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02/13/2017 Interview > Alumni


Synthesizing Pansori With Modern Music

Pansori singer, Ko Young-yul (Korean Traditional Music, '16)


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Pansori is a type of Korean traditional music originating from the 17th century of the Joseon dynasty. Designated by the UN as a 'Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity', pansori is a unique music genre representing Korea, characterized by its sad melody and beautiful storytelling lyrics. However, nowadays, young Koreans are more exposed to modern music, with pansori often being misjudged as outdated and boring. Ko Young-yul (Korean Traditional Music, ‘16) is a pansori singer (a sorikkun), and is an individual who tries to resolve this problem and deliver pansori more compellingly to the general public.
Ko is a sorikkun who modernizes pansori by collaborating with other genres of music.

The enchanting charm of pansori

Ko pursues an innovative music style, merging pansori with contemporary music such as a piano or a guitar piece. Breaking from tradition, he is trying to make pansori music that can better satisfy the tastes of the younger generation. Ko is currently working with two fusion music bands, Dubeonjjae Dal (The Second Moon) and Eastern Most, and performed in several modern changgeuks, a genre of Korean traditional musical, such as Great Detective Hong Sullok of Korean Empire and The Romance of the Unhyeon Palace. He is gaining fame by making appearances on TV, in the program Gugak Hanmadang, singing a sarangga (love song) from Chunhyangjeon, a famous love story performed in pansori, with a piano accompaniment performed by himself.
Although Ko is a young professional in pansori, it has been about ten years since Ko started it. "I used to swim when I was young, and I aimed to become a professional in it. To increase my lung capacity, I began practicing pansori under the influence of my mother, who was learning it at that time. I came to be enthralled by the music as I practiced more and more,” said Ko.
Ko explains the unique features of pansori.
(Click on the link to listen to Ko's sarangga.

According to Ko, one of the most charming aspects of pansori is its vocalization. Pansori singers generally use the abdominal muscles to produce sound, which is why each note contains depth. Jireugi, a singing style that is similar to belting, is the most prominent vocalization method of pansori. Vibration is also different. Nongeum is a way of vibrating by moving the note itself with voice, not by controlling breathing like other Western singing techniques.
“A skilled sorikkun is not only equipped with the basics, such as mastering vocalization, but can also ‘draw’ the story and convey the feelings of the lyrics well. This is because lyrics are more important than melody in pansori." Ko’s strengths as a sorikkun are producing low-pitched tones and the knowledge of the concept of melody. “Because I play the piano, I understand chords well. I know what I'm doing when I'm working crossovers with different genres of music.”

Harmony of past and present, East and West

Ko’s music gives off a characteristic fragrance that morphs indigenous pansori into a delicate and refined style which makes him a recognized pansori musician to the public. This marked attribute of his music is the fruit of the musical concern Ko had in his high school years. “People went ‘wow’ when I tell them that I sing pansori but they don’t seem to know what is so ‘wowy' about it. I felt a great urge to make pansori music that my generation could understand,” Ko reminisced.
“It is not easy arranging pansori and merging it with diverse genres of music, such as Western jazz and various musical instruments, due to differences in melody and style,” Ko explained. As difficult as it is, though, the results are highly satisfactory and pleasing to the ear.

Ko is not only interested in writing and arranging songs, playing the piano, guitar, and the trumpet but also studies other genres of music. This is to broaden his knowledge on the musical styles of the East and the West, the past and the present.

“I want to become a leading sorikkun who can show Koreans and anyone around the world that pansori is an outstanding genre. I started pansori with this belief and will try everything to make Korean music take another leap forward in its development.”
Ko's dream is to convey pansori's greatness to ears of the general public.
(Photo courtesy of Ko)

Jang Soo-hyun
Photos by Kim Youn-soo
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