Saturday, October 11, 2014

Pansori Festival 2014 in Guyre

Guyre is located in Jeollanamdo, 30 minutes from the southern coastal city of Suncheon, 20 minutes from Namwon "the city of love" where the famous love story Chunhyang originated (and memorialized in pansori), and 1hr 30 minutes from the metropolitan city of Kwangju. This small mountain city of Guyre is surprisingly famous for a number of reasons:
  • famous for its protective mountain range, Jiri-san (mountain)
  • known for its "three majestic things and three beauties" - The 3 majestic things are Jiri-san, Seomjin-kang (river), and its broad rice field. The 3 beauties are the breathtaking views, abundant crops and generous people. 
  • famous for three Korean temples: Cheoneunsa, Yeongoksa, and especially for Hwaomsa, one of the top ten temples within Korea
  • becoming well-known as a longevity belt as it has a surprisingly large number of centenarians. The longevity belt is comprised of four small cities: Guyre, Gokseong, Sunchang, and Damyang, all in a swath northwest of Jiri-san.
  • internationally popular for its annual half-ironman race
  • popular locally for its yellow Sansuyu (cornus flower) Festival in March. 75% of the domestic sansuyu is grown in Guyre. The sansuyu is historically known as a medicinal plant for curing liver inflammations, diabetes, high blood pressure, cold hands and feet, and for boosting the immune system. It's also used locally to flavor tea and fine liquors.
  • somewhat famous for its mountain vegetables
  • known as the place of origin for pansori especially but other traditional musics too like samulnori

Pansori and its two branches: Dongpyeonjae and Seopyeonjae

Pansori literally derives from "pan", a large flat area for the gathering of the people, and "sori" or sound, so it is a music of story-telling in a flat area, and this style of music was most enjoyed by the peasant class who gathered together for friendly street and field entertainment. In the process of story-telling, a vocalist relates the tale in a rise and fall emotional cadence while the gosu or drummer beats his large hourglass drum with a stick in his right hand and pats the drum's nether side intermittently with his left hand. (There are rare individuals who reverse this order and become "famous" for their alternative approach).

Pansori was designated as an intangible heritage UNESCO treasure in 2003. Originally there were 12 pansori songs but only 5 remain. The birth of pansori was in the 16th century during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1897), and Guyre was the originating city of Dongpyeonjae (literally "east + side + way" or the eastern form). Seopyeonjae originated west of the Seomjin-kang and the river was the divisor of the two branches. To any familiar with the cadence, tone and musical approach, the differences between the two branches of pansori can readily be perceived. West of the Seomjin-kang are fields and the music is said to be reflective of the terrain with a gentle melody that flows and has decorative music; the music is therefore described as feminine. East of the Seomjin-kang are mountains and so the terrain reflective music is strong, powerful but having a simple non-decorative music, in short, a masculine musical style. I am curious if anyone thinks of these two groupings as the yin and yang of pansori.

4th Dongpyeonjae Music Festival

The Dongpyeonjae Music Festival was first held in 2009, and this year celebrates its fourth organized festival. Although the festival is labeled as a pansori performance, Guyre is famous for other traditional musics and therefore other music-style performances are included in the festival.  To start off the music festival, a soul-cleansing or 굿 'gut' or exorcism was held at the Dongpyeonjae Heritage Center, the only permanent space dedicated to pansori in Guyre.

씻김굿 or "wash the sorrow" exorcism

This particular gut originated on Jindo, an island that lost many men to the wiles of the sea. The men would go out in their fishing boats, leaving women behind to pray for their men's safe passage back to them. Many men however did not return and thus the origin of a gut to the sea, women making prayers for the safe passage of their men to the next world, 구각새계 or "paradise world", a Buddhist term but then shamanism, confucism and Buddhism are woven culturally and spiritually together. Here in landlocked Guyre prayers for the safe passage of newly appointed Master Seo Gong-cheol to paradise was held before his commemorative memorial stone was unveiled to the public. Seo Gong-cheol (1911-1982) was selected as the most recent master, a master of the gayageum. Seo Gong-cheol won his accolades by a pansori committee that recently discovered and re-evaluated his music, finding it surprisingly lyrical, and so his title of grand master is posthumously bestowed. Similarly, Seo Gong-cheol's spirit may have been restless from being unappreciated and so may have wandered incorrectly; thus, the gut is to send his spirit peacefully onward to the paradise.

paying "tribute" to the pansori spirit to speed it on its way to paradise
The gut is performed in metaphor. The many meter-long white cloth is a metaphor for the sea, the ship is a metaphor for passage onward, and together they symbolize the passage over space to the paradise world. As for the color white used heavily in the performance, it is the color of the cloths of commoners of the time, the color of performance for guts, archery, and some shaman dances, and it is the color most representative of death in Korea. During the ship's spiritual sailing, onlookers approach, bow deeply and then place money (usually in increments of W10,000) respectfully on the "sea" in front of the "sailing ship" or place it in the metaphorical ship itself. This money is a type of toll to pay the spirit into paradise; it also is for traveling money -- some goes for the food and magkeolli -- to feed the deceased on his/her spirit trip.

With the gut performed and the spirit directed onward to paradise, Seo Gong-cheol's commemorative memorial stone for his great contribution to pansori was uncovered. A basket of white chrysanthemums (the flower of peace in death) was placed nearby and pansori singers and musicians, at least two of whom were recognized as intangible cultural assets, selected a flower, bowed to his memorial stone and placed their prayer, the white carnation, in front of his commemorative stone. Family, teachers, students, others followed, each selecting a white chrysanthemum and going through the same ritual of respect.

two intangible cultural assets bowing to another of the master pansori performer's commemorative memorial stone
The new commemorative stone of Master Seo Gong-chul (1911-1982)
master of the gayageum 
The line of five commemorative stones to masters of pansori 
Seo Gong-cheol's commemorative stone is at the end of a line of four other commemorative memorials to pansori masters, and all five memorial stones are gazed at by the large statue of 국창 송만갑, National Master Song Man-gab (1865-1939). 국창 or national master is such an honorary title that originally it could only be given by the king, but there has been no king of Korea for over a century and the name was bestowed on Song Man-gab post-king and dynasty.

To eat together after a gut is to have and share fortune

Some pansori performances

Although this is only the 4th Dongpyeongjae Festival, this is the 18th Songmangap Pansori and Drummer Contest, of course named after National Master Song Man-gap of the statue earlier discussed. In the festival performances, intangible cultural holders appear to perform. Students of pansori, if they qualify, perform. Many of the performers are descended from other pansori performers.

One of the most famous performers was by Master Singer Lee Nan-cho, a woman dressed in an emerald green hanbok waving a hanji-and-bamboo fan in her "흥부가" or Hongbu-Nolbu story. She kicked off the pansori singing event with her powerful contralto opening performance. In pansori performances the audience is expected to interact with the performer as traditionally the "pan" or flat space for gathering people was on the same plane as the performer and without lines or barrier to the performer. Therefore, to show their appreciation performers shouted out "얼씨구", "얼쑤", "좋~다!" and "잘헌다" and the singer, affirmed with her powerful musical interpretation, sang louder with more dramatics.

Jeong Ui-jin, not as famous, sang "수궁가" or the turtle and the rabbit. Like the Hongbu-Nolbu story, this one too originated within Korea. Her drummer, a 고장북, not a 고수, was Kim Cheong-man, a very famous left-handed drummer! (As I understand it, a 고수 is designated by the government as a cultural property holder but this man received his designation from the city of Daejeon, hence the specific name difference.)

The male singer Park Jeong-seon, first prize winner in the Jeonju Pansori Festival, sang a portion of the "적벽가", a story about 조조 for the reuniting of divided China. Among the five remaining pansori stories, this is the only one of foreign origin and influence. In the Joseon dynasty when pansori became popular, Korea was intimately linked with Big Brother China and followed a lot of the Chinese traditions, which included borrowing their literature and art. Thus, the borrowing of this epic song. A portion of this performance is a part where the performer sings the part of a bird singing; he mimics the trills of the bird with song, a very popular but difficult performance.

The two other pansori songs included in the five existing pansori performances are "심정가" (blind man's daughter, a story of filial piety) and "춘향가" (a love story about a daughter of a kisaeng and a yangban; a story of virtue and purity).

Pansori singers have a rough, sand-papery voice from years of practice bellowing out song for crowds and wracking their very existence to convey emotion and depth of feeling. Similarly, pansori singers never just walk into a performance without first "warming up" their voice; therefore, they sing a "당가" (short song) to warm up their voice to get the throaty pansori depth they desire.

Of course the festival is to hear the performances of masters of pansori, or drumming, and see other performances like the "farmer's dance" related to Guyre, but this festival is also about a competition to discover another great pansori artist and award a prize. Jeon Ji-hye, age 31, won first place or the president's prize in the contest. During her performance of a particularly famous piece from "춘향가", the audience really responded with "얼씨구", "얼쑤", "좋~다!" and "잘헌다". I thought her voice much sweeter and less gravelly than her competitors, which somewhat surprised me as her competitors had achieved the rough harshness of time and wear and emotional depth. That said though, she really could evoke the emotion with her sweeter voice. Jeon Ji-hye is a graduate of Jeonnam Univeristy and Hanyang University. Born in 1983 in Naju, her interest in pansori drum started when very young, but shifted to desiring to be a singer when she watched competitors in the Jeonju Pansori Festival (전주대시습놀이) as a middle school student. She has already received many prized in various pansori competitions, and now she sweeps the performance hall and takes first place. This is inspiring as she did not grow up with Dongpyeonjae but rather influenced by the Seopyeonjae style.

The number of competing artists in the 18th Songmangap Pansori Singer and Drummer Contest was 197. They were grouped in 9 sections -- six for pansori singers and three for drummers.

And a link to more information on Guyre and pansori in Guyre - Dongpyeonjae Pansori Experience

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