Friday, September 18, 2015

Joseon Dynasty Court Instruments

The court musical instruments are rarely seen in public but during traditional Confucian rites may appear in ceremony to invoke the spirit world. The instruments used include flutes (hun, so, and bamboo flutes), zithers (seul and geum), stone chimes (pyeongyeong), bronze bells (pyeonjong), various drums played with sticks, tiger-shaped wooden scraper (eo), wooden box (chuk), and wooden clappers (bak).

This is one of the bi-annual ceremonies at Munmyo Shrine, Sungkyunkwan seowon, in Hyehwa. For a detailed description of the ceremonial music, purpose and function of the ceremony read Seokjeon Daeje at Munmyo Shrine. Of particular interest in the entry is the symbolism of the dance performance to court music throughout the ceremony.

"Sheet music" - While western music is based on the octave, Korean music is based on a five-note range. Keep in mind that five is a very perfect number in traditional society: 5 colors, 5 tastes, 5 directions, 5 elements, 5 deities, 5 mythological creatures, 5 temple gates, 5 ethical practices, 5 classics, 5 vices and 5 virtues. Sheet music is a relatively "new" development as traditionally musicians were trained by ear and having a good memory were important.

Pyeongyeong - a set of 16 tuned triangle-shaped stone chimes

Hun - a globular flute made of baked clay and originating from prehistoric times

Bu - a clay pot struck with a bamboo whisk

Eo - the tiger-shaped wooden scraper played by running a bamboo whisk along its serrated spine

Pyeonjong - a set of 16 tuned bells played since ancient times (since 2,000-3,500 years ago)

Bak - a wooden clapper used since ancient times for court music and rituals

Nodo - a set of two hand-held drums pierced by a pole and twisted to play, particularly used in court music

barrel-shaped drum (Korea has many drums so I haven't identified exactly which one this is. For more on drums see Wikipedia's Traditional Korean Musical Instruments.

Nogo - a set of two drums in a frame and which are pierced by a pole; not to be confused with the hand-held two-drum set, the nodo

Chuk - a wooden box used to mark beats and played by striking the inside with a stick

And of course the purpose of playing court music is to give background to some kind of ritual or court celebration. Below, officiators file in with dignity in order to start yet another Confucian ritual ceremony at Munmyo. 

One further comment about court music itself: From what I have heard so far in regard to court music, the instruments used are limited to percussion and wind. Korea has many kinds of stringed instruments and yet not one ritual I have witnessed has employed any in court music. The entire musical melody is played with wind instruments, which are accompanied by a very large number of percussion instruments.

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