Experiencing Korean Culture: Samulnori

Posted on August 28, 2011

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When I got an invitation from KTO (Korea Tourism Organization) to join their first batch of Real Touch Korea Tour, I was most interested with the first part of the program: Samulnori.

Samulnori, as explained to us, is a Korean Traditional Music genre which means “the play of four instruments.” These four instruments are Kkwaenggwari, Jing, Buk and Janggu.

I thought that we will just watch a group of people doing it. To my surprise, when we entered the theater in Gwanghamun Art Hall, there were several Janggus on the stage. Interesting.

Photo from KTO

A lesson on how to play the Janggu was prepared for us and it was a great privilege that we have the lead artist of Samulnori Hanullim as our teacher, Mr. So Kyoung-jin.

He started the session by asking, “What is the rhythm of your country?” I find the question difficult to answer. He started calling names and I looked down, the usual reflex of someone who doesn’t know the answer. Seriously, I kept thinking at that time, what he means by that. Then, somebody was able to provide an answer. I instantly felt ashamed of myself and muttered, “Why do I not know our rhythm? Do we even have one?” Being the only Filipino representative in the group I was nervous that I might be called and asked.

Well, he didn’t call me. Good thing that I was not seating at the front at that time.

Then, he asked us what the four instrument symbolizes. We tried figuring it out by listening to the sounds produced by the four instruments though we know we  can peek through the passports that were given to us during the briefing for the answers. ^_^

Janggu represents the sound of the rain

After that, he started explaining how to play the Janggu, which seems to me is the most popular among the four. Then, together with his assistant they demonstrated how to do it.

It’s not as easy as it seems. Playing the Janggu should be coordinated with your breathing pattern. Also, there’s a proper way on how to handle the sticks. To make it more complicated, when you hit the Janggu with the stick in your left hand and if the wrong part of the stick hit it, the sound that will be produced is out of tune.

To make sure we are learning our teacher and his assistant checked us one by one and from time to time. Photo from KTO

The best and the not so good in playing the Janggu

We thought it would end in playing the Janggu but then our teacher started talking about Talchum or mask dances of Korea (North and South). These dances go together with Samulnori. He focused on Bongsan Mask Dance.

We were given a pair of cloth, which they call Halsam. We slipped it through our hands and wore it on our wrist.

Photo from KTO

Then, he taught us how to do the dance. Again, it has something to do with breathing and “the bounce” (the dance entails a lot of bouncing ;p). It was then when I realized that, Halsam contributes in the nice visual effect during the dance.

It was fun because everyone tried to dance though we look like crazy. Photo from KTO

Our teacher gamely posed with us and answered all our queries

Now, who says traditional and cultural stuff isn’t fun?

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Posted in: Korea, Seoul