Airbnb Experience #3: Uncover the Tradition of Pansori Music

   Wow, wow and wow! I will say right off the bat that I was deeply moved even to tears by Ms. Moon Soo Hyun's presentation.

   This experience was advertised on the airbnb site as learning about the Korean traditional style of singing called Pansori:

   Join me in my cozy place where I will introduce you to Korean folk music called pansori—a genre of musical storytelling performed by a singer and a drummer. Pansori is an amazing vocal style you may have never experienced before, which has been recognized by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. During the concert, the singer will sing a long story through songs...  And you'll also experience to sing a small part of Korean folk song with me. In addition, you can experience playing Korean traditional percussion instruments! 

  This was my first time ever learning about and hearing Pansori singing. Where do I even start in describing the experience for you? 

   "While Pansori first arose in the Joseon Dynasty in the 17th century, it wasn’t until the 19th century that the musical storytelling reached its peak." (Source)

   I'll just start by sharing my post-concert review: 

   I was deeply moved in a very profound way by Ms. Moon's presentation. She was well prepared with information about the history and nature of traditional Korean folk music and Pansori music as well as a wonderful glimpse at some of the historical and modern aspects of Korea. 

   We learned to play a rhythmical pattern on the drums and also had a chance to sing a popular Korean folk song together with Ms. Moon. 

   I was surprised and delighted when Ms. Moon began to sing. The style was very different than what I had expected. She sings with passion and wonderful expressive emotion. Even if you don't understand Hangul, the Korean language, you will be entranced by her singing and the songs. 

   Thank you truly for sharing your beautiful music, stories, history and soul with us. I learned so much and was touched deeply. Magnificent. A MUST DO!

   The truth is that I am having trouble describing this experience in words. I will give it my best...

   Ms. Moon is a petite and very beautiful woman, inside and out. She began the concert with an introduction to playing on the traditional Korean drums. We (we were four participants in total) were given the opportunity to choose any drum on the shelf. I chose the one I was already familiar with from another experience; the Janggu, the one in the hourglass shape. Each drum had its own character and purpose. Ms. Moon taught us how each one should be played. Even though drums have their unique character they are actually regarded as support instruments in folk and Pansori music. They may occasional have a solo spot however their real function is to accompany the lead instrument or singer. Ms. Moon assigned us a pattern, which also included a little vocal screech in between the beats. We then accompanied her as she sang a folk song. I really enjoyed actively participating in the song. 

   The second part of the concert involved learning about and singing a traditional Korean folk song. There is a distinct difference between folk songs and Pansori singing. Ms. Moon explained that anyone and everyone can, and do, sing folk songs. It is music of and for the people. Ms. Moon introduced a song to us by first singing it. She told us this song was in the style of call and response. It also included some hand clapping. She taught us our part and then we all sang together. FUN! We did so well that Ms. Moon taught us a second folk song. This time she taught us the refrain of the song and asked us to participate each time it came around. Visuals were on display should we need a guide while singing. 

   I can't speak for the others but for me the fact that it was this easy to be able to sing a popular Korean folk song made me feel quite proud and confident! 

   The final part of the concert was what we came for; learning about Pansori music. 

   As I said, anyone can sing folk music. Not so with Pansori. Those who specialize in Pansori go through very intense training to learn how to use their voices, emote, and sing for many hours. They also learn to use a fan and a particular gestures that are meant to enhance the storytelling. Originally, in the 17th century during the reign of the Joseon dynastymen were desired singers. The genre achieved popularity and by the 19th century it had changed to mostly women singers. Even the nobility appreciated this style of music and invited the singers into the courts.  

   In the past, and even today, women trained in the mountains and forests. This was because of the unique way in which they learned to sing and use their voices. As I said, I was quite surprised when Ms. Moon began to sing. I expected to hear a beautiful and very feminine sound. Instead she emitted a very strong, loud, expressive, emotional raspy sound. I was so surprised. I now understand why the training is best done in the mountain or forests. Women trained for hours every day staying very focused producing the desired sounds. Ms. Moon first started her training at age thirteen! Today, in addition to singing and performing, she teaches and trains others in the theater arts. 

   Pansori singers of the past would sing for 4-10 hours straight accompanied by one drummer. I realized that this is because the singer is actually telling an extended story in explicit detail which engages the listener. Audiences are expected to shout out encouraging words in support of the singer. I likened Pansori to an early form of the ever popular Korean dramas of today. Or like a soap opera. Once you get hooked in you just can't stop watching. Or in this case, listening. 

   Ms Moon taught us about one very important element about Korean music; the "Han"Due to the excessive wars and the numerous personal losses throughout the centuries an underlying feeling or emotion of sorrow permeates Korean expression. This sort of underlying feeling is familiar to me as a Jew, Israeli and from my own personal life. If you've experienced loss for any reason you will know that this feeling of sorrow and loss exists within you although it is not often expressed openly. 

   Ms. Moon's singing pulled me in, engaged me and got me hooked. Prior to her presentation of the Pansori song Ms. Moon took the time to tell us the entire story which she told together with lovely pictures. She then sang a segment stopping between "scenes" to explain each part in English. Perhaps it was the love story however it was really this style of singing that had me welling up with tears ready to flow.  

   A very important aspect about myself was revealed to me during this concert. I suddenly understood the very reason I've come to Korea. Those of you who have asked me will finally get your answer. I have explained that for many years now I've felt compelled to be in Korea. I never really understood why. Whatever could be waiting for me that I need to actually physically travel all the way to Korea to find? Now I know. 

   I've been mostly an instrumentalist for all the years I've been a musician. I'm very comfortable expressing myself on the guitar. In fact there are certain guitars that are so much better for emoting instrumentally. I've found the Martin acoustic guitars to be especially good for this purpose. They're pricey but well worth it! 

   Due to lack of time for rehearsing with groups or bands I began to sing solo. At that time I spontaneously entered a song into a songwriting competition. I didn't think I would have to sing it myself but I soon learned that if I did not then the song would be disqualified. I nearly withdrew it myself! Instead I chose to accept the (personal) challenge. I consider myself a "folk" singer. I sing and play the guitar at the same time. My focus and attention is divided and sometimes one or the other suffers. I may miss a note or sing out of pitch here and there. That's not the end of the world for a folksinger. Yet, for some reason I am very shy about singing. To me the voice is extremely personal. I am actually afraid of the sounds I am producing. More so, I am actually afraid of the emotion that might be revealed through the singing! I'm not sure I really want to share that part of myself. In fact, I'm not even sure I know that part of myself very well even at this age. Ahhhhh, yes. There is still some digging to do deep down inside my heart and psyche.

   Believe it or not my recent love of K-Pop music has helped me to improve my singing. This is because I have no idea what the lyrics are. So I sing along phonetically. This has helped me focus on my voice; how I use it and which sounds I can and do produce. 

   So THIS is what I have come to Korea for? Apparently so. So many of you know that I have a passion for Korean dramas. This led me to discovering K-Pop which finally led me to one particular singer who has become my muse. I am impressed and inspired by his command over his voice, his passion, commitment and his expert ability to emote through song. I intend to meet XIA and hope to learn from him. I'm getting closer to this goal every day! Now that I know what I am seeking I am praying that G-D will make it happen. 

   Sometimes you just have to go the distance! 

   Thank-you Moon Soo Hyun for offering us your superb concert, workshop and insights. Baruch HaShem. 




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