Kim Chang-ha, a Master of Court Dance
The Confucian philosophy characterized by courtesy and propriety was highly esteemed during the era of the Joseon Dynasty. So was music that incorporated the philosophy. This musical culture led to the development of a particular court dance called jeongjae(정재).
The word ‘jeongjae’ means “contributing talent to the king” or “fulfilling duties for the royal court.” In general it means demonstrating artistic talent and skills to the king.
Jeongjae became a synonym for court dance and music designed for royal events and was widely used in the Joseon era. Much of the credit should go to Kim Chang-ha, a master of court music who created numerous jeongjae pieces. Who is Kim Chang-ha?
Assisting Prince Hyomyeong in Creation of Court Dance
The exact date of Kim’s birth is uncertain, but he was born into a famous musical family in Seoul. His father was Kim Dae-geon(김대건), a court musician under King Jeongjo, and his nephew was Kim Jong-nam(김종남), a renowned master of gayageum or a 12-stringed zither during the times of King Cheoljong and King Gojong. Kim Chang-ha was in charge of affairs related to music performances at the Royal Music Academy.
Crown Prince Hyomyeong(효명) paid attention to Kim, who had an excellent eye for jeongjae. He organized a royal band and let Kim oversee it.
The prince was deeply devoted to his father, King Sunjo(순조). To make the king happy, Prince Hyomyeong ordered Kim to make new jeongjae pieces whenever royal banquets were held. So, the musician produced a number of hyangak(향악) jeongjae pieces or local dances, while recreating dangak(당악) jeongjae, which was a dance form imported from China.
More specifically, hyangak jeongjae refers to indigenous court dance that had been passed down from the ancient Silla period. Dancers sang songs in Korean to native music or hyangak. They started and ended the dance by making a bow.
In comparison, dangak jeonggjae was a dance form that had been used in the Chinese court. It was later introduced to Korea for royal feasts. The accompaniment was Chinese music or dangak. When dancers entered to perform, two dancers used to hold a long bamboo stick as a sign of starting the show.
Jeongjae Featuring National Sentiment
Kim created 22 pieces of jeongjae. His major works include “Gainjeonmokdan(가인전목단),” meaning a beautiful woman picking peonies, “Bosangmu(보상무)” or Treasure Table Dance, “Chunaeng-jeon(춘앵전)” or The Spring Orioles, and “Jangsaengboyeonjimu(장생보연지무)” or Dance for King’s Longevity and People’s Stability.
Dancers refrained from expressing their personal feelings and performing individual styles in jeongjae, since this dance form valued Confucian discipline and order. Kim’s jeongjae is focused more on the internal structure of the dance than on the external one. In other words, it places emphasis on artistic value that revived the sentiment of Korean people.
In particular, “Chunaeng-jeon” is praised for its sophisticated dance skills and graceful, beautiful movements. This solo dance is included in hyangak jeongjae or the local dance. Kim’s creations also include “Cheoyongmu(처용무)” and “Hakyeonhwadae(학연화대)” meaning the dance of Cheoyong and crane and lotus flower dance, respectively. These dances were designated as important intangible cultural assets.
Golden Age of Jeongjae
Kim Chang-ha, the musician and dancer of Joseon, was an artist who compiled court dance and ushered in the golden age of jeongjae.
Prince Hyomyeong and Kim played a decisive role in opening up the golden age of jeongjae in the late Joseon period. Their relationship is often compared to that of King Sejong and prominent musician Park Yeon, who, in cooperation, fostered the court ritual music of Aak(아악) in the early Joseon period. Just as King Sejong and Park contributed greatly to Korean traditional music, Prince Hyomyeong and outstanding choreographer Kim developed the local dance and the one from China in a balanced way. Also, Kim arranged the internal part of his dance works in a way to reflect Korean sentiment, rather than simply polishing their external forms. The Joseon Kingdom was approaching its twilight years, with a national crisis looming. Despite this gloomy situation faced by his country, the great musician created 22 graceful dances.