Thursday, December 11, 2014

Arirang: a KBS Traditional Music Concert

In the KBS Hall in Youido, very near the National Assembly building, KBS hosted their monthly concert by hosting a Korean concert showcasing "Arirang", a Korean folk song often considered unofficially as the Korean national anthem. In December 2012 the song was designated as in Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO, resulting in the Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea announcing a five-year plan (much like communistic planning of old) to promote the song. Therefore, the hosting of the Arirang concert event by KBS was an outcome of that plan. Already the song has been lyricized into nine languages, but for tonight's concert, the performance was only in Korean, but with several variations based on the several provinces' interpretation of the song.

The song's title originates from a mountain pass called Arirang, a pass that connects Seoul and the southeastern Gyeongsang Province. Apparently there are many passes in Korea called Arirang, but in the song romantically and nostalgically dubbed "Arirang", the Arirang Pass is where two lovers rendezvous in their dreams. The story is of a virtuous lady killed by an unrequited lover, but as time went on, the tragic story changed to an unrequited lady-love pining after an unfeeling man.

Many variations of the song exist: lyrics or refrains differ in part as well as timing and melody. Names for the differing Arirang songs are usually prefixed by place of origin or some other signifier. The original form of Arirang is "Jeongseon Arirang" from Gangwon Province and which has a traceable history of 600 years. However, the most famous version is "Bonjo Arirang", most commonly just termed "Arirang", which rather recently originated in Seoul. Other forms are "Sin (new) Arirang", which like its name suggests is relatively new, and "Gyeonggi Arirang", which also unsurprisingly was developed in Gyeonggi Province. Several others exist as well.

The following lyrics are taken blatantly from Wikipedia's Arirang:


The table below gives the refrain (first two lines; the refrain precedes the first verse) and first verse (third and fourth lines) of the standard version of the song in Hangulromanized Korean, and a literal English translation:
Korean original
English translation
아리랑, 아리랑, 아라리요...
아리랑 고개로 넘어간다.
나를 버리고 가시는 님은
십리도 못가서 발병난다.
Arirang, Arirang, Arariyo...
Arirang gogaero neom-eoganda.
Nareul beorigo gasineun nim-eun
Simnido motgaseo balbyeongnanda.
Arirang, Arirang, Arariyo...[10]
Crossing over Arirang Pass.[11]
Dear[12] who abandoned me [here]
Shall not walk even ten li[13] before his/her feet hurt.[14]
The standard version of Arirang (Seoul Arirang or Gyeonggi Arirang) has various verses, although other verses are not as frequently sung as the first verse. The lyrics are different from singer to singer:
Korean original
English translation
청천하늘엔 잔별도 많고
우리네 가슴엔 희망도 많다
Cheongcheonghaneuren chanbyeoldo manko
Urine gaseumen huimangdo manta
Just as there are many stars in the clear sky,
There are also many dreams in our heart.
저기 저 산이 백두산이라지
동지 섣달에도 꽃만 핀다
Jeogi jeo sani Baekdusaniraji
Dongji seotdaredo kkonman pinda
There, over there that mountain is Baekdu Mountain,
Where, even in the middle of winter days, flowers bloom.


In all versions of the song, the refrain and each verse are of equal length. In some versions, such as the standard version and Jindo Arirang, the first refrain precedes the first verse, while in other versions, including Miryang Arirang, the first refrain follows the first verse. Perhaps the easiest way to classify versions—apart from melody, which can vary widely between different versions—is the lyrics of the refrain. In the standard and some other versions, the first line of the refrain is "Arirang, Arirang, arariyo...," while in both the Jindo Arirang and Miryang Arirang (which are otherwise quite different from each other), the first line of the refrain begins with "Ari arirang, seuri seurirang...." ("Arariyo" and "seurirang")

Bonjo Arirang[edit]

English translation
If you leave and forsake me, my own,
Ere three miles you go, lame you'll have grown.
Wondrous time, happy time—let us delay;
Till night is over, go not away.
Arirang Mount is my Tear-Falling Hill,
So seeking my love, I cannot stay still.
The brightest of stars stud the sky so blue;
Deep in my bosom burns bitterest rue.
Man's heart is like water streaming downhill;
Woman's heart is well water—so deep and still.
Young men's love is like pinecones seeming sound,
But when the wind blows, they fall to the ground.
Birds in the morning sing simply to eat;
Birds in the evening sing for love sweet.
When man has attained to the age of a score,
The mind of a woman should be his love.
The trees and the flowers will bloom for aye,
But the glories of youth will soon fade away.

Miryang Arirang[edit]

Korean original
English translation
Look on me! Look on me! Look on me!
In midwinter, when you see a flower, please think of me!
Chorus: Ari-arirang! Ssuri-Ssurirang! Arariga nanne!
O'er Arirang Pass I long to cross today.
Moonkyung weak Bird has too many curves
Winding up, winding down, in tears I go.
Carry me, carry me, carry me and go!
When flowers bloom in Hanyang, carry me and go.
Bird Pass or "Saejae" is the summit of a high mountain, rising north of Moonkyung in the ancient highway, linking Seoul with Miryang and Tongnae (Pusan). Its sky-kissing heights are so rugged that in their eyes. This is a love song of a dancing girl from Miryang who was left behind by her lover from Seoul (Hanyang). She is calling him to take her with him to Hanyang. She believed that her own beauty was above all flowers in Hanyang. The words in the first line of the chorus are sounds of bitter sorrow at parting. This song was composed by Kim Dong Jin.

Gangwon Arirang[edit]

Korean original
English translation
Castor and camellia, bear no beans!
Deep mountain fair maidens would go a-flirting.
Chorus: Ari-Ari, Ssuri-Ssuri, Arariyo!
Ari-Ari Pass I cross and go.
Though I pray, my soya field yet will bear no beans;
Castor and camellia, why should you bear beans?
When I broke the hedge bush stem, you said you'd come away;
At your doorway I stamp my feet, why do you delay?
Precious in the mountains are darae and moroo;
Honey sweet to you and me would be our love so true.
Come to me! Come to me! Come and join me!
In a castor and camellia garden we'll meet, my love!
The highland maids would like to make up their hair with castor and camellia oils and go flirting instead working in the soybean fields. The mountain grape moroo and banana-shaped darae were precious foods to mountain folk. The song is sarcastic, but emotional to comfort the fair solitary reapers who go about gathering the wild fruits in the deep mountains of Kangwon-do.

The Singers:
Tonight's concert performance was conducted by 이준호. The six singers were 안숙선 (a very famous traditional music singer), 강효주, 전소연 (a singer from North Korea!), 이춘희, 김용우 (the only male singer and who is becoming quite famous), and 조준희. All the performers were well-trained and professional, but the three I've commented on were of particular interest to the audience.

Not sure of everyone's names but left to right:
김용우, 전소연, ?, ?, ?, 안숙선, and then the conductor 이준호.

안숙선, the oldest singer and steeped in traditional music, moved her body in the characteristic pansori rhythms and flowing body movements with heel gracefully the touching the floor at 90-degree angles before a rhythmic step moved her forward. Her body was the embodiment of art and music.

전소연 was of most particular interest. She glided in with a very erect body and all of her movements and her very stance clearly screamed, "I am not South Korean!" Several others in the foreign community that I was with and I all thought she was from China, especially as her voice was high and would have been thought to be shrill if it were not clear and the sound well-rounded. Her body didn't move when she sang unless to hold her elbows out a bit, very unlike the bowing of the Korean females head in submission or respect and the tucking in of one's elbows or wrists. The KBS International Relations Producer beside me quickly cleared up my confusion and said, "Oh, she sings like a North Korean!" During intermission a glance at the concert printout confirmed that. 전소연 is from the North Korean Hamheung Province, received education in the North Korean capitol of Pyeongyang, and immigrated to South Korea apparently in 2008.

김용우, the male singer who is becoming quite famous, studied traditional singing forms but did not grow up steeped in traditional music. This was evidenced by his great voice but lack of flowing body movements that are inherent of one who just absorbs his or her music atmosphere, the cadence and basically the essence of the music in not only the ears and the heart but throughout the body, which will in turn re-express the music when under the music's flowing influence.

The audience was well-pleased with the beautiful renditions of Arirang and yelled for an encore! The conductor was well-pleased and an chorus from the musicians and choir was given. The six singers were exempt from this encore ... and the selection was a wafting, endearing yet soul-touching.

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