Today I went to a wedding ceremony and to a wanchang (완창, full-length) performance of pansori. It had been a while, in both cases. I have never been religious, but I’ve attended church services as a child, both catholic and protestant. I even played the male lead in a Christmas play one time—the first occasion in decades for my parents to attend church. The only catholic mass I ever saw here in Korea was at Christmas, almost four years ago, at Myeongdong Cathedral. With pansori it is, of course, different. I’ve seen several full-length performances this year (e.g. by my teacher 강승의), but I haven’t attended the Wanchang-Series at the National Theater in quite a while, were Song Jae-yeong (송재영) sung Heungbo-ga (흥보가). In fact, I was under the impression that the series might have been canceled, ironically, after its 30th anniversary in May. Glad to see it’s not over yet. Besides obvious differences in length (one hour + pictures + lunch vs. three hours with ten minutes intermission), venue (long, brutalist-style modern church affiliated with Rome vs. circular arena-style auditorium sponsored by my credit institute Kookmin Bank), and entrance fee (at least 50,000 KRW vs. 16,000 KRW, instead of 20,000, thanks to the Culture-Relay-Reduction) there were quite a few similar points:
- A gathering of “friends & family”: quite literally at the wedding and in an extended sense at the pansori performance. There, quite a lot of spectators seemed to be related in one way or another with the singer—his teacher Lee Il-ju (이일주, “godmother of the pansori-world in North Jeolla province, according to a local paper), his students, his colleagues, and his fans.
- The proactive role of the audience: raising, chanting, and singing in church, comments, chuimsae, and clapping-along at the National Theater. Everyone had a clear role, conventions to follow, and I felt a little bit awkward in both situations (more at church than at pansori, I have to admit) when unable to go along or not sure what to do in a given moment.
- A definitive change in the protagonists’ status: becoming husband and wife in the name of God after saying “Yes”, raising in ranks in the world of pansori after three ours of non-stop singing. Both events were rituals that influence the social relations, create new opportunities, and include certain responsibilities for those involved.
- Photo-session afterwards: It was only at the wedding that I posed for a group picture, as we were ushered out of the theatre soon after the pansori performance ended, but many others took their chance. The results serve as evidence for individual attendance and may become private souvenirs, but when published (online or in future promotional or memorial material) they establish a shared site of memories, a social link between those that attended the event and took a picture together. (See some group pictures with the singer on one attendee’s blog.)
These are processes of community-building and -reaffirmation that I will further explore in my PhD-dissertation on pansori (weddings will probably feature much less prominently). While I believe that there are also things that can be experienced in solitude during a pansori performance, I think that the most striking moments occur when we relate to others in one way or another—and that is most certainly true of weddings, too.
– 27 Sept. 2014 (土)
- 송재영, 동초제 흥부가 (완창 판소리), 고수: 조용복, 국립극장 KB국민은행청소년하늘극장, 2014년 09월 27일 (토), 오후 3~6시, E열 47번.
- Song Jae-yeong, Dongchoje Heungbu-ga (Complete Pansori), drummer: Jo Yong-bok, National Theater, KB Haneul Youth Theater, 2014–09–27 (Sat.), 3–6pm, row E, seat 47.