Every yearend, a daily newspaper in Korea picks a renowned master musician who has devoted oneself to the development of Korea’s traditional music, and awards a prize for his or her lifelong commitment. When the prize was first introduced, the award also aimed to financially support Korean classical musicians who mostly managed to eke out a living. So, the amount of the prize money is relatively larger than other awards.
But this year, the winner of the award became the talk of the town because he has donated the entire prize to underprivileged people and for the up-and-coming traditional musicians. It was myeongin Jeong Jae-guk who is designated as the nation’s Important Intangible Cultural Asset No. 46 and the artistic-talent holder of the piri-jeongak and daechwita performances.
In today’s edition of Sounds of Korea, we’ll listen to the music played by master Jeong. The first music piece of today’s program is a piri solo recital of Sangryeongsan performed by Jeong Jae-guk. The piece gives the feeling of strong will and presents a still and quiet atmosphere.
Piri Solo “Sangryeongsan” / Piri by Jeong Jae-guk
The prize money of 50 million won is by no means a small amount. And the amount could appear greater when it is offered for donation. But master Jeong’s wife was proud of her husband as she said, “Prize money is a bonus for our life. Of course, it must be put to a good purpose. I’m proud of my husband who has lived as a musician and an educator.” Master musician Jeong was likely able to focus on his music throughout his entire life thanks to his thoughtful spouse.
Master Jeong’s father and mother passed away when he was only four and eight years old, respectively. Since his early age, he grew up by moving around from orphanages to relatives’ homes. At times when the guardians around him were not well off, he couldn’t rely entirely on others to support his tuition. Then, by chance, he learned about the Traditional Musician Training School which was affiliated with the National Gugak Center.
The institute succeeded the Aakbuwon Training School that existed during Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean peninsula. The school taught traditional music in addition to secondary school curriculum to enrolled students who went to school on state scholarships. It was a great opportunity for those students in need to continue their study.
Jeong also entered the training school at the age of 15 and learned to play the traditional wind instrument, piri, for the first time. Half a century has passed since then. After receiving lessons on jeongak, or court music, from teachers who had succeeded the tradition of Joseon’s court music, he started to carve out his career as a piri player.
This time, we’ll lend our ears to Sujecheon, the essence of court music, by Jeong Jae-guk who performs the piri sound with gueum. Gueum is an oral sound that copies the sound of a musical instrument. The sound itself can be an excellent form of music.
Hyang-piri Gueum, Sujecheon / Gueum by Jeong Jae-guk
These days, gugagin, or traditional musicians, are expected to play all kinds of Korean classical music from court music, or jeongak, that was enjoyed by literati-scholars, to folk music such as minyo, sanjo, or sinawi, as well as modern creative music. But in the past when Jeong studied piri, graduates of Traditional Musician Training School focused on jeongak, while folk music players were only proficient at folk music. Back then, creative music was rarely performed.
Although master Jeong graduated from the training school that taught upper-class music, he searched for the neglected piri-sanjo melodies performed by musicians in the past. After refining the tunes, he introduced them to the public. In 1972, Jeong became the first piri player to hold a solo recital and presented various ways to develop piri music.
Jeong’s penname is “gasan.” The Chinese character “ga” refers to “piri” while “san” means “mountain.” He picked the penname “gasan” to follow his teacher Kim Jun-hyeon whose penname is “ganong,” but Jeong’s penname “gasan” also implies that the sound of piri is so grand and impressive that it’s like a high mountain.
Despite difficult circumstances in the past, he put much effort into the development of piri music. Now we must learn his spirit and generosity that are devoted to nurturing future traditional musicians.
We’ll wrap up today’s show as we listen to Jeong Jae-guk School Piri-Sanjo played by master Jeong.
Jeong Jae-guk School Piri-sanjo / Piri by Jeong Jae-guk