Foreigners Learn Korean Music
KOREA TIMES 1997.07.13
Today the bakery had pizza," Wallace Orr Bennett III announced, munching on a gooey piece of pizza while his American lunch companions ate Korea n food in the cafeteria of Seoul's National Center for Korean Traditiona l Performing Arts.
Bennett is taking part in the 1997 Korea Traditional Music Summer Progr am which started July 1 and will end July 26. The program began in 1993 as the center's government-funded attempt to globalize Korean traditiona l music. This year it has been organized between Seoul National Universi ty and Eastern Connecticut State University. The program was announced a ll over the U.S. by e-mail, website, bulk mailings to schools and advert isments.
"Of the 30 people who applied, 12 were chosen because we thought they w ould best promote Korean traditional music and art," said Hwang Okon, as sociate professor at ECSU and coordinator of the program. Performers mig ht incorporate Korean ideas in their subjects and motifs. Professors cou ld teach from a different perspective, Hwang explained. Some are here to study for master theses, others, out of pure curiosity.
The students range from 21 to 60 years old, university students to prof essors, of varying ethnic heritage. To some degree, most have encountere d Korean traditional music before.
The one-month curriculum, for which students receive six credit hours, includes music and mask dance lessons-zithers (komungo and Kayagum), flu tes (piri and danso), a string instrument (haegum), drums and metal perc ussions (samul) and folksongs (minyo)-some sightseeing trips and four le ctures on Korean architecture, mass media, language and economy and poli tics.
The program, however, is aimed at more than disseminating knowledge. "I want to contribute to the concept of diversity and multiculturalism," s aid Hwang, "by helping them see how people are different from their own culture and teaching them to respect that."
"Music makes up a big part of one's culture," explained Bennett, a 24-y ear-old biologist who until the first week of July had never picked up a n instrument, let alone a zither.
According to their conclusion, the three terms of "han," "mot" and"chon g" are necessary in the emotional process of understanding Korean cultur e as well as music.
"Han is emotional limitation (or suppressed sorrow), mot is style, grac e and beauty and chong is affection and attachment," said Glen Choi, a g raduate student of Buddhism at Tongkuk University.
Koreans have a passion for music and dance, but they are also prone to deep feelings of regret and resignation, or han. When joy almost reaches the point of giddiness and everlasting exhilaration, and merges with ha n, it becomes what is best described as mot, or as the French put it, sa voir-faire, said Alan Heyman in his book titled "Traditional Music & Dan ce of Korea."
The students are enthusiastic to understand and to learn far more than music theory. But with only two weeks under their belts, they are in a t ransitional period.
At this point, several still plug their ears with paper towels before s amul class. Ironically enough, Bennett, explained, "I think some of the people let out their frustration (or han) on the drums (samul)." The sam ul sounds like the sound of galloping horses and the off-beat lash of a whip.
Foreigners and even many Koreans often find the sounds strange and unfa thomable, said Nam Sang-sook, traditional music theory instructor and le cturer at Hanyang University.
Most Western music employs the heptatonic scale; while Korean music use s the pentatonic scale-kung, sang, kak, chi and wu-and a 3/4 beat that i s nothing like the waltz.
The teachers say understanding traditional music comes from tapping int o emotions and feelings, not necessarily technique, Choi said.
"Then the music will come out."
But the first obstacle students face is physica.
"Probably my biggest challenge is sitting Indian-style," Bennett bemoan ed.
"The kayagum, it's a little rough on the fingers," added Kate Hershiser , who is visiting her home country for the first time since she was adop ted by American parents.
"That weird shape you have to make with your mouth for the danso," said Choi, pursing his lips into fish-kisses, "sometimes I get it, but most of the time I don't."
At the end of the month, most will return home to America. Heather Will oughby, former Mormon missionary to Korea, hopefully will have finalized her graduate thesis on Korean music. She and one other student, Joshua Pilzer, study ethnomusicology, the discipline of ethnic music from an an thropological and sociological perspective.
Some time after Bennett gets his master's degree, he plans on returning to Asia.
Others, like Hershiser and Choi, will remain here for a while. Hershise r recently decided to stay for a collective art show by Han Diaspora, an organization that helps connect Korean adoptees with their biological p arents. Hershiser's art and other Korean orphans' will be displayed in t he January show titled "Space for Shadows #2"
"It's been intense," said Choi, adding that classes meet for six hours. "We only have one month to learn all this. I love it!"
The total cost, including tuition, transportation, room and board, is $ 1,997. But every year, the government provides a fellowship grant, said Hwang.
Those interested in the program can reach Hwang via e-mail (hwango@ecsu c.ctstateu.edu) or phone (U.S. 860-465-5109). The contact person in Kore a is Sun In-hwa at 580-3054.
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