Goseong Ogwangdae. If I asked him about A he told me about A-F, including tangents. He was an excellent interviewee in the sense that I hardly had to say half a question before he just expounded at length. He's also very opinionated and knowledgeable. I had no idea about his entire background, but now that I know more I'm even more impressed. I also think he puts a bit of an act on to be more brusque and for lack of a better word, more of a hick, than in fact he is. However I pay the amazing woman who transcribes my interviews into written Korean by the hour of material she transcribes, and his interview was long (two hours) and often heading in directions that I didn't really need. Also by the time it ended I was already late for 봉산탈춤 Bongsan Talchum class.

At Bongsan Talchum we were all exhausted. All of us. We looked like asking us to dance was the end of the world. After going through each of the monks once (and I was late so I only went through 6 of them) 김은주 Kim Eunju took us (병호, 하연, 연식, 세준, 수미) to dinner at a nearby restaurant. Only 연식 had already had dinner. 

May 31st, 2011
I went to meet Professor 전경욱 Jeon Gyeong'uk at Korea University (he's a noted mask dance expert) and talked with him as well as some of his students, sometimes interviewing him and had dinner with him. I was there from around 4 until 8. 상모 sangmo had been cancelled again, so I had that kind of time. 

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Bongsan Talchum Annual Full Length Performance

May 28th, 2011
I arrived at the 봉산탈춤 Bongsan Talchum office a couple minutes after 10 and got right to work as a staff member for the annual full length performance. It was really awesome to be in the position of a staff member, a whole other side to what was going on, and I was definitely included and I belonged behind the scenes, it wasn't like I was intruding at all. Clear to everyone why I was there, even the few people in the group I don't know (because –everyone—is around for the full length performance, even people I don't regularly see). Before lunch we set up the lobby, hung posters, got briefed on our tasks, handled a few odds and ends of errands and what not, we weren't that busy and spent a fair amount of time just chatting. We being 원중, 하연, 수미 and I. When it was lunch time we went to a restaurant in staggered shifts (the performers were showing up by then, not just the key top people but everyone), when we staff members went the table size worked out so that one of us couldn't sit, so the office manager pushed me (the adult who can have a conversation with anyone) towards a table with 최창주 Choi Changju (professor at K-Arts), a guy I didn't know, and a 대금 daegeum player I do know, but I forget her name.

The conversation with Choi was rather interesting, as he started talking about politics at the 문화재청 Cultural Heritage Administration. There has been a move to limit each of the arts to a single National Human Treasure, which is a real issue for group arts where a huge number of different skills (in a mask dance drama there are the very different roles, the dialogue delivery, the motions, the music, the mask making, etc) combine to make a single art. It is arguably more understandable that for a solo dance form a single human treasure could suffice.

After lunch the office manager talked to all the staff about our respective tasks, 하연 had the worst one, as she was required to stay in the lobby during the show and just watch the show on the screen. 화연 and one of the guys who is a friend of 신마 had to help the women and men change their costumes and get tied into their masks, etc. The office manager challenged me to sell 100 programs (quite a feat with only 140 seats including the folding chairs and aisle-seating). I ended up selling around 50 of them.

Before we got around to that, though, there was a period of time where primarily the action was that of the dancers rehearsing. I watched part of the rehearsals. Everyone was extremely professional, making sure the microphones worked, the entrances and exits didn't run into each other, making sure the sound staff knew what was going on, etc. 장용일 Jang Yongil oversaw the rehearsal and moved people to one side of the stage or towards the center according to the visuals from where he was standing. He even had the National Human Treasure, 김애선Kim Aeseon move. During the rehearsal the really sweet photographer who had loaned me a battery during the full length performance of 송파산대놀이 Songpa Sandae Noli showed up. He talked to me about his photography and I bought him a coffee to partially thank him for the battery.

When the ticket office opened 하연 had to check that each person with a reservation got their tickets, etc. while I sold the pamphlets for 2 dollars each and called out to sell more of them. I was pushy (telling people if they loved the art they'd buy them and telling students they wouldn't be able to write a good report without them). 가은 and some of the other K-Arts students came. They have to write a report comparing the May 5th performance of the K-Arts students and the full-length performance by the bojonhoi. I don't know if he was serious but Professor Choi Changju told me to write the same report!

When the performance started I was at the back, but the photographer had asked them to make the black backdrop, and from the back when I took shots I got a lot of floor (because I was looking a little down), so I moved. First I only moved myself and my camera, but then I felt bad about the video and moved that, too. Being up front was tough for the video, a little close, and I had to pan more. But I think I got some good photos.

The entire performance came off without a hitch, very wonderful. And the K-Arts students (원중 was next to me) and others did a great job with the 추임새 chu'imsae. However I was really irritated with how many people left during the show. I was know it was long (more than 3 hours), but people knew that when they came. The people who didn't show up (but had tickets) and the people who left early mostly came from the same category—friends of the performers. Although some students also left early (not K-Arts, of course, who all congratulated their professor after the show).

After we took things down and cleaned up we all went to dinner, it was a restaurant for meat lovers, I had a bowl of rice, several peppers, lettuce, and a bit of soft tofu (in other words, there wasn't even any good side-dishes there). During this dinner I interviewed 손병만 Son Byeongman, the interview was very good, if the setting noisy (will be hard to hear later) and I couldn't ask all my questions (I focused on the important ones). I like Son partially because he went back to college as a 30-year-old after he'd already had a job at Samsung (a highly prized job in Korea). 

Symposium Presentation

May 27th, 2011
I left very early to make sure I'd get to the Bupyeong Pungmul Symposium on time. I ended up having enough time to have a little breakfast and find a small coffee shop for coffee before going to the 7th floor of city hall, where we were having our symposium. Originally they'd reserved a small seminar room but the festival needed it for something else so we were moved. The 7th floor room was huge, with a stage and all that. I met the others, on my panel there was the organizer 한덕택 a very energetic researcher and two women, one from China and one from Japan. The Chinese student, also working on her Ph.D. but at 한국외대 Korean University of Foreign Studies, had amazing Korean. The Japanese woman spoke better than me, but not hugely. Anyway, we did our presentations, and while my Korean was a little awkward my subject was engaging and I stood up and paced the stage, talking without a mic, and I think it made me into a bit of a hit.

We all went to lunch, and I sat next to the mayor of Bupyeong. I liked her because she flat out said that some foreigners know more about Korean culture than many Koreans. The other two women, by the way, talked about a Chinese and a Japanese phenomenon, not about Korean stuff. I just wish the lunch had been larger, I was totally hungry afterwards.

In the evening Karjam and I went for a long walk on Namsan and had dinner out.  

Friday, May 27, 2011

Lecture and Demonstration at SNU

May 25th, 2011
Karjam worked in the studio from 10-6. I waited and occasionally helped with translation and what not, but my computer ran out of batteries so I couldn't get as much work done as would have been ideal. Next time I'm taking my cord.
Karjam in the studio

In the evening I kept working, particularly preparing for my presentation on Thursday and skipping the chance to go see an excellent performance at KOUS which Facebook friends later favorably reviewed.

May 26th, 2011
My day was completely taken over by going to Seoul National University to do a guest lecture for Professor Hilary Finchum-Sung. We agreed to meet for lunch, which was a real bang-up awesome day at the veggie buffet (swoon), had a rollicking conversation (sorry I can't divulge much but part of it was Hilary's advice because a couple of days ago I found an online article, an academic performance review (of two performances of two groups I am close to and –really- close to) by someone who turns out to be an up and coming scholar on exactly my subject, mask dance dramas, who's graduating a year before me and I'll have to compete with her on the job market. But worst, her article was so factually inaccurate, such utter BS that steam was coming out of my ears. Anyway, Hilary had some advice for me and I feel better about it now. Ultimately there will be people who can get away with shoddy scholarship because they do research on a place few know about (hence few can tell them they're wrong). And sometimes it will be partially just because the local language is incredibly tough and they haven't learned it yet (properly). But… time will tell and my scholarship will stand out!

After this discussion and lunch we went to her Intro to Korean Music classroom, I lectured for 1.5 hours, then we took a break and 허창열 Changyeol presented, first he did 문둥북춤 (from 고성오광대 Goseong Ogwangdae) then 이매 from 하회별신굿탈놀이 Hahoi Byeolshin'gut Talnoli, then he led all the students in some rousing dance and last he taught some basic motions from 봉산탈춤 Bongsan Talchum. He has amazing charisma and was able to get all the students up and moving. It was really awesome. I know Hilary was impressed. Then we sat around for awhile and rested.
A photo Hilary took

The Class with Hilary in the center back (Changyeol and I center front)

When I got home I madly prepared my Korean symposium presentation for Friday. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

I Pose in Bongsan Costume

May 23rd, 2011
Karjam had his second day in the studio today. At 3:50 I headed to the Intangible Cultural Assets Training Center where –finally- both Jan and Joji showed up, then we took photos for an article on 봉산탈춤 Bongsan Talchum. Of course it sucks that to get some press foreign faces needed to be trotted out. On the other hand 김은주 Kim Eunju had grabbed specifically the costume for monk #3, which is the one I really really have made my own. They took photos of me in the costume and hopefully someday those can be useful for me to have (if they ever send them to me).
Just a cell phone photo, for now

I had dinner with Joji (Jan was too busy) and then class. Class was good, 11 people including 원중 Wonjung when he finally showed up halfway through class. We started learning the dance of grandmother, finally. 하연 has brought a co-worker to class, she'll only be coming on Mondays.

May 24th, 2011
Sangmo class was cancelled (not sure why) and hopefully will be rescheduled. Without class looming in my schedule instead I got tons of writing done into the evening. I even had a mini-breakthrough (Bonnie started me thinking about something a couple months ago and it jelled into a way to write one section of the dissertation when I was reading this book chapter by Moon Okpyo. 

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Friday, Saturday, Sunday

May 20th, 2011
I finally interviewed 이동현 Yi Donghyeon who manages the ongoing performances at Pungryu Theatre. It was a good interview, he didn't have much time but he answered questions very directly. Very useful information about how the theatre books, advertises and runs their shows.

In the evening I headed to 서강대 Sogang University for the 상모/사물놀이 sangmo/samulnori class. It was really awesome because 이종휘 Yi Jonghui my super excellent teacher allowed me to go straight into sangmo practice and keep concentrating on that all night. He also taught me this short snippet of 소고춤 sogochum. The idea is that with a proper sangmo routine and a short bit of sogochum I could actually do my own little show (5 minutes? 7 minutes?) after I get back to UCLA. While I did sangmo the rest of the class played samulnori (they actually got out all the instruments) and then in the last hour (we did 2.5 hours of class) I was joined by two others on sangmo.

May 21st, 2011
Did a ton of really good writing and went to see "Source Code" with Karjam.

May 22nd, 2011
Not that exciting of a day, sat with my best Korean male friend, 허창열 Heo Changyeol, who is totally one of the only people I can talk to honestly about my research and had a great talk. It could have been a little more thought-provoking if he'd disagreed with what I was saying or had a really different viewpoint, but mostly today I was saying stuff and he was making notes and agreeing. Even if I didn't get any huge new insights, I was able to confirm some ideas that I wanted to run past him and talk research.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Visit to Bukcheong Saja Noleum and Bongsan Talchum Class

May 19th, 2011
In the morning I finished the edits for the article in KOREA magazine and sent them to Editor Ines. I'd post at least one of the three stand-alone parts of the article here, except that would be before their version came out and I don't think they're paying me to use the articles in my blog. I can say, though, that in finding a way to add more content because Ines had nixed one section of the main article, I was able to add a nice fat section on Goseong Ogwangdae and even quote one of my past interviews with 이윤석 Yi Yunseok.

After finishing those articles and doing a couple other things that were overdue (including finally scheduling an interview with someone who has been beastly hard to reach). Then I left much earlier than usual for the Intangible Cultural Assets Training Center. I went directly to the 북청사자놀음 Bukcheong Saja Noleum office. It turned out it was the National Human Treasure there (이근화선 Yi Geunhwaseon and yes that's a very unusual name for a Korean)'s birthday. I was invited to go to dinner with them, but I really just wanted to have a conversation and practice 봉산탈춤 Bongsan Talchum. So I had a bit of a conversation with 이건홍 Yi Geonhong (이수자 isuja and Yi Geunhwaseon's son-- he has two daughters- one is an isuja, one is a jeonsuja), who is now the director of the new (just instituted in March) 중요무형문화재 총연 합회. I recorded a little of his description of the group and its plans/goals but although I think they're good, the goals seem too focused on communicating Korean traditional culture to foreigners, when honestly the more immediate goal should be to reverse the knowledge drain which is occurring as the older generation slowly but surely dies off. They plan to make a really great center where they can have the people protecting craft arts sit down and work on their arts as an ongoing demonstration, have a gift shop and gallery and have performances. This all really sounds like this building (Intangible Cultural Assets Training Center), why do we need another? How will the new facility be different? The only large difference I could see was that they would be able to offer ongoing performances so that any night (or any night except Monday for example) there would be a traditional performance for the audience (foreigners being the target) to see. It seems to me that there is a lot of desire for an ongoing/permanent/dedicated theatre for a traditional arts show hoping to mirror the success of 미소 Miso (at 청동극장 Chongdong Theatre) or Jump, Nanta and other such shows.

Honestly Miso is crap but it exists, it's already out there in the world, and although I'm not saying it's sold out every night, I am saying I'm not sure that a new show needs to compete with Miso, or more significantly with the Saturday traditional music and dance show (in many ways also focused at foreigners and compared to 40-50 dollar Jump it's quite affordable at less than 10 bucks) at the National Gugak Center It's true that the Gugak Center's show is also not sold out every time, but it's also on a Saturday and competing with everything else that's going on, even at 5 pm, since with transpo time 5 pm would still preclude many other Saturday evening activities. The show at the National Gugak Center, which usually has around 8 parts does include a couple duds sometimes but in general it's pretty good (a million miles away from Miso and its contrived story and orientalism).

Anyway, after a bit of light interviewing I agreed to come back and interview at Bukcheong Saja Noleum's office on another day and I went to Bongsan Talchum's office where 장용일 Jang Yongil was teaching from 중앙대 Jungang University percussion department students 사자춤 Sajachum or lion dance. I secured the right to be a staff member at the full length performance the weekend after next!!!!

In class we had seven people (not that many…), 허세준, 이병우, 현석, 화연, 하연 and 수미. We practiced fairly typically, with 화연 who is new  (4th class?) learning the basics between when the rest of us practice everything. In fact both 병우 and 현석 still make mistakes, but they know it all. After going through the 7 monks (missing monk 1 of course), the four women (including me in spot # 1) went through 사상좌춤 sasangjwachum. Then everyone practiced 소무 Somu. I keep bringing my fan because 김은주 Kim Eunju promised we'd be learning 할미 Halmi (grandmother) but I've been bringing my fan for a month and we haven't started yet. 

Interview with Jin Okseop and Karjam plays music with Go Seokjin

May 18th, 2011
I finally finished the article (but the editor sent it back with changes needed later in the day). Then I said good-bye to Kim who is off to America and rushed to KOUS to interview 진옥섭 Jin Okseop, the artistic director there and the guy who taught the 4 lectures on Korean dance that I attended a while back. I had dreaded the interview, because whenever I'd talked to him he'd been a bit arrogant and I especially disliked how he'd had the course at KOUS (in the spotlight, on stage, no questions and leaving backstage so he never talked to people). However after he finally had time (I sat around having had no breakfast or lunch for an hour before he got rid of a previous meeting) I discovered (surprisingly) that he was oddly shy. For the first 7 or 8 minutes of the interview I think he only looked at me three times. He basically looked at his hands (and fidgeted a bit) or the table, or the voice recorder, or out the window. It was clear that he was intimidated by me (I am NOT intimidating in Korean. I'm a bit direct (this is a cultural difference and my personality and more limited Korean makes me more direct than a smooth-tongued native speaker) but since I don't SOUND academic most people tend to dismiss me as being kind of cute or funky or whatever. I actually take advantage of this in interviews because I'm –not- imposing or scary so people are more likely to speak honestly without need to pump themselves or their importance and they see me as less of someone to be on guard with than a 'real' academic (a Korean who will publish in Korean in Korea) so they tend to be pretty up front.

Jin Okseop photo I found on the internet
As the interview went on I was surprised how sweet he was. He should be more like himself on stage and less like a stuffed yangban robe (I'd say stuffed shirt, but he wears hanbok, robe style). He started a Ph.D. and quit for some of the same reasons I'm frustrated by Korean academia and we bonded on that point. By the end (and I had to run, literally I sprinted for the bus) he was being super open and had a trillion things to say to me and I had come around on several points in which I had been critical of him and his management of KOUS. So it was a great interview, if shorter than I'd like.

Then I met up with Karjam at the 예술의 전당 Seoul Arts Center and we met 고석진 Go Seokjin (of 고성오광대 Goseong Ogwangdae and the 서울예술단 Seoul Performing Arts Company). Karjam and he jammed around and Seokjin is obviously going to work out REALLY well for Karjam's CD, except that he's expensive (more than I'd expected and he's giving us a good rate). He really will bring so much to the CD, though. I know a ton of percussionists. Heck I see percussionist all the time. My Bongsan Talchum teacher Kim Eunju is very well respected, the lead drummer for Songpa Sandae Noli Gang Cha-uk travels around accompanying people in concert. My sangmo teacher Yi Jonghui did percussion in university and does full time now— not to mention my various drummer friends from Gaejeonyeon and what not. But Seokjin (I describe his drumming in this post) is special and I know he'll make Karjam's CD special, too. 

Writing an Article Eats all my Time

May 15th, 2011
It doesn't feel accurate to say that the day of the 송파산대놀이Songpa Sandae Noli full length performance had come at last because in fact last year we did the full length performance in October, so it had only been about seven months. At any rate, we had the full-length performance.

1) So many members from other groups showed up to congratulate the Songpa Sandae Noli folks, including people from Bukcheong Saja Noleum, Yangju Byeolsandae, and Hahoi Byeolshin'gut Talnoli but I couldn’t do more than bow, I was busy stuffing (a Korean dessert) into bags and boxes. Then during the show I never saw any of those people (I think they all left). 전경욱교수님 Professor Jeon Gyeong-uk stuck around until perhaps halfway through in his guise as a 무형문화재위원회원 – government evaluator.
2) We used the ground as seating to reduce the size of the huge 서울놀이마당 Seoul Noli Madang space. That was great. Everything went off very well.
3) After the show I learned a bunch of cool upcoming stuff.

Then I went home and kept working on the KOREA article.

May 16th, 2011
For the KOREA article (after a whole morning writing) I went to meet 이정윤 Yi Jeongyun, one of two principal male dancers from the National Dance Company of Korea, and a photographer, 박정로 Bak Jeong-roh who does work for KOREA magazine on a regular basis. I was really impressed with Bak- I immediately felt comfortable with him. Perhaps I just like photographers.

He took photos of Jeong-yun outside, then inside, then we sat on a rooftop there at the National Theatre of Korea and I did a two hour interview.  It was at times hard to come up with what to say-- I don't really think like a magazine reporter and I didn't really have enough background about him-- it turns out he's a real star, but even that I didn't know until I got home and did some more background checking based on having learned that he'd done this major featured performance in early April. Wish I could have seen it. The interview went so long that either I'd be late to Bongsan Talchum or I'd go home and get to work, I opted for the latter. The interview took me until about 5 a.m. to finish translating and editing, although I did take some time off to talk to Kim after she returned to my house (she spent Sunday night with another friend).

May 17th, 2011
I worked on the KOREA article all day, including doing a two hour interview with 안은미 Ahn Eunme who is a personal friend and a very remarkable modern dancer. In fact the pieces of hers that I like the most are the best modern dance pieces I've ever seen in my attending-far-too-many-dance-performances life. I'd say my list of top modern dance pieces has two of hers as 1 and 2, and then probably 4 and 5 are hers, too. The interview was partially to get ideas for the KOREA article (since it's on use of Korean elements in modern dance and ballet) and partially to see her and partially to see if talking with her stirred up ideas for other stuff I should write in my dissertation.

Promo photo of Ahn Eunme from the internet

After that Kim and I went back home and I eventually headed to 상모 sangmo though I had totally spaced that we now start at 7 (we haven't started at 8 since December) and so I was a good half hour late. Then after a solid diet of coffee all day I was so out of it I couldn't spin properly. Went home, write until 4 a.m. on the article. 

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Songpa Sandae Noli Prepares to Perform

May 13th, 2011
I started the day with a list of about 7 items I wanted to take care of, but somehow it seemed that only two got taken care of because new tasks seemed to materialize like slugs after a nice rainfall. Everything I had to do seemed to take longer than it should have, too.

In the evening I had the second week of my new 사물놀이/상모 samulnori and sangmo class. I introduced my German friend Jan to the class, too. His first time to ever hold drums sticks, but he seemed to do fairly well. We did the drumming first, then for the last hour those of us who wanted to do sangmo (효진, 정환 and next week 선호 and this other woman who went to high school with 이종휘 are going to bring their sangmo, too). I managed to get both my 일사 motion and this other motion (the name of which is temporarily escaping me) up to a much more acceptable level. I now do 일사 with the 소고 sogo which is the difficult part of it for me. After class they all went to have a drink, of course I couldn't because of Karjam.

May 14th, 2011
Because the 송파산대놀이 전기공연 Songpa Sandae Noli Annual full length performance (the 38th year of full length performances, the 46th full length performance held during that time) is Sunday, Saturday was devoted to a full length rehearsal.  

At 서울놀이마당 Seoul Noli Madang we quickly moved outside to the madang itself to practice. Mats were set out for the musicians to sit on and we began from the first act: 상좌춤놀이 Sangjwachum Noli. Professor 이병옥 Yi Byeongok performed the first sangjwa part as people walking by were attracted by the music and sat down to watch the rehearsal. During the second act, Omjung, Meokjung Noli there were a couple moments where 함완식 and 안병인 took some movements over, but for the most part the acts continued exactly as they would be performed except for the fact that there were no costumes or masks. Some people were wearing 민복 minbok but not everyone- the musicians and few dancers were just wearing street clothes. I found it interesting that 이수환 continually took photographs during this rehearsal and no one told him to stop. I am sometimes forbidden from taking photos during rehearsals, and I am generally aware that I am not supposed to use any of them without permission. When I have brought other foreigners (including my mom) to the training center then 함완식 has strongly forbidden them (he would have less control over their photos than mine) from taking any at all.

As 함완식 speaks his lines, without the microphones of course, he seems to be using the force of his entire body to project the dialogue. I found watching Act 3 연닢눈끔재기놀이, which I have been concentrating on learning the most in class the most fun of all. Watching the entire expert cast do the scene was so different than before I had almost memorized the dialogue for the act. Audience members continued to come and go as we practiced with some people, especially those who were a little more elderly staying for long periods of time.

The "audience" of performers spends time discussing and gossiping with each other, says the lines quietly to themselves (especially the funny ones, the 불림 bullim and the short songs) at the same time as the performers, or rehearses lines they will need to speak in a few minutes when it is their turn to go on stage.

In the evening I went to the train station and met my good friend Kim who is having a flying visit to Korea. We had a great dinner and talk, then came home and she finally got to meet Karjam. 

Karjam Begins Recording

May 12th, 2011
On Thursday my only research related activity was to go to 봉산탈춤 Bongsan Talchum class in the evening. However it was an extremely busy day because Karjam started recording his CD. I went to facilitate and translate and such, and it did take until late-lunch time before Karjam and the engineer, 오영훈, figured out how to work together. But the really cool thing was that they did figure it out, by the end of the day Karjam had recorded both of his a cappella tracks and two instrumental tracks for another song (but not the song) and I had written more than three pages of good solid work on my dissertation—important and almost inspired pages that will definitely (after editing) appear in the final piece!

At Bongsan Talchum엄하연 is back from giving her body a break (she has a persistent problem with her ankles). Quite a few people were absent but not 이병우 who did an interview for me during almost every break all class long. It was really amazing. He surprised himself by talking about things, telling his story, in a way he is not sure he ever did before. What was particularly striking about the interview, unfortunately, were the first few things he said before I noticed that somehow I had forgotten to press record. At the end of the interview I asked him a bit about modern dance and the current dance culture in Korea because in the morning I had been asked to write an article on a very short deadline for "Korea" a magazine distributed in Korean embassy and consulates in English speaking areas around the world. At first I thought the article content would be closer to my research, but it's really not. It's the cover article with three sections—only one can contain any real discussion of traditional dance (but it also is supposed to contain several other predetermined discussions), the other sections are an interview and an overview/introduction to dance related organizations. And the entire article has to be very positive and rosy-cosy "Visit Korea," there is no room for any sort of criticism in the article. Asking Byeong-u (a full time performer who sometimes performs modern dance) for a few comments will hopefully give me a chance to include that perspective in the final article.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Teaching Gugak to Elementary School Students

May 11th, 2011
I actually had an incredibly full day. I got up early (peeling my eyeballs open) and took a bus to 안성 Anseong, a city a little south of Seoul, where I met my friend 박연식 Bak Yeonshik from my 봉산탈춤 Bongsan Talchum class. Yeonshik is a professional supplementary teacher for Korean traditional music, as I mentioned in this blog when I first found out. On Wednesday I actually went along and watched him teach class. The school we went to is a tiny school of only 16 students for all six grades of elementary school. Since it's so small the students are two grades to a classroom and Yeonshik and I started with the 3rd and 4th graders. It was his eighth meeting with these students, but as I found out, classes are much longer than 40 minutes, we were in the classroom more than an hour and a half, although there was a break so that they could hit the can if needed.

Yeonshik had a 단소 danso and the students had brought their own instruments too (it's sort of like a recorder, a vertical bamboo (or cheaper plastic) flute). They began with Yeonshik writing out the notes in the 구음 gueum (the vocal representation of the notes) for the song they were playing (오나리 from 대장금) on the board. The students prompted him as he wrote 황태태 태황무 임무무무 황태태 태중태 태황태태 and so on. Then they all reviewed the fingering for the notes together, with emphasis on breath support and the particularly high and low notes. The students spent a few minutes practicing high and low and then everyone played together. As they played first one 3rd grader and then near the end another 3rd grader (there were 5 students, 3 in 3rd grade and 2 in 4th) gave up. As I continued to observe class it was obvious the one girl just had problems concentrating or had no sense for music though she was interested. After they went through it Yeonshik reminded them to not breath between each note, first they played a section of notes before breathing (as written above a section would be the series before each space) and then after they'd done that they practiced playing two sections before a breath. Everyone was really enjoying the class except the one girl with concentration issues, but I think she was having fun, too. She didn't seem frustrated that she couldn't play. Yeonshik used chocolate as a motivator. He gave it as a reward for doing things, but never actually denied it to anyone who hadn't, he just praised the ones who had managed to play through with the breathing right, for example. He particularly praised the one third grader who was doing well, as this student had never been exposed before the beginning of the term and yet was playing better than the fourth graders. The student took this very seriously. Yeonshik told him he could go to university for gugak (traditional music) and the little boy asked him very sincerely "but can you make a good living from gugak?" an answer that Yeonshik kept trying to side-step and the little boy kept asking. Yeonshik had each student play one by one, and praised each and critiqued them lightly (you need to concentrate on your breathing, it won't sound right until you take a breath at the right place and not other times) and gave them chocolate. When it was the turn of the girl who really couldn't play (last in the order Yeonshik had picked) he sent the students to recycle their milk cartons and then asked her to play, she was still having trouble getting sound to come out (it's not easy to blow like a recorder, it's vertical but like a flute you need to be positioned correctly relative to the hole or it's not going to produce a sound).

After about twenty minutes on the danso they opened their textbooks (they opened the textbook for fourth grade music not third) and they switched to playing 장구 janggu on the desk with their hands while speaking the 입장단 ipjangdan. Interestingly the notation they used was the traditional notation of circle, line and circle with a line in it (at Imshil Pilbong Nongak all the college kids read the notation that is just the ipjangdan written out 덩덩쿵딱). They practiced together beating the desks (one little third grader pulled out some cloth to shield her hand from the desk). Each time they went through the rhythm three times before stopping and trying again or getting feedback. First they did 자진모리, then 세마치, then 굿거리 and last 중중모리. Honestly they were quite good and they traded off having Yeonshik sing while they played (desk slapped and vocalized the sounds) and having them sing while he played to see if they were keeping the rhythm right. Actually I think they only sang two songs, but he sang with each of the rhythms. Because they knew the songs, this was how they checked themselves to see if they were correct because if the rhythm was wrong it was going to screw up the song. These songs were in the textbook next to the rhythms, they must have practiced the songs in a previous class.

After a break we went on to 강강술래 ganggangsullae (a folk song with a dance but they didn't do the dance). Yeonshik was even asking them questions like "what are the special characteristics of Namdo Minyo" and they (or at least one of them who answered first) could answer! Really really cool. And they were having so much fun. The girl with the concentration issues remained a little spacey but she had fun with the desk slapping and with the singing. They were quizzed on the details to the origin of ganggangsullae (sort of a myth) and they'd obviously learned it in a previous class.

After class but before we left Yeonshik was praising the one little 3rd grader again and he told him that if he practiced for a year or two he'd be good enough to start performing. The little boy had tons of questions, he was so into it! And all the kids decided they needed my autograph (it's this weird thing in Korea where they do that, and I've experienced it before many a time so it didn't phase me too much). So I was writing these little sentences like (dang these don't translate well) "Your joy at practicing gugak looked very good (to me)" and then signing my name and the last two were like "just sign, only sign, really big" and gave me these huge sheets of like sketch book paper (I felt so guilty to use it). Apparently my sentiments were not needed, only my foreigner handwriting.

Next we went to the 5th and 6th grade classroom which was only three students (one of the two fifth graders was slightly retarded). The two girls played danso even better than the younger kids, but the boy had none and just sort of hummed along off-tune. He still got chocolate. They discussed vibration as a special element in Korean music and practiced for 25 minutes, then switched to 민요 minyo folk songs. I didn't get to see the names of the songs written down, the first one sounded like 당기둥기 might be the name and the second could be called 떡떡대기야. The two girls sang quite well and the boy was having fun in his own way. The latter song might be one they've known less time, because Yeonshik did call and repeat, but it sounded good that way, so it might just be how that song is normally sung. Part of Yeonshik's job is to teach Korean thought/consciousness (의식) and after the break they talked about 한글 (the Korean alphabet).

Yeonshik took me to see the huge facility that Namsadang has constructed in Anseong and then we had a great lunch and a long conversation followed by coffee and more conversation before I went back to Seoul.