Pansori Lyrics in English for Free!

Good news for all friends of pansori ! After five years of intensive work, an ambitious publication has been completed: a collection of the lyrics (saseol, 사설) of all five pansori pieces (batang, 바탕), each one differentiated into various versions, as sung by different schools of transmission (badi, 바디), plus a selection of short introductory songs by famous singers (danga, 단가), making a total of 21 volumes, some 200–300 pages each. Did I mention they include English translations?

It is the Korean-English Bilingual Multiple-Versions Collected Works (한영대역 바디별 전집)

Choe Tong-Hyon (최동현), renowned pansori scholar and currently professor at the Korean Language and Literature Department of Kunsan National University, has edited this great collection, together with others. Supported by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism (문화체육관광부) and Northern Jeolla Province (전라북도), as well as the Jeonju International Sori Festival (전주세계노리축제, an important venue for pansori and other vocal genres), it has been published by Shin-a (신아출판사).

The project, which sprung from the production of bilingual subtitles was made with the intended goal to enable the globalization of pansori  (판소리의 세계화). In the preface of the first volume of Simcheong-ga lyrics from 2008, five years after pansori was proclaimed a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO, Choe notes:

그 동안 판소리가 ‘인류 구전 무형 유산’으로 선정되었다고 자랑만 했지, 이 가치 있는 문화유산을 세계인과 함께 향유하기 위한 노력은 별로 하지 않았다.

Since then [2003], [we] have only been proud […], but mostly failed to make efforts in order to enjoy this valuable cultural heritage together with the [other] citizens of the world.

– Choe Tong-Hyon et al., Han-yeong Daeyeok Simcheong-ga Badi-byeol Jeonjip Vol. 1, Jeonju 2008: Shin-a, p. 5. (my transl.)

In an interview with Korea Herald (thanks to which I got to know about this), Choe further said: “I wanted to do something for the growing number of foreigners who are interested in pansori so that at least they are able to understand the meaning.”

Browsing through the translation, it seems pretty much word-by-word, using a dry, descriptive tone that simplifies obscure Korean sayings by rendering them in general terms. Consider the second aniri (아니리, spoken passage), the “Praying for a Child” (기자 치성),  from Kim Yeon-su’s version of Simcheong-ga, as sung by O Jeong-suk (김연수 바디, 오정숙 창):

이렇듯 지성으로 공대를 허건마는,
As stated above, Mrs. Gwak serves Mr. Sim well.

하루는 심봉사 우연히 설음이 발허여 신세자탄 허는 말이,
One day, however, he feels sad abruptly and laments his lot.  

“우리 연당사십에 슬하 일점혈육 없어
“We are in our 40’s now. Yet we don’t have a child.

선영 향화를 끊게 되니,
Nobody will hold a ritual for my ancestors.  

그 아니 원통허오?
Isn’t that regretable?

옛 글을 보드라도, 공자님 어머니도 이구산에 치성허여 공자님을 낳으셨다니, 
An old book says Confucius’s mother conceived Confucius after praying on a mountain.

마누라도 지성으로 공이나 좀 드려보시오.”
Honey, please pray to gods for a baby as she did.”

– Choe Tong-Hyon et al., Han-yeong Daeyeok Simcheong-ga Badi-byeol Jeonjip Vol. 1, Jeonju 2008: Shin-a, p. 5.

Obviously, “poetic” translations that aim at transmitting the multi-faceted emotional core of the original sources, while not necessarily following it in every word, will still be needed. Works like e.g. the excellent German translation of Chunhyang-ga, Simcheong-ga and Sugung-ga by Chung Kyo-chul and Matthias R. Entreß (Peperkorn 2005), aimed at a wider reading audience, need to be continued. (Interestingly, the translations by Chung and Entreß started as subtitles for pansori performances in Germany. They were later extended published in book form.)

Still, those projects might profit from the consistent translation and meticulous annotations of the Collected Works. The total number of footnotes sums up to over 2600 or eighty pages—almost a fourth of the whole volume—and the few lines quoted above contain twelve references!

Also, I am not quite sure if the way to the hearts of foreign audiences goes through the stories’ content—but rather through the intense experiences and fascinating acoustic epiphanies offered by great pansori singers.

All this nitpicking aside, the Collected Works are truely an immense ressource! Not only for anyone interested in the history of transmission, but also for all those who need reliable, quotable primary sources but do not have the space to host two feet of large-sized tomes. Actually I am not sure if the 21 volumes are for sale—they feature ISBNs, though—, but the good thing is:

Everyone can download the full set for free!

On the homepage of the Sori Festival there is a button on the main page, on the left, that says “Pansori PDF” (this is the direct link for the file of about 40 megabyte).

Another huge pro of this great offer is the fact that specific lines are very easily traceable in the digital version. All in all, a truely generous gift—a big thank you to all people involved is all I can say!

— 4 March 2012 (日)


About Jan Creutzenberg

Jan Creutzenberg, friend of theatre, music, and cinema, comments on his performative experiences in Seoul and elsewhere.
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4 Responses to Pansori Lyrics in English for Free!

  1. I’m very interested in having a copy of the translated batang, but when I went to the Sori Festival page I couldn’t find the button to download the PDF. Any suggestions on where I might find Prof Choe’s “Collected Works”? Thanks in advance!

  2. Dear Kristina, thanks for your comment!
    The Sori Festival’s site has been slightly redesigned, so the red download button I refer to can be found on the right now — you need to scroll a bit down, it’s below the poster with the headphones. However, you could also just use the direct link here, it still works!
    Best regards, Jan

  3. glenshak says:

    Hi Jan, thank you for the link to the Pansori lyrics. I recently wrote my memoir in which I dedicate one chapter about my experiences learning Pansori in Korea. I quoted one passage from the Collected Works in that chapter – the burning ship scene from Jeokbyeok-ga. Would you perchance know anything about copyrights in such cases? Since the PDF version of the book is offered for free, I assumed we could quote freely from the collection. Thank you for your help in advance.

    • Hi, sorry for the late reply — I could only check now the files.
      First of all, even though the PDFs are available for free download, that does _not_ mean that there are no restrictions on republishing parts of them. I couldn’t find any note on creative commons or the like, so you should get in touch with the publisher and ask for permission. (I couldn’t find any restatement of the copyright in the imprint, as is usually common, but that doesn’t mean that the publisher doesn’t hold it.)
      The situation might be different (or at least the copyright holders might be different) in case you’d use parts of the Korean original — I suppose that the singers who created the specific versions also hold the rights to the lyrics — but I guess you’d like to re-use the English translation (which was commissioned specifically for this publication, I assume).
      I checked and there are actually three organizations who co-published the pansori-lyrics-volumes, the South Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism (English page:, the Provincial Government of Jeollabuk-do (, and the Organizing Committee of the Jeonju Int. Sori Festival. I suppose that the Ministry would be the easiest way to get in touch with _someone_ in English (I couldn’t find an actual email address but there’s a form to file petitions). Or you’d write directly to the official email of the Sori Festival and hope that someone gets back to you (
      Hope that helps — best, Jan

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