Unexpected Pansori Joy with Asiana

Kumho Asiana Tower (Jeongno)I didn’t expect very much when I arrived at the Kumho Asiana Main Tower on Jeongno. The airline obviously used the first “Day of Culture” (문화가 있는 날, from now on every last Wednesday of the month), an initiative by the Presidential Committe for Cultural Enrichment (문화융성위원회) and the Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism (문화체육관광부) to polish their image as a sponsort of art and culture.

Most attendants were employees of Asiana or other companies in the area. As one of the few foreigners, I was ushered to the front, despite my protest. Actually, I was more interested in the reactions of the corporate audience than the performance, which would be easier to see from the back. The event was targeted mostly at “salarymen” (and women, of course) on their way home (the pamphlet suggests: “바쁜 퇴근길, 음악공연과 함께 점시 여유를 즐겨보세요.”), an interesting setting for pansori, I had thought. Now I was really close to the stage, but the virtually hundreds of other spectators behind me were out sight.

The “Hammering Man” (by Jonathan Borofsky) as a backdrop was nice, but the first song—a ballad-style version of the pansori-classic “Ssukdaemeori” (쑥대머리), with a mellow ballad-style piano recording as back-up—made me wish I hadn’t come.

From then on, things could only get better. And they did! After the abominable start, pansori singer 정세연 regained my respect with a great performance of a part from Heungbo-ga. Here “Don-taryeong” (돈타령, “Money Song”) was a blast

Then another young singer, 서어진, who I knew from Taroo’s “Tradition Project”, came onto the stage and blew us away with his strong, loud, rough and raw voice. He sung the finale of Simcheong-ga and kind of subverted the situation by immediately sitting down, reducing his audience to a few people out of some hundred. People around me started to chat until he rose again and, maybe slightly overacting, lead the piece to its end.

Seo Eo-jin, Simcheong-ga

There is much to say about this one-hour show and I will do so in my dissertation… just to name a few highlights:

  • the classic “Sarang-ga” (“Love Song”) sung by the two—the final “kiss behind the fan” seems to have become a standard for this particularly popular scene;
  • the organisor of the event being asked on stage to sing “Sarang-ga” along with the performers and—being obviously well-prepared, maybe an amateur singer?—surprising everyone with a great performance;

organisor singing sarang-ga

  • the CEO of Asiana asking for a (second) encore by calling “재소리!” (roughly translated, “continue to sing!”) and was joined by many spectators;

CEO asking for encore

  • the final “Jindo Arirang”, likewise a classic encore, with verses from all three performers, that is, also from the drummer (!)—this piece is a real classic encore in pansori (even though it is not pansori) and although I have seen it many times (and tried to sing it myself on some occasions) it was quite moving, especially seeing the Asiana staff in the right block (obviously here “on duty”), singing and moving along.

the drummer singing a verse of jindo arirang

There is more to come (every last Wednesday, 6.15) and for anyone working in that area it might be a nice (and free) treat once in a while. It’s not always gugak, next time there will be a classical ensemble.

– 26 Feb. 2014 (水)

  • 금호아시아나 문화가 있는 날 로비음악회, 소리꾼: 소리꾼: 정세연, 서어진, 고수: 김평석, 금호아시아나 본관 1층, 2014년 2월 26일 (수), 오시 6.15 ~ 7.15, 무료입장.
  • Kumho Asiana Day of Culture Lobby Concert, pansori singers: Jeong Se-yeon and Seo Eo-jin, drummer: Kim Pyeong-seok, Kumho Asiana Tower, 1st floor, 2014-02-26 (Wed.), 6.15-7.15pm, free entrance.

About Jan Creutzenberg

Jan Creutzenberg, friend of theatre, music, and cinema, comments on his performative experiences in Seoul and elsewhere.
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