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Chong-ak


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 Nyong, 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 celadon.

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