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Music pieces played with traditional wind instruments

#Sounds of Korea l 2021-10-27

Sounds of Korea

Music pieces played with traditional wind instruments

The three string and wind instruments most widely played during the Unified Silla period known as “samhyeon samjuk삼현삼죽.” “Samhyeon,” three string instruments, are gayageum가야금, geomungo거문고 and bipa비파, while “samjuk,” meaning three bamboo instruments, refer to daegeum대금, junggeum중금 and sogeum소금. Gayageum and geomungo are still played widely, but the bipa playing techniques have long been forgotten. Sadly, the wind instruments of junggeum and sogeum met the same fate as the bipa. But sogeum playing came back in fashion these days. How was this possible? The sogeum of Silla was played until the mid-Joseon period, but it was gradually replaced by a Chinese instrument called dangjeok당적, which literally means a flute from the Tang Dynasty. This transverse bamboo flute from China was modified after Korea’s independence to be used as an educational tool for Korean students’ music lessons and was renamed sogeum. It is noted for a high and clear sound. Here’s a sogeum piece titled “Morning” played by Hang Chung-eun.  

Morning / Sogeum by Han Chung-eun


Sogeum, which literally means a small wind instrument, is smaller and sounds softer than the daegeum. But the biggest distinction between the two instruments is the existence of cheonggong청공, a hole with a thin membrane across it. Cheonggong is located between the mouth of a daegeum and finger holes. When air is blown into the mouthpiece, the membrane in the cheonggong vibrates to make a very unique sound. Some people find the sound irritating, but after you get used to it, that timbre is what makes the daegeum special. It is even said that the level of a daegeum player’s expertise is determined by how well the musician can make this membrane vibrate. Next music we are going to hear is a tungso퉁소 piece. The tungso was played widely, from the royal court to private homes. But it lost its popularity over the years, and it is now played only as accompaniment for Bukcheong Lion Dance. So it’s encouraging to see recent attempts to revive the instrument and use it to play various music pieces. The tungso is similar in size to the daegeum and even has a cheonggong. But the biggest difference between the two instruments is that while the daegeum is played transversely, the tungso is held vertically. Coming up next is “Payeongok” from the accompaniment pieces of Bukcheong Lion Dance performed by tungso virtuoso Dong Seon-bon. 

Payeongok from Bukcheong Lion Dance / Tungso by Dong Seon-bon


Now let’s talk about a more familiar wind instrument, the danso. Made up of two Chinese letters, the “dan” meaning short and the “so” from tungso, the danso literally means a short tungso. But the word “so” encompasses many more instruments than the vertically played ones like piri or taepyeongso, but also instruments like the flute which a player doesn’t blow directly into the hole but over the edge of the hole. Anyway, the danso does not appear in ancient records, implying that it’s a rather recent musical invention. People find it hard to make sounds with a danso at first, but once you get hang of it, it’s quite easy to play and pleasant to listen to. Children are taught to play the danso as an introductory instrument to get familiar with gugak. The last piece for this week’s episode is a danso piece titled “Spring at a Guard Post” written by a North Korean composer. You will be amazed by the range of sound that a danso can make. Here’s Lee Yong-gu playing “Spring at a Guard Post.”    

Spring at a Guard Post / Danso by Lee Yong-gu

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