There were three sounds that Koreans loved in the old days. They were the sound of a baby crying, of a woman pounding starched clothes with wooden sticks, and of a person reciting a book. These days, not many people read a book out loud, but it is said that reading out loud enhances one’s focus and improves reading accuracy. Confucian scholars of old Korea called ‘seonbi선비’ deemed it a talent to read a book in a clear voice. In time, it became commonplace for scholars to add a tune or a beat to book recitation. Songseo송서 is a book-reading song which professional singers rendered more pleasant. The first song for this week’s Sounds of Korea book-reciting song “Chupunggambyeolgok” roughly translated into “Song of Autumn Winds.” Today’s version is sung by intangible cultural asset Oh Bok-nyeo.
Chupunggambyeolgok/ Sung by Oh Bok-nyeo
Songseo was a particular favorite of Confucian scholars. But gisaeng기생female entertainers of Joseon were also avid fans of songseo.
These female artists had different songseo titles they favored by region. For instance, gisaengs of Andong안동 were known to recite Daehak대학, one of the great Confucian books, those of Yeongheung영흥 “Yongbieocheonga용비어천가,” or “Song of Dragons Flying in Heaven,” an epic extoling the foundation of the Joseon Dynasty, and those of Hamheung함흥 “Chu Shi Biao,” a memorial written by ancient Chinese strategist Zhuge Liang. “Chupunggambyeolgok” is a song based on a part from novel “Chaebonggambyeolgok채봉감별곡” in which the main character, Chaebong, longs for her betrothed Kang Pil-seong. Coming up next is a sichang시창titled “Gwansanyungma관상융마. The term sichang refers to a discipline of songs reciting not prose but ancient Chinese poems. The poem begins, “The autumn wind is still and even the fish are cold. A man walks up Jungseonru gazebo in the autumn wind.” The song is serene and melancholy, a perfect reflection of an autumnal vibe. This is an iconic song for those who like Korean traditional music. Let’s listen to “Gwansanyungma” sung by Lee Hyun-ah with Park Ji-sun playing the danso.
Gwansanyungma/ Sung by Lee Hyun-ah, danso by Park Ji-sun
That was “Gwansanyungma” sung by Lee Hyun-ah with Park Ji-sun playing the danso. The sound of danso and Lee Hyun-ah’s voice seem to resemble the clear and high skies of autumn. Perhaps because of this vibe, “Gwansanyungma” became a hit among the gisaeng entertainers shortly after Shin Gwang-su wrote the poem. In fact, on a trip to Pyongyang, the poet saw gisaeng Moran모란 singing the song right in front of him, which prompted him to write “When Moran sings Gwansanyungma, her voice seems to make even the clouds stop on the spot.” Maybe Moran was the one who sang “Gwansanyungma” best in her time, because she sang the song in front of the king even when she was old, stunning everyone at the royal event.
Feeling sentimental in autumn is not that unusual regardless of the time period, but the way that sentiment is expressed seems to vary by time. To show our listeners how the song can be rendered differently depending on the era, the last song for today’s Sounds of Korea is a modern adaptation of “Gwansayungma.” This version is more cheerful than the original rendition, played with guitar accompaniment. Let’s conclude today’s show with Choi Yun-young singing “Chugangyi추강이” to the guitar accompaniment by Shin Hee-jun.
Chugangyi/ Sung by Choi Yun-young, guitar by Shin Hee-jun