[Letters] A Strategic Guide for Korean Traditional Music

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[Letters] A Strategic Guide for Korean Traditional Music

About two years ago, I had the opportunity to watch Nanta. It left me with a curiosity and an interest in this international, yet Korean performance. Nanta contained Korean traditional Jangdan and some scenes with knife and drum dances. It was quite apparent that it was aimed at the international audience. This is indeed considered to be of the must-see shows for tourists in Korea. Nanta had great success here and now it has its own theater and travels the world to perform.

Interested in the global marketing of Korean culture, I volunteered at a culture festival in Yeouido where Korean traditional music performances took place. My hopes for the performances were quite high because the performers at the culture festival have been already nominated as human cultural assets and were the masters of their field. To my disappointment, the performance was done on a small stage secluded from most the people. And because the performance took place so randomly, the public was mostly indifferent about it. It was such disappointing to witness because I believed that these performers deserved better.

It was shortly after this when I realized most traditional Korean music performances happened at local festivals on the countryside. Korean traditional music is distant from the public, and is considered old and boring. The public was not interested in these traditional music performances, so they push it to the side where it can’t get respect.

Then I looked at Apple and realized that Korean traditional music needs a special marketing strategy in order to get the respect it deserves. In the 1980s and 1990s, when the first personal computers became popular, Apple was just a company that produced computers not in the mainstream. Because more than 90 percent of PC users had a Windows operating system, Apple computers couldn’t become popular. But Apple instead focused on satisfying the maniac market, rather than trying to stay mainstream, in order to catch public interest. Now Apple is very popular.

Korean traditional music should take a similar approach to get the public familiar. There are academic fields and maniacs that enjoy Korean traditional music. By gearing performances toward these types of people, the first noticeable change will be in how the performers are treated. These human cultural assets - the masters of their field - should not be performing at local events where the audience does not know how to appreciate the performance. The performers should not perform in front of a cold public with a meager goal of “introducing Korean traditional music.”

Just like how tangible cultural assets are displayed in museums for the public to appreciate, intangible ones should be the same. The origin of Korean traditional music has roots hundreds and thousands of years old. With only performances like Nanta - which has little of what is really Korean - currently loved by the public, who knows what will happen 50 years from now? Will we be able to appreciate modern forms of traditional music without knowing what traditional music really is? The only way to keep this from getting to us in the near future is to strategically market Korean traditional music and give it respect.


By Kim Hyun-ku,

Hanyoung Foreign Language High School student

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