[OMBUDSMAN COLUMN]No traditional performancesFor nearly the entire 22 years I have lived in Korea, I have closely followed, studied and attempted to share with the world Korean traditional music and dance. I decided that I would like to see how the JoongAng Daily was handling these topics, so recently I carefully checked each of the papers that was delivered to me. While I did not expect that there would be an overwhelming number of articles on these topics, I was not prepared for the fact that since October 4, 2002, there was not even one.
This started me thinking. On the one hand, the newspaper is making a tremendous effort to delve into many aspects of Korean society that would not otherwise be easily accessible to foreigners. Full page articles on the trials and tribulations of being a postman in Korea, news on the latest gossip about the lives of television stars, Internet guides to room salons -- all are very interesting to some degree or another. But isn't something profound being left out?
Granted the desire to obtain information on traditional Korean music and dance may not be high on the list of many of the newspaper's readers. Or, the editors may be sick and tired of simply providing information on the regular performances of Korean music and dance held at several major theaters in the city. Yet, here I think is the crux of the issue. Rather than the standard rehash of a press release on the variety show type of traditional Korean music and dance (where the content has been edited into completely untraditional 10-minute segments) what is needed are selective, well-informed articles about truly not-to-be-missed performances.
Specifically, in Korea there are performers whose talents, specialized knowledge and long performance of an art have earned them the title of National Living Treasure. These performers are required to give regular, full-length performances once a year. These are usually magnificent events, in which not only the master, but also his or her students participate. Since these performances are full length, the audience sees, for example, a dance in its entirety (30-40 minutes rather than the "consumer-friendly" 6-8 minute version) or a solo instrument performance that may last up to 90 minutes, rather than 5. These are rare events and usually not well publicized, but instead of waiting for the press release (which might never come) the JoongAng Daily should seek out these special occasions to share with readers in advance.
Korea's performers of traditional music and dances often expand their repertoire to include experimental meetings between their own and other musical or dance traditions. These attempts can be quite intriguing and deserve both audience attention and knowledgeable critique.
Readers deserve the opportunity to delve deeper into what makes Korea the endlessly fascinating country that it is.
The writer is editorial team director at Unibooks. She is a member of the JoongAng Daily ombudsman committee.
by Suzanna Oh