One day in 1917, when World War I as raging on, prisoners of war were singing songs at a concentration camp in Germany. It was part of a linguistic project in which German linguists recorded the languages and songs of some 230 ethnic groups. Among the prisoners were young Korean men who were captured while fighting for the Russian side. One of them was named Gregory Kim, whose Korean name was Kim Hong-jip김홍집. Another was Stefan Ahn but his Korean name is not known. They were reportedly both in their late 20s at the time and were assumed to have left Joseon at an early age and wandered around the world as refugees. But, apparently, they didn’t forget their fatherland even when they were held prisoners in a strange land. So, what they sang when asked by the Germans to sing a Korean song, was Korea’s iconic folk song “Arirang.” It’s a song that every Korean knew by heart and the song that was passed down through generations to bring all Koreans together. The first music piece for today’s episode is “Sangju Arirang” sung by Kim So-hee.
Music 1: Sangju Arirang/ Sori by Kim So-hee
This song was written by master singer Kim So-hee in the 1970s, so it’s not a traditional song in the strictest sense. It can be called a new folk song, which well describes the pain of Koreans who had to leave their beloved hometowns and go live in unfamiliar foreign countries during the Japanese occupation era. Many patriots sacrificed their lives to free Korea from Japanese rule, but not all people could take up arms to fight for the cause. Millions of nameless souls, who endured oppression and sorrow and fulfilled their roles in silence, were heroes as well. It was traditional singers who comforted and encouraged them with their songs. One of the most well-known patriotic singers was Park Dong-sil박동실. He was a robust man with a loud, booming voice, who was very good at making people laugh with his witty comments. Master singer Kim So-hee was one of his students. He had long been forgotten since he defected to North Korea during the Korean War, but he is now remembered as the composer of creative pansori “Song of Patriots.” This pansori song lauds the lives of renowned independence fighters like Lee Jun이준, Ahn Jung-geun안중근, Yun Bong-gil윤봉길, and Yu Gwan-sun유관순. The song became so popular that it was sang at every pansori performance following Korea’s liberation. This next piece is a pansori piece about patriot Ahn Jung-geun, who assassinated Hirobumi Ito, who had masterminded Japan’s colonization of Korea.
Music 2: Song of Patriot Ahn Jung-geun/ Sung by Lee Sung-geun, drum by Jeong Hoe-cheon
Ahn’s mother, Jo Maria, was also a great freedom fighter. She was a strong woman, who provided steady psychological support to many resistance members. But even she couldn’t face her son waiting to be executed, so she didn’t visit him in prison. Nonetheless, she told her other sons to deliver this message to Ahn Jung-geun. “If you appeal, you are begging the Japanese for your life. You ended up there for the sake of our country, so don’t get any other ideas and just die. You were sentenced for doing the right thing, so don’t beg for your life like a coward. Dying for the great cause is how you love your mother.” There is a saying that people that forget the past don’t have a future. Imagine how heartbreaking Jo Maria must have been to tell her son to die honorably. We have to remember that we are here because of people like Ahn and his mother, who sacrificed themselves for the greater good. Today’s episode concludes with “The Spirit of Goguryeo” performed by Gyeonggi Provincial Traditional Music Orchestra.
Music 3: The Spirit of Goguryeo/ Performed by Gyeonggi Provincial Traditional Music Orchestra