There was a poet named Shin Heum신흠 from the mid-Joseon period who wrote a poem about royal foxglove trees, plum blossoms, the moon, and willows. The poem went, “The royal foxglove tree retains its melodies even after five thousand years, the plum blossoms do not sell off its scent even if they live in cold forever, the moon does not change its inherent traits even it waxes and wanes a thousand times, the willow sprouts new branches even when it breaks off a hundred times.”
Seonbi or Joseon era scholars often wrote poems about the four objects above. Even among the four, their favorite topic was plum flowers which bloom in winter, amid snow. Its scent is very mild and subtle, making it the symbol of seonbi scholars’ noble character and integrity.
We’re still in the middle of winter, but sometimes we hear good tidings of plum blossoms blooming early at this time of the year. Lunar December is called ‘nabwol납월’ in Chinese characters and the plum flowers that bloom in this month is called ‘nabwolmae납월매.’ People begin to look forward to the coming of spring when plum blossoms start showing up. Let’s begin this week’s Sounds of Korea with Song So-hee singing Gyeonggi-do folksong “Plum Blossom Song” to the accompaniment of fusion band Second Moon.
Plum Blossom Song/ Sung by Song So-hee, performed by Second Moon
Next song is titled “Geondreong Taryeong건드렁타령.” The term ‘geondreong’ evokes an image of a person swaggering but “Geondreong Taryeong” is about young girls selling local specialties at different places in Seoul. Its lyrics describe resourceful and strong-willed girls selling stuff at a market.
“The girl from Wangsipni왕십리 goes out to sell fresh herbs like bracken, fatsia shoots, and other wild plants. The girl from Nugakgol누각골 goes out to sell pouches like tobacco pouches and citrus yellow pouches. The girl from Aeogae애오개 goes out to sell headgears like headbands made with human hair.”
The song is performed by Volosi, a world music group from Poland. Here’s Chae Su-hyeon singing “Geondreong” accompanied by Volosi. Try to imagine the lively faces of these young vendors while listening to the song.
Geondreong/ Sung by Chae Su-hyeon, performed by Volosi
Last song for this week’s episode is “Jeongseon Arirang정선아리랑” by Gozze고쩨. There are two types of Jeongseon Arirang. One is a song that people of Jeongseon have preserved for many centuries and often called “Arari” by the locals, which comes in two versions – a slow one called “Long Arari긴아라리” and a faster one “Jajin Arari자진아라리.” And then there is the Jeongseon Arirang sung by professional singers from Seoul and Gyeonggi-do Province. This “Jeongseon Arirang” is derived from an Arari titled “Yeokkeum엮음 Arari,” an unusual Arirang song which begins at a very fast pace, much like a rap, and then slows down abruptly toward the end. Singers from Seoul and Gyeonggi-do Province rendered this song more sophisticated, but it is still considered “Jeongseon Arirang.” The version we’ll hear today is the “Jeongseon Arirang” that was adapated by Seoul and Gyeonggi singers. The gugak term ‘goje고제’ refers to old-fashioned melodies and beats. The name of the gugak team Gozze that sings “Jeongseon Arirang” for us today was inspired by this term and aims to put a new face to old songs. Let’s conclude this week’s Sounds of Korea with “Jeongseon Arirang” sung by Gozze.
Jeongseon Arirang/ Sung by Gozze