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Wind instruments of Korea

#Sounds of Korea l 2019-05-29

Sounds of Korea

Traditional wind instruments of Korea can be divided into two groups. One group is played with a reed attached to the instruments, like the piri피리 or taepyeongso태평소. The second group consists of instruments that are placed directly on the player’s lips, like the daegeum대금. Reed instruments make a fuller, less windier sound than their counterparts. 

People mistakenly think that Korean wind instruments all sound similar, but today we’ll listen more carefully and try to distinguish their unique sounds. First up is daegeum. This flute-like instrument made of bamboo has small openings on one side that you block to make sounds and an opening at one end where you place your lips and exhale. There is one more opening called “cheonggong청공” between the mouth opening and the finger holes. This opening is covered with a thin membrane from the reed called “cheong.” The sound reverberating from this membrane is what distinguishes daegeum from other wind instruments. Try to listen to the upcoming daegeum composition with special attention to the vibrations of the “cheong.” 

Music 1: Cheongseong Jajinhanip/ Daegeum by Jo Chang-hoon

That was daegeum jeongak정악 practitioner Jo Chang-hoon’s rendition of “Cheongseong Jajinhanip” also called “Cheongseonggok” for short. 

Daegeum is often compared to the conventional flute. While the flute makes a clear, light sound, daegeum’s sound is rather coarse because of the reverberation of the reed membrane, providing a unique character to the instrument. 

Some people say that such rugged sound is a defining characteristic of all Korean musical instruments. For instance, traditional string instruments like the haegeum해금 or ajaeng아쟁 sound rougher than the violin or cello. Another wind instrument that has “cheong” or reed membrane, is tungso. This wind instrument looks similar to daegeum, but is held straight down from the lips, much like the oboe. 

It was played quite frequently in the past, but it came to be forgotten so much so that it is now almost only heard during the Bukcheong북청 lion dance. Young traditional musicians have tried to bring back the tungso and use it more often in their compositions, but most people are still unfamiliar with the instrument. 

Let’s listen to two tungso pieces today to familiarize ourselves with this rarely heard instrument. These are folk songs from Hamgyeong Province, “Dondolnari” and “Jeongapseong Taryeong.”

Music 2: Dondolnari & Jeongapseong Taryeong/ Tungso by Dong Seon-bon, Koh Jang-wook

The Hamgyeong folk songs “Dondolnari” and “Jeongapseong Taryeong” were performed by tungso players Dong Seon-bon and Koh Jang-wook. Now let’s listen to an instrument called sogeum소금, a smaller instrument not unlike the daegeum.

Since sogeum is smaller than daegeum, it makes a higher, thinner sound, and the absence of a reed membrane makes it possible to achieve a clearer, more conventionally pleasing sound. Danso also makes a sound similar to tungso, for it also doesn’t have a ‘cheong’. 

However, sogeum is considered more versatile because it has a wider playing range than the danso, which is why traditional musicians often use sogeum in their creative pieces. This week’s episode will conclude with “Laan” composed by Gye Seong-won계성원 with Han Chung-eun playing the sogeum.

Music 3: Laan/ Sogeum by Han Chung-eun

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