The beauty of slow music, slow living
But sometimes I feel conflicted. The music in which I used to get completely absorbed sounds rather boring now. The 25-minute-long first movement of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto feels heavy and suffocating. The first movement of Piano Sonata No. 14 in C minor, the “Moonlight Sonata,” is more slow than tranquil. But as the piano gets faster in the second and third movements, I start to enjoy the beauty of it. Maybe it’s that my senses have dulled. Or maybe I’ve just become accustomed to a faster tempo.
Our ancestors had a similar sense of conflict about their music. King Jeongjo (1752-1800) complained about the parade music of his time, saying that during the reign of King Sejong (1397-1450), the first movement would begin from Sungnyemun (Namdaemun) and end at Unjongga (Jongno), the second movement would end near Hyejeonggyo (north of Gwanghwamun Post Office), and the third at Gwanghwamun. He wasn’t the only one to complain about the music. Heo Gyun (1569?1618), who lived before Jeongjo, griped that the music only lasted until the parade reached Sungnyemun, but that during the reign of King Seonjo (1552-1608), the music ended at Gwangtong Bridge. The tempo of the music became faster after the Japanese invasion of 1592.
Traditional music is extremely slow to our ear. Although the fastest rhythm of gagok (traditional vocal music for sijo poems) has survived to this day, we still find it boring and slow.
Dr. Kim Se-jong, who specializes in traditional music theory, has said that people in Confucian society banned fast music because it was thought that fast rhythms would make the breathing and personality rough.
But does fast music make the mind rough, or do rough thoughts make for fast music? I don’t know which comes first. It is obvious that the members of today’s society have become far too rough and impatient. Meanwhile, the rhythm of today’s music has become quite fast paced.
The last month of the year has arrived. Time is passing quickly, but we should not be in such a hurry. Whether it is traditional Korean music or Beethoven, I will always choose the slowest and most boring piece of music on my way home so as to appreciate the tranquil beauty of life.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Noh Jae-hyun