The Beat Goes On: Samulnori Contest Unites Culture and A Desire to Drum

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The Beat Goes On: Samulnori Contest Unites Culture and A Desire to Drum

You say you don't want to work? You just want to bang on your drum all day? Well, this might be your big chance: It is time once again for Kim Duk-soo's annual samulnori or drumming competition.

One of the most widespread misconceptions about Korean traditional culture is that samulnori is an authentic type of traditional music that has existed since long ago. The truth is that the history of samulnori goes back three decades at most. Bona fide traditional music is called nongak, which means "farmers' music," since it used to be closely associated with sowing seeds and rain ceremonies.

In 1978, a performing troupe begun by Kim Duk-soo and three other musicians modified nongak. Whereas nongak is performed in a group, while dancing and moving around, samulnori is performed seated on stage. And instead of the many instruments used in nongak, samulnori uses only four - in fact "samul-nori" means "four-instrument performance." Those instruments are the janggu, an hour-glass-shaped drum whose ends are covered with leather, kkwaenggwari, a small brass gong, jing, a larger brass gong, and the buk, a double-headed drum made of leather and wood.

Mr. Kim started holding samulnori contests in 1989. This year, the contest will be held Oct. 26-28 at Mount Yongmun in Gyeonggi province.

One of the most attractive parts of nongak and samulnori is that ideally, there can be no audience for the authentic nongak performance - everyone participates by focusing on each other. People who originally joined to "watch" the performance become a part of it, not just as onlookers, but as ardent participants. And it does not matter whether you are Korean or not. Over the last nine contests, more than 10,000 people, including Koreans and expatriates, have taken part.

Lee Lan-hee, an executive member of the competition, said, "This year, we are expecting more than 15 expats to take part in the competition, and a lot more to join the festival."

Along with the competition, whose grand prize will be presented by Korea's president, there will be other events, such as an exhibition of Korean traditional nongak instruments and a contest to see who can drum the loudest.

Those who wish to participate in the competition should submit an application by Saturday. Contest organizers can be reached at 02-765-7951 (phone), 02-744-3417 (fax) and samulhan@unitel.co.kr.



by Chun Su-jin

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