Classic Korean melodies in ‘golden oldies’ gagok concerts

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Classic Korean melodies in ‘golden oldies’ gagok concerts

It is the type of song your parents sometimes hum, or the kind they sing to karaoke after they sheepishly get up with the microphone their children forced upon them.
Whether you really wanted them to sing is another story, seldom over as early as you might wish.
But you must admit this. The music is nice to hear, its tempo pleasantly slow and the lyrics, like simple poetry, easy to follow.
It is Korean gagok, the country’s “golden oldies” from the early 20th century. It has a distinctive Western-style melody accompanied by a sijo, an unrhymed Korean poem, as the lyrics.
One of the famous gagok from earlier days is called “Bongsunga” (Garden Balsam) and was composed by Hong Nan-pa in 1920, during the Japanese occupation of Korea. He was one of the first composers to study abroad, then return to Korea, bringing Western music with him. As in other gagok made during that time, he used metaphors in his song to express his yearning for freedom.
However meaningful the background of these songs, the sad reality is that they are now considered out of date and rather boring, though the older generation still views the songs as classic and poised.
Gagok composers and singers are well aware of this harsh perception. Some say they miss the old days when gagok were typical of Korean songs, while others criticize contemporary music for being “too rowdy and too loud.”
Because of this, fans of the style decided to hold what they call the first “Public Gagok Concert” next week. Participants include Oh Hyun-myung and Ahn Hyung-il, former leaders of the National Opera of Korea in the 1960s.
Participating sopranos include Chae Li-sook and Lee Kim Young-mi, with mezzo-sopranos Kim Shin-ja, Chung Young-ja and Lee Ah-gyung. Tenors Kim Jin-won and Park Sung-wong, and baritones Park Soo-gil and Kim Myung-ji.
Famous composers, such as Choi Young-seob and Shin Gwi-bok, organized the concert, which will showcase some 200 original gagok.
“We got the courage to hold such a concert after seeing that many people still love listening to gagok,” said Jang Yun-gyeong, an opera singer and an organizer of the upcoming concert, dubbed “Songs from My Heart to You.”
Last year, Ms. Jang and fellow gagok singers informally gathered at one of their favorite art galleries, where they held a “Saloon Concert,” in which artists perform their repertoire in front of a friendly audience. They had not expected a large audience, Ms. Jang said, but hearing that a gagok performance was being staged, many people, ranging from their 30s to 60s, stopped by to cheer them.
“I saw people shedding tears in memory of their younger days and I saw them mouthing the words of the songs,” Ms. Jang said.

by Lee Min-a

The “Songs from My Heart to You” gagok concert will take place at the Kumho Art Hall every Thursday night from Sept. 8 until Nov. 10. Tickets are available from The concert hall can be reached from Gwanghwamun station on line No. 5, exit 2.
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