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Pansori Simcheongga

#Sounds of Korea l 2023-05-04

Sounds of Korea

Pansori Simcheongga

Welcome to “Sounds of Korea” on KBS WORLD Radio. This traditional music program invites you to deepen your understanding about Korean traditional music by taking a closer look at various music-related topics every week. Today, we’ll talk about pansori “Simcheongga” which means the song of Simcheong. I’m your host ________. Please stay tuned, I’ll be back shortly.  

Pansori “Simcheongga” is about a girl named Sim Cheong who sells herself to seafaring merchants to save her father. Luckily, gods were so moved by her love for her father that she eventually became queen and restored the sight of her father and other blind people. Such a conclusion is possible only because Simcheongga is a story. Ironically, people these days wouldn’t be moved by Cheong’s actions to save her father but rather think it stupid or reckless of her to throw her life away like that. However, the way one thinks and acts is not determined by logic alone, especially when family or someone dear to you is involved. You cannot act rationally and calculate the tradeoffs when your loved one is in danger. The willingness to do anything for the sake of your loved ones is formed as you live your life alongside them and your feelings are accumulated with the passing of time. The longer you live with them, the more distant you become from the word “rational.” 

Today’s first song is an aria from “Simcheongga” where Cheong’s father begs for breastmilk to feed his newborn daughter. Cheong’s mother died soon after giving birth to the girl, so her blind father had to ask women of the village to feed Cheong their milk. The blind Mr. Sim is delighted when his baby girl is nursed and happy. This aria is sung by the late pansori singer Oh Jeong-suk.

Begging for breastmilk/ Sung by Oh Jeong-suk, drum by Kim Cheong-man

Sim Cheong’s father was left by himself to raise the baby because his wife had died a few days after giving birth to their daughter. The blind man depended on his wife for everything even before the baby arrived, so he was completely at a loss when his wife died. He even thought about killing himself because he wasn’t sure he could live by himself, let alone take care of a baby. But the baby girl kept crying because there was no one to nurse her with the mother gone. Back then, there was no baby formula, so the blind father had to go to a place where married women gather and beg them to share their breastmilk with the newborn girl. Thankfully, the women willingly nursed the baby, who finally calmed down and slept with a full stomach. Mr. Sim was sorry for feeling so hopeless as the baby slept in peace and vowed to do his best to raise her. This aria was about feeding the baby, but it really was about how he found the motivation to go on living, how the two owed their lives to each other. 

It was, therefore, not surprising that Cheong was worried very much about her father’s whereabouts even after she became queen. There is an aria in which she asks a goose that is flying to its winter home to deliver the news to her father that she is alive and well and that she misses him. Let’s listen to Sung Chang-soon singing that aria from pansori “Simcheongga.”

Crying at the autumn moon/ Sung by Sung Chang-sun, drum by Choi Woo-chil

The father and daughter at last meet at a party for blind people hosted by Cheong. Mr. Sim, who still hasn’t regained his sight, is among the invited. Upon hearing Cheong calling out to him, his sight is miraculously restored, and the pair is finally reunited. He finds that his daughter is not only alive but has married the king. To top it all, he is now able to see! Elated, Mr. Sim throws away his cane and sings and dances. He would have done the same even if his daughter hadn’t become the queen or his sight wasn’t restored. He was just happy to see his daughter again. The sentiment represented in this scene should resonate with parents everywhere, which is why this pansori piece has been the most popular pansori of all time. This episode’s last piece is the passage where Mr. Sim is overjoyed to see his daughter. Pansori singer Jo Sang-hyun sings the aria. 

Mr. Sim’s sight is restored/ Sung by Jo Sang-hyun

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