It is difficult to imagine discussing samulnori without mentioning Kim Duk Soo.
Kim and his four disciples, Bang Seong Hyeok, Moon Sang Joon, Ahn Byeong Jin, and Jeon Joon Young filled the performance hall of Jeju National Museum to capacity on June 23, with a celebration of Korean traditional music that was boundless in energy and enthused the audience.
This packed performance was held as part of the Jeju National Museum’s official Saturday cultural program, “Museum Stroll,” to provide cultural experiences to Jeju residents. Kim and his troupe visited Jeju as a part of their nationwide tour to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Korea National University of Arts (KARTS), where Kim is the director of the department of Performing Arts.
Samulnori is a dynamic traditional Korean performance with four percussion instruments; the buk (barrel drum), the janggu (double-headed, hourglass-shaped drum), the gwaengwari (handheld gong) and the jing (large gong). The style is occasionally accompanied by the musicians performing acrobatic dances while playing their instruments, as was the case of the Kim Duk Soo performance. In Korean, samul refers to the four instruments and nori refers to the playing of the instruments.
Kim stands at the center of the samulnori. He became as a namsadang (wandering musician) when he was just five years old. In 1978 he founded a professional samulnori troupe and led the renaissance of the music style, garnering worldwide acclaim. The resilient Korean spirit flows in his music.
The performance was supposed to be staged outside, but due to the threat of rain it was relocated to the performance hall. The show began with Kim, on a Korean wind instrument called the taepyeongso, and his students entering the hall, playing their musical instruments.
Among the fans, Peter McDowell, who teaches English in Jeju, said that he first became aware of Kim Duk Soo through his album “Nanjang, A New Horizon," which he received from one of his students in 1997.
“I was dazzled by the beautiful melody of samulnori and I have been a big fan of Kim Duk Soo since then. I [have] listened to his music countless times,” he said.
Following the Gilnori (the entering of the performance hall), performances of Binari (wishing for a good harvest), Samdo Nongak (a combination of melodies from Gyeongsang, Jeonra, and Joongbu provinces), and Pan Gut (a performance with several acrobatic dances while using the buk, janggu, gwaengwari, and sogo ― a small double hand-drum) were performed.
Park Ji Hae, a senior student at KARTS, took to the stage following the ensemble’s Samdo Nongak and sang two Minyos (Korean traditional songs), Han-Obaek-nyeon and Arirang of Gangwon province.
During the Pan Gut, the musicians freely twirled the long, white ribbons attached to the tops of their hats and performed complicated acrobatic maneuvers where their bodies were tilted at almost 45 degree angles to the floor as they jumped about the stage in a circle. The splendid foot work of the samulnori members mesmerized the audience who could not take their eyes off the musicians.
During rehearsal prior to the 6 p.m. performance, Kim Duk Soo told The Weekly that he hopes that samulnori can become popular and known worldwide.
“In every generation, music should be recreated and reinterpreted again and again. Tradition can be reborn through the musician’s creativity. Musicians are standing in the frontline of that mission,” he said.
He added, the collaboration of different music genres like jazz and pop is one of the ways to introduce samulnori to the public and create tradition.
Kim has collaborated with scores of musicians from various genres including jazz group Red Sun, violinist Yujin Park, and most recently on the TV program, “I Am a Singer” where he played with the well-known Korean band Jaurim. It was this appearance, said many of the grade school students in the audience at Jeju National Museum when they first became aware of Kim and his style of music.
Moon Sang Joon, who played the handheld gong during the show, said, “bilateral communication between performers and the audiences is the key to enjoying samulnori.”
As an example of this “bilateral communication,” the audience would traditionally shout words of encouragement and delight, such as “Joh da,” and “Jal handa” (meaning great, good job in Korean) to encourage the performers and express their excitement, in a tradition known as chuimsae, an exclamation to stir up excitement.
During the finale with all the dancers and musicians on the stage, the performance was full of chuimsae from the audience.
“Kim Duk Soo Samulnori” will perform its last KARTS 20th anniversary performance at the Daegu National Museum on Aug. 11.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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