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#Sounds of Korea l 2018-08-29

Sounds of Korea

There’s a play written by Belgian playwright Maurice Maeterlinck titled “The Blue Bird,” in which a girl named Mytyl and her brother Tyltyl are seeking a blue bird, the symbol for happiness. The siblings have wonderful adventures and, at the end of their great experiences, realize that happiness lies in simple things, like love for one’s family. In this story, the blue bird represents hope, but Koreans of the old days also considered the blue bird the harbinger of hopeful news. 

Blue bird, thank you for bringing the news of my beloved.

How did you fly across miles of water?

How would you know all the emotions of my beloved?

This is an old Korean poem about a blue bird. In this poem, the blue bird delivers a long-awaited letter from a lover who went far away. Let’s listen to a song based on this poem. This is “Blue Bird” sung by Kim Young-ki(김영기). 

Music 1: Blue Bird/ Sung by Kim Young-ki

Since the old days, birds were considered very intelligent creatures that connect heaven and the human world. So, there are quite a lot of folk tales and traditional songs associated with birds. One such song is an aria from pansori “Sugungga수궁가” where birds argue over who gets to sit in the place of honor. This aria is featured in the scene in which the turtle comes out on the land for the first time to get a rabbit’s liver for the sea king. The turtle sees all sorts of birds fighting over which one of them is the greatest and worthy of the highest seat. The phoenix stands up to boast of how his cries bring out all the great kings and saints, and that he’s the noblest of all birds. Then the crow says that his kind make a bridge over the Milky Way to help the separated lovers, Gyeonu(Altair) 견우  and Jingnyeo(Vega) 직녀 , reunite once a year. He also brags that the crow is the bird that symbolizes filial love and that he deserves to sit in the highest seat. But the owl refutes the crow’s claim and points out that his cry is sinister, which is why people throw stones at the crows when they hear their caw. One wonders why the birds that live in the woods argue over who’s better than the other, but the message is that feuding in the human world is just as trivial as the fight among the birds. Now, let’s listen to that passage from “Sugungga” (수궁가) sung by Nam Hae-sung (남해성). 

Music 2: Passage from “Sugungga”/ Sori by Nam Hae-sung, drum by Kim Chung-man

That was an aria from the pansori “Sugungga” in which birds fight over who deserves to sit at the place of honor at a banquet. Of all the Korean folk songs that feature birds, “Saetaryeong새타령” or “Bird Song” from the southern region is probably the most well-known. The song lists all the birds that are typically seen in Korea, from the swallow that returns from the south in the spring to the phoenix, white cranes, parrots, geese, blue birds, cuckoos, and the crested ibis. The song also sings of such lesser-known and uncommon birds as wagtails and eagles. The song’s description of these birds also represents people’s emotions, their ups and downs in life. Just by listening to this song, we can guess how people in the old days paid attention to and cared for nature. This week’s episode of Sounds of Korea will conclude with “Bird Song” sung by Min Eun-gyeong (민은경) and performed by AUX. 

Music 3: Bird Song/ Sori by Min Eun-gyeong, performed by AUX

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