Pansori museum offers melodious history

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Pansori museum offers melodious history

"The wind blows 24 times,

spring is everywhere,

let us all go out and enjoy it."

This is part of the poem "Dorihwa-ga" that Sin Jae-hyo (better known by his pen name Dong-ri) wrote for his great love, Jin Jae-seon, the first-ever female pansori singer. In the verse, which literally means "Peach Flower Song," Jin is the wind that blows, and the 24 times represents her age at the time the author wrote it.

Dong-ri was the only son of a wealthy farmer, Sin Chang-heup, in North Jeolla province in the 19th century. Using the vast amount of land he inherited, Dong-ri created his own theory of pansori, a kind of one-person opera, and an accompanying school. He was so wealthy that he had not only 14 rooms for all his servants, but he also had additional chambers for the actors and ginyeo, or courtesans, he employed.

Jin was a friend of his, born in nearby Geomdangpo, and he early on recognized her natural singing talents. She was introduced to Kim Se-jong, the best-known pansori singer of the day, and she gradually gained popularity as a talented singer.

Dong-ri took Jin to Gyeongbok Palace in Seoul. Because women were not allowed to sing pansori, he disguised her as a man.

At the palace's Great Pavilion, Jin sang. Heung-seon, the father of King Gojang, recognized that she was really a woman and fell in love. Soon Jin was singing exclusively for Heung-seon.

But Heung-seon eventually learned about just how close the relationship was between the teacher and student, so he let her return to Dong-ri. Back in Jeolla province, Jin took care of her teacher until he passed away. After that, she went to a small temple where she lived until she passed away.

At the time pansori was exclusively for men. But Dong-ri broke this tradition and did everything possible to make Jin Jae-seon a popular pansori singer.

Her success paved the way for many female pansori singers, including Kim Nok-ju, Lee Hwajung-seon, Park Cho-wol, Kim So-hui and An Suk-seon. Furthermore, the Gochang area, Sin's hometown in North Jeolla province, has now become the major center for pansori.

The Gochang Pansori Museum opened on July 1, 1991, with the backing of Gang Han-hui, the great-great-granddaughter of Dong-ri. The museum was built on the site of Shin's home. In the museum you can find books and additional information about Dong-ri and his pansori ideas, not to mention comprehensive information on other pansori styles. In short, if it's not at Gochang Pansori Museum, it's not pansori.

At the museum, there are also daily pansori classes for everyone from elementary school children to adults. One month of lessons will only set you back 15,000 won ($11), 10,000 won for students.

In order to commemorate Sin Jae-hyo, there is a festival every year on Nov. 6, which is Sin's birthday. It has become a tradition for the city to invite a famous pansori musician to perform at the festival.

Ms. Gang, a pansori singer who lives in Gochang, had collected mementos of Sin, but lost many during the Korean War. The 76-year-old said, "Although there is not much left, I have conserved these things as carefully as possible to let national and international scholars study my ancestor's works."

For more information, call the museum at 063-564-6949

by Kim Sae-joon

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