Traditional Korean music with a modern twist
THE 3rd OF OCTOBER was a significant day for cultural collaboration, taking the form of a mini concert that combined traditional Korean and Philippine music to celebrate the good relations between the two countries.
At the center of this was Haru, a four-piece traditional Korean music group that performs pansori, or storytelling through narrative song.
“Even traditions undergo changes,” said Choi Bola, the group’s singer, in an interview with BusinessWorld. “The process of incorporating modern elements to old music will become what the next generations perceive as tradition.”
The Korean Cultural Center in the Philippines (KCC) and the National Museum of the Philippines organized the event that showcased this evolved form of music. It took place at the historic Old Senate Session Hall at the National Museum of Fine Arts.
Cultural Crescendo: Phil-Kor Mini Concert celebrated both Museum and Galleries Month in the Philippines and the National Foundation Day of Korea.
Ms. Choi said that their main goal is to spread the beauty of the integrated art of pansori, where a vocalist and drummers tell a story by engaging the crowd with a lively performance.
Aside from the vocalist, each of the remaining three members of Haru plays an instrument — the gayageum, the ajeang, and percussion or drum (the gayageum and ajeang are traditional string instruments of Korea).
The group performed the old fable, “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” that day in October, believing that the tale is relevant anywhere in the world today.
“People now are biased towards information available on social media, which is similar to this story where the king is influenced by the opinions given to him by others,” said Choi Minseon, Haru’s ajeang player.
While the mainly Filipino crowd couldn’t understand Choi Bola’s narration and vocal performance in Korean, her expressions and gestures along with the other three’s impeccable playing on their respective instruments gave a fascinating, entertaining spin on the story.
According to Choi Minseon, the original pansori uses difficult Chinese words and Korean vocabulary not used in present day. Haru changes this by using more up-to-date language for their lyrics.
“Pansori is an art form that is all-encompassing. The singer doesn’t just sing; she uses the fan, sits down, makes big hand gestures. The whole group, from the instrumentalists to the drum accompaniment, also acts,” she said.
Indeed, this all-encompassing performance makes Haru’s shows interesting to watch, even with the language barrier.
POWER OF CULTUREIt was in 2018 that the four got together to form their group .
“We all came from the same school, Korea National University of Arts. We had been collaborating for years and gathered to create a play,” said Jang Jihoon, the percussionist.
Since then, Haru continued with the goal to bring traditional music closer to modern audiences both Korean and foreign, he said. Now in their thirties, they’ve performed self-written songs for busking, adapted from folk music.
This challenge of preserving traditional culture through music is something they shared with their co-performer at the National Museum that day.
Tugtugang Music Aystatika, or TUGMA, also started with students — this time from the University of the Philippines-Diliman — who want to showcase the rich cultural heritage of their country through ensemble performances.
While Haru has the gayageum and ajeang, TUGMA uses the kulintang (bronze gongs) and tongatong (bamboo percussion). Both groups had their individual performances that evening, then collaborated in a casual jamming session right after.
“Art and culture allow people to feel things and share it with others as well,” said Lee Danbi, Haru’s gayageum player.
Quoting Korean revolutionary Kim Gu, she explained that culture is stronger than any other physical power. “The only thing that I desire is the power of a developed culture,” he once said.
With performances such as the one they put on that day, the group hopes they can show people that the challenge of preserving tradition is achievable. — Brontë H. Lacsamana