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Sujech'ion is a traditional
wind ensemble in which the p'iri (bamboo flute) and taegum
(large transverse bamboo flute) are played in a long, revolving rhythm. This
ensemble is thought to have been in existence for several thousand years. As a
highly refined musical form, it exemplifies the uninterrupted, continuous
character of traditional Korean music. Fluid yet full of strength, sober yet
vibrant, Sujech'aon reminds one of a long,
broad river. Foreigners who hear this music for the first time often describe it
as a "heavenly sound" or "divine revelation." Indeed, this
natural-sounding music seems to echo forth from the distant past.
Derived from Buddhist music, Yongsan
hoesang has now become purely instrumental. This suite, consisting of nine
pieces, can be played in its entirety or several pieces can be performed
separately. In terms of instrumentation, it can be performed either as a solo,
string ensemble or wind ensemble. The slow tempo of the initial pieces creates a
calm, sedate atmosphere which gradually gives way to a quicker tempo and more
lively feeling. As one of the most common musical styles seen at traditional
concerts, this musical form is used for solos performed by a number of
instruments and ensembles.
Yomillak, created by King
Sejong, was originally an elaborate musical performance that combined singing
and dance, but the dance and vocal forms gradually fell into decline and it is
thus performed only as an instrumental ensemble piece today.
During its development, Yomillak
spawned a number of variants such as the Yomillang
Man and Haeryong. Such variants were also
seen in other traditional forms-an indication of the conservative character of
the Korean people and their respect for tradition. Particularly in Chong-ak
music, musicians traditionally would not dare to create a completely new form.
As a result, a limited repertoire was repeated for centuries, gradually changing
over time so as to give birth to new variations.
There are three forms of traditional vocal performances in
Korea: shijo, kasa and kagok. In the shijo, or shijo
ch'ang, a standardized three-lined poem is sung to a fixed melody. The shijo
ch'ang was previously a very popular form. With its slow tempo and calm
feeling, it appeals to common people as elegant music that is easy to sing.
Kasa music, on the other hand, is sung in a spirited
prose style. The length of each song is not fixed, and the main emphasis is on
the literary content of the piece rather than its melody. As a result, this
musical form tends to be simple and pure. At present, twelve traditional kasa
compositions are extant.
Among the Chong-ak vocal
styles, kagok is the most developed and requires the greatest amount of
technical ability. Kagok use the three-line, forty-five character form of
Shijo poetry. However, kagok, unlike shijo ch'ang, are sung
in precisely divided movements with a minor wind accompaniment. More than twenty
traditional kagok pieces still exist and these have diverse melodies and
themes. Taken as a whole, kagok has a sober yet leisurely, profound
atmosphere. Expressed in visual terms, kasa music can be compared to the
simple purity of Choson-era white-glaze pottery
while kagok music embodies the profound, contemplative quality of Koryo
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