Nat'l guak center to focus on original form of traditional music

Nat'l guak center to focus on original form of traditional music

Kim Young-woon, newly-appointed director general of the National Gugak Center, speaks during a press conference held at the center in Seoul, Tuesday. Courtesy of National Gugak Center

By Park Ji-won

People’s attention to traditional music is likely higher than ever thanks to the popularity of the so-called fusion gugak (Korean traditional music) genre.

A video of Leenalchi, an alternative pop band, has already exceeded 15.3 million views on YouTube, and one of a series of promotional videos from the Korea Tourism Organization featuring the band and its music exceeded 47.6 million views on the streaming platform. The sampling of “Daechwita,” a traditional military band piece, by BTS’s Suga (August D) for his single of the same name also promoted the genre among global listeners

But not many Koreans are familiar with traditional gugak, including court and folk music, despite enjoying the rising attention to the “new” music genre.

Kim Young-woon, newly-appointed director general of the National Gugak Center, a state-run traditional music institute consisting of art troupes in traditional court and folk music, and dance, as well as a museum, said the center aims to raise awareness of “real gugak” by focusing on research of the music genre.

“The rhythms of fusion gugak, which is popular these days, are de-facto Western pop. Technically, it is not gugak. But ordinary people consider the genre as part of gugak. Still, fusion gugak is very important in getting people familiar with the traditional genre,” Kim said during his first press conference following his appointment three months ago.

“We have good artistic materials which can show the value of our traditional culture and its people. But this has been neglected over the years. For example, the center may be able to launch research on the orchestration of traditional instruments in the new era, and seek to improve instruments with middle- and low-toned music by joining hands with gugak community members.”

“I will make efforts to expand our education programs so that school teachers, most of whom learned Western music, can become familiar with traditional music and use gugak material in schools.”

He is also planning to come up with more original pieces by using traditional melodies and rhythms, and orchestrate existing music scores to spread the traditional music genre.

Nat'l guak center to focus on original form of traditional music

A journalist looks at documents displayed in the exhibition “Opening the Storerooms: Initial Showing of Donations from 21 Collectors” at the National Gugak Center in Seoul, Tuesday. Courtesy of National Gugak Center

Nat'l guak center to focus on original form of traditional music

A poster for the first overseas performance by the private traditional music art troupe “Sam Chul Li” / Courtesy of National Gugak Center

Nat'l guak center to focus on original form of traditional music

A poster for the exhibition “Opening the Storerooms: Initial Showing of Donations from 21 Collectors” / Courtesy of National Gugak Center

Meanwhile, the center’s exhibition “Opening the Storerooms: Initial Showing of Donations from 21 Collectors” is running from Sept. 11 to Feb. 27, 2022. In the exhibition marking the 70th anniversary of the institution, up to 113 pieces on gugak from 21 collectors, which have been stored at the center, show its history.

The pieces include documents related to the center’s first overseas tour of Japan in 1964, and the first overseas performance by a private traditional music art troupe, “Sam Chul Li,” led by Alan C. Heyman, a naturalized Korean and Korean traditional music scholar, in Carnegie Hall and the Lincoln Center in New York in 1964.

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