Wave of fan, change of scene

You might remember from our blog posts in the past, but we–especially Whit–is a big fan of traditional Korean music.

Our favorite traditional music and instrument by far is the Gayageum, a harp-sounding stringed zither.
But we have learned a lot about several different types of Korean traditional music from our weekly forays to the cultural center in our neighborhood.

Each Thursday, they offer a free 1-hour Korean traditional music program. Whit and I always made it our date night. A chance to see Korean culture, hear good music, and just spend some time with the arts.

Last night was our first trip back this year.

We heard a pansori performance, something we have heard many times before. It’s not our favorite, as not knowing Korean, it’s hard to get a full grasp of the whole performance. But it’s definitely interesting.

Pansori is made up of two performers, a woman singing in a beautiful hanbok dress waving a fan, and a man in simple white tied garb banging a drum on the floor.

It was popular in Korea during the 19th century, and it features satires and love stories. A full story can take hours to perform (I can’t imagine!), and the performers do it without breaks. 

In a pansori performance, the kwangdae (woman in hanbok) sings, standing with a fan held in one hand. The fan is waved to emphasize the singer’s motions and unfolded to announce changes of scene. The gosu gives rhythm not only by beats but also by chuimsae, verbal sounds that come out like grunts. A chuimsae can be a simple meaningless vowel, but short words of encouragement are also given. The audience is also supposed to give chuimsae during the performance, similar to shouts of “Olé” during flamenco performances.

Pansori has been compared in impact to the American Blues, which I find an interesting comparison.

If you’re in Gwangju or around, you should definitely check out these concerts. Located near Kumho-dong, at the Seogu Cultural Center, they are free and run from 7 to 8 p.m. on Thursday evenings.