Singing Guardian of the Korean Gesang
Modest baritone, Jang Eun-hun (Department of Voice, ‘87)
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Gesang, a German word meaning ‘a musical structure of a lyrical poem that acquired music’, can be created with any poems due to its unconstrained property of composition. A host of western gesangs are well known to a large spectrum of audiences, such as The Poet’s Love by Robert Schumann or Schwanegesang (Song of a Swan) by Franz Schubert. Despite the grand number and the beauty of many Korean poems, the Korean gesangs are neither well-known nor composed often. To spread the beauty of the Korean Gesangs, Jang Eun-hun (Department of Voice, '87), an alumnus of Hanyang University, took the lead for its betterment.
Dynamic graph of life
As a little boy living in an isolated countryside, Jang was unaccustomed to what made Jang today- music. All of a sudden, an opportunity came to Jang, when he began going to church, which was the only place with a piano in Jang’s village. “I enjoyed singing and playing piano at church when I was young. Because my village was mountainous, I strolled around a park every day, singing or mumbling poems that I knew,” recalled Jang.
During his teenage years, he spent his days practicing and learning music in earnest at a mission school. When Jang applied to Hanyang University, he was selected as a scholarship student for the Department of Voice. “I never went to school festivals or parties, but I only practiced opera at school. Although I don’t regret it, I do reminisce the past and think that my youth should have been more reckless,” added Jang. However, his endless endeavors achieved results. After graduation, Jang was able to go to Italy to study music.
Even after his four years at university, Jang thought that he still had an unnatural vocalization method. So, at the home of Vivaldi, Venice, Jang hammered harder with music. When he returned to Korea, his efforts paid off. Jang gained recognition in the field and worked as an established, eminent lecturer and a musician. “In my late 30s, I decided to change the route of my life. It was deep in my heart that the Korean gesang is a beauty, and that I had to disseminate this allure out for others to realize it, too." Because Korean history embodies emotions of sorrow, fury, bliss, and cherish, Jang posits that Korean poems written on Western manuscript would bewitch the audience, if popularized.
Telling the world of the beauty in Korean Gesang
To uplift the status of Korean gesang, there were two main checklists on Jang's agenda- improving the vocalization and composition of Korean gesang's structure, and building art halls to perform it. However, it was a long road for Jang to build two art halls without any financial sponsors. “My work is rare in our community, and I did not want to outstand from the beginning which may backfire."
Jang started off by researching vocalization types that would suit the emotions and language of Korean poems. At last, he found that the Korean poems had stronger sense of emotions and soft pronunciation, which harmonize well with hymn-like melodies. Further, Jang also began to publish Korean gesang collections for children, so that gesangs can move out among all generations. Representative gesangs that Jang composed are Ouga (The Song of Five Friends) written by a poet called Yun Seon-do, and Nagunae (Traveler) by the poet Park Mok-wol.
In building the art hall process, Jang, his wife, and two children became laborers and architects. For about 15 years, Jang and his family worked hard to design and build the halls and as a result, two Korean gesang art halls were created- Naeum Art Hall in Seoul and Korean Gesang Memorial Hall in Suncheon. “Both art halls offer stages performed by nationally famous musicians free of charge. The difference between the two halls is that one in Seoul was made for the convenience of musicians distance-wise, and the one in Suncheon was built to harmonize with nature,” said Jang.
The Korean Gesang Memorial Hall in Suncheon, where Jang came from, is surrounded by mountains, Suncheonman Bay, and farms. “Surrounded by the beauty of nature, audiences can rest and immerse into Korean gesangs performed. I also decided to produce and host the International Korean Gesang Festival in the Suncheon Memorial Hall monthly, so that audiences may visit at any time they want for performances,” added Jang.
The Naeum Art Hall has a special meaning behind its title. Naeum is an acronym for ‘love for nation, love for music’ in Korean (Nara sarang, Eumak sarang). In every step he is taking, there is a will of Jang to cherish Korean art. According to Jang, he is still on the move.
▲ Nagunae (composed by Jang Eun-hun, lyrics by Park Mok-wol)
Kim Ju-hyun firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos by Moon Ha-na
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