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Music for autumn days

#Sounds of Korea l 2023-10-12

Sounds of Korea

Music for autumn days
Autumn is the season of nostalgia and loneliness for many people. In some serious cases, symptoms similar to depression set in. We in Korea call this ‘feeling the autumn.’ This sentiment is caused by shortened daylight and reduced secretion of serotonin otherwise known as the happiness hormone. When feeling blue and lethargic, doctors advise people to stay out in the sun a lot longer and take plenty of rest. Today we brought music pieces that you can enjoy under the warm autumn sun. The first piece is a piri solo entitled “Sanryeongsan상령산 Mountain,” the first movement of “Yeongsanhoisang영산회상,” a Korean court music repertoire. This music collection is comprised of nine pieces, starting with a very slow piece, and gradually moving onto faster ones. The pieces are played solo or in ensemble, and one or two movements can stand on their own. “Sanryeongsan Mountain” is often played as a solo piece, especially by a piri player, for the sound of piri goes well with the high, clear autumn skies. Here’s piri virtuoso Jeong Jae-kook performing “Sangryeongsan Mountain.” 
Sangryeongsan Mountain/ Piri by Jeong Jae-kook

Korean music is largely divided into jeongak정악 and folk music. Jeongak, usually slow and stately, was enjoyed mostly by the upper class like noblemen while more emotionally charged folk music by common people. Since folk music was honest in communicating human emotions, joy and sorrow were often expressed in an exaggerated manner. 
The music you just heard, “Sangryeongsan Mountain,” was obviously a jeongak piece for it was slow and subdued. In the olde days, jeongak lovers used to gather in a special place to play and listen to music. Such places were called pungryubang풍류방 where gagok songs or small-scale chamber pieces, commonly called pungryu music, were played. “Yeongsanhoisang” was frequently played music even for local folk musicians. Its melodies or compositions changed depending on the region or the musician. 
The nine pieces were not all there were in “Yeongsanhoisang.” A set of three pieces entitled “A Thousand Years and More” was sometimes added at the end of “Yeongsanhoisan” to extend the performance. Some folk musicians even performed shamanistic ceremonial music from the southern region at the end of “A Thousand Years and More” as if they didn’t want to end the performance. If the piri solo you heard earlier sounded steadfast and powerful, the geomungo solo piece “Namdo Gutgeori남도굿거리” would sound more fluid and melodious. Here’s gayageum artist Park Se-youn performing “Namdo Gutgeori.”
Namdo Gutgeori/ Gayageum by Park Se-youn

Coming up next is a piece entitled “Suryongeum수룡음,” which means the sound coming from a dragon in the water. “Suryeongeum” is often played in danso단소 and saenghwang생황 duet. Saenghwang is the only Korean musical instrument that can play chords. Several bamboo pipes of different lengths are inserted into its body shaped like a small ball, which supposedly resembles a phoenix with its wings folded. When a player blows into the pipes, the metal reeds inside vibrates to create a metallic sound quite different from the sounds from the instruments made only with bamboo such as daegeum대금, piri, and danso. This was why people in the old days said that the saenghwang sounded like the cries of a phoenix. The sound of saenghwang is known to harmonize well with the danso’s high, clear notes. But today’s “Suryongeum” is performed by three instruments – danso, saenghwang, and geomungo. The solid sound of the geomungo seems to anchor the light, flitting melodies to the ground. Here are Kim Gye-hee at the saenghwang, Lee Woong at the geomungo and Kim Sang-joon at the danso performing “Suryongeum.”
Suryongeum/ Saenghwang by Kim Gye-hee, geomungo by Lee Woong, danso by Kim Sang-joon

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