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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Korean art diversifies campus

Published: March 21, 2014
Section: Arts, Etc.

As I entered Slosberg, the stage was beautifully decorated with Korean art and five musicians sitting in front of a gorgeous wall divider with their fascinating instruments.

The audience was a diverse crowd, consisting of students, families and academics who were all ready to be united by the traditional music of Korea, which was unfamiliar to a few of us. The event started with the musicians together playing the “Sangryeongsan,” which is a form of an aristocratic chamber music that is supposed to be gentle and slow. Even though all of the instruments were used, the sound was very soft and soothing, which was the perfect beginning and introduction to the traditional sounds and the mood the music is supposed to create.

The second piece, which was definitely my favorite piece in the show, was a gayageum and janggu duet of a piece called “Silk Road” by Byungki Hwang. The gayageum is a traditional Korean string instrument, which usually has 12 strings, and the janggu is a type of drum. One of the reasons this piece stood out to me as one of my favorites was because of the unique and hypnotic sound of the gayageum. Yiseul Park and Sori Choi played the instrument effortlessly and gracefully. The entire crowd was enchanted by the music and did not want that experience to end.

The next piece changed things up a little bit by making the event more interactive. The form of music is known as a pansori, which features a singer telling an epic tale with the accompaniment of a drummer. The vocalist Yi-ho Ahn had a powerful voice and gave quite a performance while telling the tale of the Battle at Red Cliffs, which was a satirical tale of war. Even though the singing was in Korean, it was surprising how easily the musicians managed to involve everyone with the tale. The audience was supposed to cheer the singer on from time to time, but that did not really happen. Nonetheless, the performance was very effective in exciting everyone for the rest of the night.

Saenghwang and Danso are wind instruments that were the highlight of the next performance, which was wind instrument duet. A saenghwang is the only Korean instrument that can harmonize, which was interesting to see as the combined sound of the instruments was a lot louder than expected when you first see them. In a continuation with the theme of wind instruments, the next performance was a Piri solo by the immensely talented Gamin. A piri is an oboe-like instrument that looks very quaint but its sound is majestic. The sound of the piri captured an essence of joyousness in the surroundings. The name of the piece “Yeomyangchun” means “warmth of the mid spring,” which accurately describes the emotion that the song evoked.

As a change to the calmness of the wind instruments, the sinawi again added a sense of activity to the stage. A sinawi is an improvisational music genre, which used all the instruments and the vocalist who aims to mimic the sound of the instruments. It starts off with one of the instruments playing a certain melody and then the others adding layers of sound to it. The interaction and the dynamic between the musicians was a highlight of the performance as it made the whole process of making seem very natural and organic.

The last piece was a high-energy interactive duet between the janggu and the taepyeongso (a trumpet-like instrument), which involved a little bit of folk dancing by Sori Choi the janggu player. She was so lost and ecstatic while performing and the energy that the musicians had was so infectious that everyone was almost forced to tap their feet to the music. It was the best way to end the night of mind-blowing music.

Dr. Hillary Vanessa Fichum-Sing did a great job as a presenter as she managed to explain the difficult concepts of Korean music to an audience that was a little unfamiliar with it in the a simple and effective manner without taking anything away from the intricate nature of the music. Her expertise in the field was evident, which made it for an even better experience.

“I thought the concert was wonderful. It gave the audience a nice taste of a few of Korea’s very diverse musical traditions, from P’ansori to Pungnyu, including my personal favorite, Gayageum Sanjo. Hearing the music performed live really brought to life what we learned about it in class, especially with P’ansori and Sinawi. I only wish more people had shouted out chuimse,” said Brandon Shapiro ’17, who takes a class on World Music. I was unfamiliar with Korean folk and traditional music before I walked into the concert; walking out I realized how unforgettable the concert was, and I can easily say that now I am a fan.