Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Janggu Class at the Seoul National Folk Museum

Impressive performance by professional janggu Players

I was fortunate enough last month to see an advertisement on worknplay.co.kr for a free, two month long Janggu lesson at the National Folk Museum in Seoul. I signed up immediately. When else could I get to take a two month long music lesson for free?

For our first lesson, we were introduced to the Janggu with a performance by four professional Janggu players, our two teachers and another two performers. The blonde hair you see on the right of the stage above is actually one of our teachers, she's a Polish woman who has graduated from Hanyang University in Seoul, with a master's in Janggu. Not only is she a fantastic Janggu player, but she's also our class translator for the students who can't understand Korean.

One of the janggu players

After watching the performance, we were all feeling a little intimidated... there was no way we'd ever be able to perform something like that... but we were informed that the particular piece they had performed for us was not anything close to what we'd ever be expected to play. Then we were all given our own janggu and we started to learn the basics.


I hope to make a more detailed post about the janggu later, but basically the janggu is a traditional Korean instrument that dates back to the Goryeo dynasty and earlier. There are two ends, each made with a different animal skin and each producing a different sound. The sounds can also be changed by sliding the leather adjustments on the sides as well. The "gongchae" is the stick held in the left hand. It has a wooden ball at the top to make the "gong" sound. The stick held in the right hand is called the "yeolchae", it is long and thin and makes a "dak" sound as it hits the right side of the drum.

(Left) "gongchae" and (right) "Yeolchae"

Our teacher teaching us janggu theory

The class is more than just hitting a drum. We're learning about different rhythms, fast, medium and slow. We're learning different combinations of hitting the drums to produce certain rhythms as well. To a class of rather musically inept people, it's quite entertaining to watch. But, our teacher tries hard to keep us on beat and hitting the right side of the drum with the right stick at the right time.

Our teacher, demonstrating for us

We've just completed two weeks of the class, we've still got another 6 weeks to go. I'm really excited for our final day when we have a performance with 3 other classes from the National Folk Museum. When the official times are released for that performance, I'll be sure to post them here. All will be welcome to see!

English Website of the National Folk Museum of Korea: http://www.nfm.go.kr:8080/english/main.jsp

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