Festival pounds to the beat of Korean drums

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Festival pounds to the beat of Korean drums

Korea has seen its share of drum festivals, but the Gugak Festival 2004 is unique in that it focuses on Korea’s indigenous music.
The Korean Culture and Arts Foundation spearheaded this month-long initiative under the theme “Our Music Unlimited,” to popularize and modernize traditional Korean music, particularly percussion, on a grand scale. Organizers are trying to reach out in particular to Korean youth and expatriates in order to give gugak a chance to grow.
Hwang Jun-yon, chairman of the executive committee, says, “Here, our call to make and exhibit a gugak of, and for, our time will be answered, and hence this festival will feature more experimental gugak than traditional music.”
According to Hwang Byung-ki, chairman of the organizing committee, “Traditional arts ... should give birth to something new. For this to happen, the art and the artist need to remain open to other fields of art.”
The festivities began Oct. 1 with “Maestro Meets Youth” at Seoul National University Cultural Center Grand Theatre. Professional musicians, such as Hwang Byung-ki and An Sook-sun, performed with young artists on the university stage.
Events run until Oct. 31. The festival is organized into three parts: concerts, education and competition. The concert section of the 2004 Gugak Festival is wrapping up this weekend with three more events scheduled for tonight to Sunday.
Tonight, gugak meets rock at a club in Hongdae. The “Ya-Ya-Ya Concert: Staying Up with Gugak” starts at 6 p.m. and provides 12 hours of live music at Hodge Podge. The line-up includes Gaia, Nalnari Band, Wiretap in My Ear, Nevada #51, Daehansaram, Ryu Bok-sung, Mr. J, MC Sinper, Y-not?, Lee Ra-ram Jazz Quintet and Hooligan.
Tomorrow, the rhythms will slow down for “Yeo-Yeo-Yeo Concert: Free Time, Negative Space,” at 3 p.m. at Seoul Arts Center Concert Hall. This concert introduces soothing music for tea, including some new compositions. Some of the songs introduce cello, piano and dance.
The concert on Sunday features children. “Gugak: Playing with Children” will begin at 3 p.m. at Seoul Arts Center Concert Hall. According to press material, “Exposing children to gugak and letting them learn, therefore, is a beginning of a future where gugak stands at the center of Korean cultural arts and performances.”
The results of the preliminary screening for the gugak competition will released today. In order to encourage young people to participate, the contest has no restrictions on genre, composition or musician qualifications. The final competition will be Nov. 3, 7 p.m., at Sungkyunkwan University 600th Anniversary Memorial Hall. First prize is 10 million won ($8,700).
The third leg of the festival is “Hands-on Sori Madang,” an interactive music class being held in 10 cities in Korea. Incheon and Seoul have already hosted classes. Suwon will host classes tomorrow, Daejeon on Sunday, Busan on Oct. 23, Jeju on Oct. 24, Jeonju on Oct. 30 and Gwangju on Oct. 31. For those who can’t attend, there are CDs and DVD recordings.
The festival is only the beginning of efforts to pave a future for gugak. Mr. Hwang, chairman of the executive committee, says, “If we pause to consider it, none present can know what shape the new 21st-century gugak must take. As the 21st century folds into the next, none can say for certain which musical classics among numerous pieces will survive the cold sieve of history to enter the 22nd century.
“Nevertheless, we know for certain our wish for the births of many gugak songs capable of withstanding the trials of time will not be granted until many more people find their love for gugak.”

by Joe Yonghee

For more information, visit the Web site www.gugakfestival.or.kr (some English available). Admission to the concerts is free. Making advance reservations is recommended, but organizers will set up booths at concert venues to allow for limited ticketing at the door.
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