Gayageum master maintained tradition : Hwang Byung-ki, a performer, composer and teacher of music, dead at 82
The master of the traditional musical instrument did more than just play the gayageum well. He also composed gugak, or traditional Korean music, and collaborated with musical and artistic talents specialized in art, dance or other genres of music. Over the course of his career, he held a concert with cellist Han-na Chang, collaborated with soprano Yun In-suk and ballerina Kim Ji-young for those wanting to experience traditional music in new ways. He was also known for performing in more traditional settings like palaces or hanok, traditional Korean homes.
His first performance in the United States was in 1965 when he was 29. Held in Hawaii, the performance was recorded and later released as an album. He continued his tour of the United States afterwards, traveling to major cities on the west coast such as Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle. He also became friendly with famed media artist Nam June Paik after they performed on stage together in New York. In 1974, he embarked on his first tour of Europe, starting in the Netherlands. He traveled to eight cities including Berlin, Vienna, Venice, Geneva and Paris. He even performed in Pyongyang in 1990.
The gayageum was an accidental discovery for Hwang. In 1951, when he was in middle school, his friend suggested learning the instrument, and Hwang was drawn in as soon as he saw it and heard it in person. It was his hobby throughout his school years and he took classes at the National Gugak Center. While he was in high school, he won a national gugak competition.
In 1962, he began composing for traditional instruments. “Next to Chrysanthemum,” made to be played with other traditional instruments, such as geomungo, a string instrument, daegeum, a wind instrument, and janggu, a type of drum, was one of his early works, as well as “Sup,” a Korean word for forest, made for gayageum.
He gathered ideas for “Clock Tower” while he was battling cancer, and wrote the music soon after he was discharged from the hospital.
Out of his many pieces, “The Labyrinth” is one of the most well known. It was released in 1975, and included gayageum sounds that could be mistaken as the sound of people laughing or crying, reading news articles, or the sound of waves breaking by the beach. The most recent work of his is a folk song titled “Gwanghwamun,” which was released in September. It was his first piece in 16 years.
It has been reported that he never intended to pursue a career in music, although his talents were recognized through several competitions that he participated in when he was young. He diverged from the music scene after he quit his job at the university, but he later returned and took a job as a music professor at Ewha Womans University in 1974.
After he retired from Ewha Womans University, he taught a class at Yonsei University as well.
He also invested his time leading many different musical groups and organizations including the National Orchestra of Korea for six years, beginning in 2006.
His funeral will be held at the Asan Medical Center in Songpa District, southern Seoul.
BY LEE SUN-MIN [firstname.lastname@example.org]
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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