Kim Hyesoon on "Corean Music"

by on Aug.13, 2013

Kim Hyesoon sent me the following response – via Don Mee Choi – to my posts on “Corean Music” at the Poetry Foundatio Blog:

“Please tell Johannes: I was born into a Christian household, so I grew up hearing my mom singing hymns. Then when I was in elementary and middle school I never heard any traditional Korean music. All the music teachers were teachers who had studied Western music. So I only listened to and sang music composed by Western composers. (Now, the music education in elementary and middles school is not like this anymore. Students listen to traditional Korean music and learn to play Korean instruments.) When I was in college, student protests against the dictatorship were wide-spread. I carried rocks in my skirt and delivered them to the students every time there was a protest. One of the deciding factors that made me to play such a role was that whenever the students marched out to protest, they always played traditional Korean instruments. I will never forget the first time I heard samulnori, traditional Korean music. When I heard the students play samulnori, tears just streamed down my face uncontrollably. It felt as if a “bright festival” was opening after hiding quietly somewhere inside my belly. During exorcism rites, Korean shamans play instruments to call the spirits and also to send the ghosts to another realm. During the Japanese colonial period, shaman rites were banned, and it was because of this colonial influence that I didn’t get to study traditional Korean music at school. There were no teachers who had studied traditional Korean music, so there was nobody to teach us. But now I’m so sick of it. Now that I’ve become a college professor, and because the college I teach at has a Korean music department, I get to listen to it every year on campus. And the creative writing students that I teach also play it often. So now whenever I hear samulnori, I close my eyes and think of something else. Anyway, I wanted to tell you my experience…”

2 comments for this entry:
  1. françois

    Interesting, but not necessarily surprising, to hear that Kim Hyesoon listened to Christian hymns. This is also something that struck me when I went into a binge of Korean pop movies (My Sassy Girl, Windstruck, …) was the prominence of Western songs, especially Pachelbel’s Canon in D (which is also often used in Japanese drama series, at least the ones I was watching at the time).

  2. rRoss Sélavy

    This is interesting, I’ve been listening to a lot of Korean pop music, and it’s predominantly western-influenced (western pop and hip-hop), and the things that aren’t drawn from that in a lot of cases sound more like they’re drawing on Japanese pop music. I’m also watching Korean spy dramas (I’ve just finished watching IRIS, and am watching the spin-off Athena: Goddess of War now) and the only stuff that sounds… non-Western (i.e. not pretty much indistinguishable from the soundtracks to western shows, aside from, if it’s a love song, the lyrics not being in English) seems to be the vocal-based passages in the incidental music (which are beautiful).
    Those shows though are very interesting in their treatment of violence, which is something I’ve been thinking a lot about, but that’s probably incidental to this.