Korean Drummers: on the beaten path

SamulNori is the Korean version of a four-piece band - with master drummers and a gong

Posted: Thursday, January 25, 2001

SamulNori marched down the aisle from the back of the auditorium, beating their drums and chanting in Korean, "Open your doors! When all of humankind enters, they shall bring with them endless joy!"

SamulNori began a two-hour performance in Dallas with a bang, and the four Korean drummers are likely to show the same energy in Juneau. On Saturday night, SamulNori brings the traditional rhythms, music and dance of Korea to the Juneau-Douglas High School auditorium stage.

Sybil Davis of the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council said SamulNori's tour is a cooperative effort between six Alaska communities. The group came highly recommended, but she was particularly impressed with a video she saw. Juneau musician Jocelyn Clark, who now lives in Seoul, South Korea, recently shared the stage with SamulNori leader Kim Duk Soo.

"She gave me a videotape of her performing," Davis said. "It was pretty amazing,

Kim Duk Soo, founded the group in 1978 and still serves as the bandleader and artistic director. Kim, 49, is the son of virtuoso drummer Kim Mun Hak. At the age of 7, Kim won a National Folk Music Contest and was given the opportunity to study with master drummers. He later studied music theory and learned to play a number of different traditional Korean instruments. Since SamulNori's inception in 1978, the group has performed in China, Japan, Europe, Australia and America, and produced 16 recordings.

The name SamulNori, literally meaning "To play (Samul) four things (Nori)," referring to the four traditional Korean percussive instruments. The most prominent is the changgo, or hourglass drum. This twosided drum provides accents to the meter set by the ching, a large iron gong. Used in China since ancient times, it served to sound warnings or call people together. It was introduced to Korea from China in 1352 AD.

The k'kwaenggwari is a smaller, brass gong. The player of this instrument sometimes takes the lead, producing rhythm and exchanging dialogue with the drums by signaling transitions in the music. The buk or puk is a barrel drum, and like the changgo, is made of hollowed out wood covered with two leather skins. It provides the bass sounds of the group.

SamulNori performs in the tradition of the Korean Namsadang. For hundreds of years wandering entertainers, known as Namsadang, roamed Korea visiting villages and cities. Like the gypsies of Central Europe, the Namsadang earned a livelihood by singing, dancing and acrobatic feats. Some of dances are traditional farmers' dances dating back to the third century. Other more acrobatic dances were introduced to Korea in the 1300s by Tartars of Northern Manchuria and Central Asia.

Upon announcing their arrival at the main gate of a village, the Namsadang would occupy the central courtyard for the next few days and nights, performing satirical mask dramas, puppet plays, acrobatic acts and shamanistic rites. After bidding the evil spirits to leave and good ghosts to come, the performers would invite all the villagers to gather, watch their acts and revel with them all night.

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