Musical pieces performed with traditional wind instruments l KBS WORLD

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The three most widely played string and wind instruments during the Unified Silla period known as “samhyeon samjuk 삼현 삼죽”. “Samhyeon”, three stringed instruments, are gayageum 가야금, geomungo 거문고 and bipa 비파, while “samjuk”, which means three bamboo instruments, refers to daegeum 대금, junggeum 중금 and sogeum 소금. Gayageum and geomungo are still widely played, but bipa playing techniques have long been forgotten. Unfortunately, the wind instruments of the junggeum and the sogeum suffered the same fate as the bipa. But playing sogeum is back in fashion these days. How was this possible? Silla’s sogeum was played until the middle of the Joseon period, but it was gradually replaced by a Chinese instrument called dangjeok 당적, which literally means a Tang Dynasty flute. This Chinese bamboo transverse flute was modified after Korean independence to be used as a teaching aid for Korean students’ music lessons and was renamed sogeum. It is noted for a high and clear sound. Here is a sogeum piece called “Morning” performed by Hang Chung-eun.

Morning / Sogeum by Han Chung-eun

Sogeum, which literally means a small wind instrument, is smaller and sounds softer than the daegeum. But the biggest distinction between the two instruments is the existence of the cheonggong 청공, a hole crossed by a thin membrane. Cheonggong is located between the mouth of a daegeum and the finger holes. When air is blown into the mouthpiece, the membrane of the cheonggong vibrates to produce a very unique sound. Some people find the sound irritating, but after getting used to it, this timbre is what makes the daegeum special. It is even said that the level of expertise of a daegeum player is determined by the ability of the musician to make this membrane vibrate. The next music we’re going to hear is a tungso piece. Tungso was played widely, from the royal court to private homes. But it has lost its popularity over the years, and it is now only performed alongside the Bukcheong Lion Dance. It is therefore encouraging to see recent attempts to revive the instrument and use it to play various pieces of music. The tungso is similar in size to the daegeum and even has a cheonggong. But the biggest difference between the two instruments is that while the daegeum is played transversely, the tungso is held vertically. Next comes “Payeongok” from the accompaniment pieces of Bukcheong Lion Dance performed by tungso virtuoso Dong Seon-bon.

Payeongok by Bukcheong Lion Dance / Tungso by Dong Seon-bon

Now let’s talk about a more familiar wind instrument, the danso. Composed of two Chinese letters, the “dan” meaning short and the “so” of tungso, danso literally means a short tungso. But the word “so” encompasses many more instruments than those played vertically like the piri or the taepyeongso, but also instruments like the flute that a player does not blow directly into the hole but over the edge of the hole. Anyway, the danso does not appear in old records, which implies that it is a fairly recent musical invention. People have a hard time making sounds with a danso at first, but once you get used to it, it’s pretty easy to play and nice to listen to. Children learn to play dance as an introductory instrument to familiarize themselves with the gugak. The final piece of this week’s episode is a dance piece called “Spring at a Guard Post” written by a North Korean composer. You will be amazed at the range of sounds that a danso can produce. Here is Lee Yong-gu playing “Spring at a Guard Post”.

Spring at the Guardhouse / Danso by Lee Yong-gu





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