Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Broken VoicesPostcolonial Entanglements and the Preservation of Korea's Central Folksong Traditions$

Roald Maliangkay

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780824866655

Published to Hawaii Scholarship Online: May 2018

DOI: 10.21313/hawaii/9780824866655.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM HAWAII SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.hawaii.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Hawaii University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in HSO for personal use.date: 27 October 2021

Embodying Nostalgia

Embodying Nostalgia

Sŏdo Sori

(p.117) Chapter 4 Embodying Nostalgia
Broken Voices

Roald Maliangkay

University of Hawai'i Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines the genre of Sŏdo sori, including the tradition of Paebaengi kut, a partly-sung, partly-narrated performing art that was categorized as the former. It examines the development of the repertoire of the genre and analyses its musical characteristics. The life stories of the first holders of the genre detail the impact of the Japanese colonial period and the media on opportunities for employment and conditions of performance. Detailed analysis of the music, repertoire, and presentation of the tradition demonstrates that various changes were effected before and after it was appointed Important Intangible Cultural Property.

Keywords:   Sŏdo sori, Paebaengi kut, colonial, media, preservation, human treasure, Korea, Kugak, Korean War, nostalgia

Sŏdo sori (Folksongs from the Western Provinces), a broad genre of songs from the now North Korean P’yŏngan and Hwanghae provinces, were designated IICP no. 29 in 1968. Unlike Kyŏnggi minyo, which consist of only a subgenre of refined folksongs composed largely in Sino-Korean, Sŏdo sori include both chapka and colloquial, once vernacular folksongs composed for kisaeng. Because Sŏdo sori have been sung and recorded by professional singers in the capital, at least since the beginning of the colonial period, the tradition has become very much associated with Seoul: not only do many Sŏdo sori singers also perform songs from Kyŏnggi province, but they improvise in standard (South) Korean and they wear Seoul’s latest kugak fashion. Determining how Sŏdo sori have come to differ from how they originally sounded is nevertheless difficult. Apart from the fact that only few early recordings survive, entailing somewhat “sterilized” excerpts of poor sound quality, the genre is now predominantly studied and performed in Seoul by locals who are cut off from the environment that spurred its creation and early development. In this chapter I contend that the genre will not be broken by the impending loss of native representatives and place, but sustained instead by its ability to invoke nostalgia.

Keith Howard writes that after initiating the Galloping Horse Movement in 1957, North Korea developed a homogenized singing style based on Sŏdo sori: “Folksongs were collected, assembled, published and promoted after texts had been approved or revised . … In the DPRK, folksongs now sound very different. The musical structure relies on western diatonicism enhanced and encouraged by a piano accompaniment. The voice features constant metallo di voce shading a steady vibrato, much like western bel canto.1 Many songs that were considered incongruent with socialism, be it lyrically, musically, or both, have been left out of songbooks, including those with romantic or spiritual contents.2 Indeed, when the late O Pongnyŏ, a holder of Sŏdo sori, visited North Korea in (p.118) October 1989, she found that her traditional style of Sŏdo sori had lost its appeal to the North Korean people. According to O, there was hardly any sign of professional activities in the field of Sŏdo sori, and when she asked a local singer why all the songs appeared to have been modernized, he replied, “What if the masses don’t like it?”3 Singer Ch’oe Sŏngnyong (b. 1972), who lives and teaches Sŏdo sori in Yanji, the capital of Yanbian, which borders on North Korea, confirmed that in the North the tradition of Sŏdo sori had developed differently from that preserved in South Korea. Arguing that the southern tradition is more authentic—and thus, I surmise, of greater interest to potential students—he has regularly traveled to Korea to study with Pak Chunyŏng, an assistant teacher of the genre.4 It seems, therefore, that the preservation of the genre now depends on the singers who work and live in and around Seoul, where they are likely to be influenced by the regional Kyŏnggi style of singing and performing.

A degree of nostalgia will always drive those involved in the preservation of Korean folk performing arts, in particular those directly affected by the division of the peninsula. Songs are given meaning as much by their sound and music as by the conditions in which they are performed, and considering that chances of reunification appear slim, the conditions for nostalgia are positive in South Korea, where the government has successfully revitalized folk traditions over the last half-century. Sŏdo sori may have originally been associated with features of everyday life in the northwestern provinces, but a fair if declining number of Koreans born in the North now live south of the border, and they will appreciate the nostalgia the songs have come to evoke. Some may disagree with the genre’s aura of authenticity because the pronunciation and diction these days inevitably follows the South Korean vernacular, but the genre is not intended for them only. Due to their relatively plaintive tone and powerful but restrained performance, Sŏdo sori are a strong symbol of the country’s division. Equally, those born below the 38th parallel can easily relate to the feelings of loss and injustice that they stir and cherish them as their heritage.

The genre has long maintained a strong presence in the Korean music scene, but the area known as Sŏdo used to carry a negative connotation. Several musicologists point out that after Yi Sŏnggye founded the Chosŏn dynasty in 1392, it was believed that many of the traitors had come from the northwestern area, and people from this area were therefore prevented from becoming officials in the dynasty’s governing apparatus. These scholars contend that it is because of such discrimination that many songs from these provinces express feelings of grief and resentment.5 Indeed, most Sŏdo sori are both thematically and tonally melancholic and sorrowful, especially when compared to the quicker and relatively more light-hearted Kyŏnggi minyo. Two of the genre’s most characteristic songs, however, “Sushimga” and “Nanbongga,” express great passion, even sexual desire, for a loved one. They were presumably developed by the courtesans (p.119) and itinerant entertainers who transmitted the genre into the twentieth century. Rather than out of sympathy for the plight of unsuccessful upper-class public office hopefuls, the lower-class singers would have maintained the plaintive quality as a musical tradition to which their lives offered ample inspiration.

Songs from the P’yŏngan provinces are relatively restrained, while those from the Hwanghae provinces are a little more ironic and optimistic. The musical characteristics appear to contradict the local character of the people as described by the Confucian scholar Yi T’oegye (1501–1570). Describing the provinces’ different traits on his travels through Korea, he portrayed the people of P’yŏngan as loud, fierce, and aggressive, like a “brave tiger coming out of the forest” (maengho ch’ullim), and those of Hwanghae as slow, diligent, and suffering, like a “cow ploughing in a stony field” (sŏkchŏn kyŏngu).6 Singer Kim Chŏngyŏn has argued that although the songs from P’yŏngan province still follow Yi T’oegye’s characterization, some change must have occurred: “Like the saying ‘a brave tiger coming out of the forest,’ Sŏdo minyo have a melody that is even better than the natural conditions of the northwestern provinces, as it makes us feel the spirit of brave men, but there must be some historical reason for the fact that they have such a sad feel nowadays.”7

The best-known folksong from P’yŏngan province is “Sushimga” (Song of Sorrow), a melancholic, sorrowful yet passionate love song that is sung slowly without a set rhythm.8 Until the 1910s, many versions of the song existed. The American company Victor Talking Machine Co. produced the first recording of the song (Victor Records 13550) sometime between 1908 and 1910, but the record has been lost.9 When the song began to frequently appear on gramophone records, it was shortened and rearranged to follow con temporary developments in music while still enabling people to recognize the song’s core.10 Because lyric sheets did not appear until the mid 1920s,11 the first textual transcription of the song was not published until 1914, in the collection New and Old Chapka (Shin’gu chapka).12 Although numerous textual transcriptions of the song have since been passed on, it appears as though Yi Ch’angbae’s transcription has become the standard, because it has been widely republished for research and teaching.13 Much like “Arirang,” the song has a simple structure that allows it to be easily extended by adding on phrases: each new phrase is followed by one of a small set of standard chorus lines. One transcription by Han Kisŏp, for example, includes as many as eighty-one phrases.14 However, neither the great variety of versions available nor the rich use of symbols embedded change the theme of the song. The following is a translation of the first nine phrases of Yi Ch’angbae’s transcription:

  • Life is but an empty dream, in which our name means nothing.
  • When I think about it, time runs so fast; I so need to know what I should do.
  • (p.120) If I could visit my beloved in my dreams as often as I’d like, the stone road before her gate would turn to sand.
  • The more I long for her beautiful face, the less I know what to do.
  • Rivers and mountains don’t change, and they meet again in spring. But I have not heard from her since she left.
  • When I think about it, time runs so fast; I so need to know what I should do.
  • When the sun sets behind the western hills, the moon rises above the eastern peaks.
  • The more I long for her beautiful face, the less I know what to do.
  • While the willows on the riverside are a striped green, the peach blossoms of the hereafter are a spotted red.
  • When I think about it, time runs so fast; I so need to know what I should do.
  • When you board a big ship in that blue dress, then the autumn waves of Lake Tongjŏng will be [blue] like heaven.15
  • When I think about it, time runs so fast; I so need to know what I should do.
  • On a lonely mountain on an autumn night at sunset, the peonies and yellow chrysanthemums have all blossomed.
  • Let us not mourn the rosiness of our youthful cheeks and play as much as we want.
  • Oh heartless train, go without a sound. I am immediately reminded of my lover who left without a word.
  • Whether you’re male or female, once you leave this life, there’s no coming back.
  • The tears I cannot withhold become cloudy white rapids that clatter in the Taedong River. As I heave a sigh another peak is added on the peony mountains.
  • One day we will also become a gush of rain and rock back and forth.16

In performance, “Sushimga” is usually followed by a lyrically more elaborate and rhythmically faster and more complex version, called “Yŏkkŭm sushimga.” The term yŏkkŭm can be found in traditional kagok and shijo too, where it usually indicates a version of a song with more words. When the term is used for songs with fewer lyrics, it may, on the other hand, refer to a more complex rhythm. Because the melody of “Sushimga” was historically used at the end of many other famous Sŏdo sori—including the refined songs “Kongmyŏngga” (Song of Kongmyŏng), “Ch’ohan’ga” (Song of the Ch’o and Han), and “Chejŏn” (Making a Sacrifice)—the song is widely regarded as the basis of Sŏdo sori.17

Famous chapka from P’yŏngan province include “Yŏngbyŏn’ga” (Song of the Peaceful Border); the shich’ang (poem written in the style of traditional Chinese literature that is sung without a set rhythmic pattern) “Kwansanyungma” (The Kwan Mountain Where Horses’ Hoofs Clatter Loudly), a song about a man who in his later years decides to climb Agyang Pavilion; and the songsŏ piece “Ch’up’unggam pyŏlgok” (Special Song of the Feeling of the Autumn Breeze), (p.121) the music and lyrics of which are credited to No Saengwŏn and Kim Kwangju, respectively. Finally, a slow (kin) and fast (chajin) version of the song “Ari” are incorporated into the official repertoire of Sŏdo sori as well. Although the title of this song suggests a relation to the popular folksong “Arirang,” the word ari does not appear in the lyrics of the song—while it does in the refrain of “Ari-rang”, where it carries no particular meaning—and there seems to be no similarity between either the lyrics or the melody of the two songs.18

Well-known songs from Hwanghae province include the fast version of “Yŏmbul” (a Buddhist chant), and the slow and fast versions of “Nanbongga,” the first two syllables of which mean “difficult to meet” in Chinese. “Nanbongga” contains many nonsense phrases and is not easy to translate, but it includes several comic one-liners about sex and love. A relatively large number of folksongs from Hwanghae and Kyŏnggi are collectively called “Nanbongga,” and many songs from Hwanghae use the specific song’s melodic contour.19 Other popular songs are “Monggŭmp’o t’aryŏng” (Song of Monggŭm Port) and “San yŏmbul” (san = mountain). Despite its Buddhist connotation, the latter song lost most of the Buddhist characteristics in its lyrics, rhythm, and melody, presumably when it became a popular folksong. It is a relatively lively song that follows the rhythmic pattern of ŏtchungmori (12/4), a pattern more common in the southwestern (namdo) region.20

In general, Sŏdo sori are sung with a relatively slow, slightly nasal resonance in a low register. The first note of each new phrase is produced strongly, much like a wail. It is forced up from the abdomen, usually at a high pitch. The pitch then slides slowly down with a wide, somewhat hiccup-like vibrato, while the tempo decelerates and the volume is reduced. Accomplished singers jump between scales to pick very different pitches of the same note. All of this is conducive to an ornamented but somber, plaintive tone. Whereas many songs, including “Sushimga,” have a free rhythm, the most commonly used rhythmic patterns are todŭri (6/4), semach’i (9/8), and kutkŏri (12/8).21 Although the hourglass drum may be used, the songs are usually sung without accompaniment. Han Manyŏng has surmised that this may be because the songs often contain many irregular pauses, which instrumentalists would find difficult to follow.22

Performers of Sŏdo sori typically move very little. Much like Kyŏnggi minyo, they perform standing, but with more restraint. They sway gracefully, and the women sometimes use their arms to carry out a slow pellet drum–like movement, which amounts to a toned-down version of the “shoulder dance” (ŏkkae ch’um).23 But a performance of Sŏdo sori does not just visually resemble that of Kyŏnggi minyo. While singers of either genre use very similar modes,24 singers of Sŏdo sori also use rhythmic patterns from Kyŏnggi province for several songs. When singing “Monggŭmp’o t’aryŏng” or “Paekkot t’aryŏng” (Song of the Pear Blossom) from Hwanghae province, for example, they use the rather slow (p.122) chungmori (12/4) pattern, which is common throughout Korea, as well as the more distinctive chajin kutkŏri (12/8) pattern, a relatively fast and light rhythm typical of the Kyŏnggi minyo style.25 Musical influence is likely to have occurred in both directions. Yi Pohyŏng points out the similarities between “Sangyŏ sori” (Bier Carriers’ Song) from Hwanghae province and “Obongsan t’aryŏng” (Song of Mount Obong) from Kyŏnggi province. Since the latter appears to have been composed later, no earlier than the late nineteenth century, it was prob ably influenced by the northern song.26

Key Figures

Since the end of the Chosŏn dynasty, many professional singers of Sŏdo sori have come to reside in Seoul. It was there that they kept the tradition alive even after the Korean War, which separated them from the source of the songs, from the songs’ provincial home, and from the singers of old. Chang Sahun argues that chapka, the more refined songs, only became popular around the time of King Kojong’s reign (1863–1907). During this time, folk festivals became particularly popular, and many singers performing there were also invited to royal banquets, where they competed with other singers to win prizes.27 The events encouraged singers to broaden their repertoire and master the singing styles of several regions. Since regional repertoires were not yet set, singers often adapted songs to suit a particular style.28 Because Kyŏnggi minyo and Sŏdo sori became the most popular genres during the ensuing period of colonial rule, a great number of singers specialized in singing both.29 Examples are Ch’oe Chŏngshik (1886–1951), Pak Insŏp (1898–1951), Yu Kaedong, and Pak Ch’unjae (1881–1950),30 as well as Paek Moran (1900–1945), Yi Kyewŏl, and Yi Yusaek (1896–?).31 These singers had all been taught by Ch’oe Kyŏngshik (1876–1948), who had himself studied with Chang Kyech’un (1868–1946), a former student of Cho Kijun who had taught kagok and kasa at the Hansŏng training school for kisaeng in Seoul. Recordings of folksongs from either genre began to regularly appear in the 1920s. Singers such as Pak Ch’unjae and Kim Hongdo (1877–1948), who was famous for Kyŏnggi-style singing, were among the first recorded. Both singers appear on what is probably the first recording of the long (kin) versions of “Sushimga” and “Nanbongga” on Nipponophone 6001/2.32

In the early twentieth century, Pak Ch’unjae had perhaps the best reputation as a singer of both regional repertoires. He is nevertheless known more for having been the first professional performer of a genre of stand-up comedy known as chaedam.33 Apart from specializing in folksongs and stand-up comedy, Pak Ch’unjae had a special talent for the comic folktale Changdaejang t’aryŏng and (p.123) the folk play Palt’al (Foot masks). Born in Seoul, he studied shijo and chapka with Pak Ch’un’gyŏng and kasa with Cho Kijun. In 1900, he was given an official appointment as the Royal House’s Special Inspector for Music and Dance (Kungnaebu kamubyŏlgam), despite the fact that he was only twenty years old. Eventually he would teach chapka to the later holders of the genre of Sant’aryŏng, Yi Ch’angbae, Chŏng Tŭngman, and Kim Sunt’ae.34 This, again, demonstrates the close relationship between Sŏdo and Kyŏnggi songs.

In the 1940s, another important singer of Sŏdo sori and one to foster a line of female practitioners was Kim Milhwaju. Kim, who managed a kwŏnbŏn in Pyongyang, was the main teacher of several celebrated singers, including the first holder of Sŏdo sori, Chang Haksŏn (1905–1970), as well as Yi Chŏngnyŏl (1919–?) and Yi Pandohwa (1920–1973). Another noted singer from Pyongyang was Han Kyŏngshim. Han specialized in both Sŏdo sori and Sŏdo sant’aryŏng. She first took part in a regular collective performance at the Kŭmch’ŏn taejwa, a cinema in Pyongyang’s central Kyŏngnim-dong (renamed the March First Cinema after liberation), which included Chang Haksŏn, Mun Myŏngok, and Kim Ch’unhong. She then moved to Seoul, where in the late 1930s she appeared on several recordings put out by Regal and Columbia Records, performing songs such as “Sushimga,” “Pyŏngshin nanbongga” (pyŏngshin = irregular), and “Miryang arirang” (Arirang from Miryang). After liberation, she is reported to have taught singing at the Pyongyang Music and Dance College.35

Chang Haksŏn, Han’s former colleague, was appointed the first holder of Sŏdo sori on September 27, 1969. Chang was born Chang Hyŏn’gil in Pyongyang in 1905. She did not attend school and instead, from the age of ten, learned Sŏdo sori in what was known as a singing room (soribang), a place akin to a kip’ŭn sarang where future kisaeng and amateur singers could hone their skills.36 When she was fourteen, Chang joined Kim Milhwaju’s kwŏnbŏn to continue her study of folksongs, and in 1924 she won first prize at the P’alto myŏngch’ang taehoe (National Convention of Great Singers) for her performance of “Sushimga.”37 Some time later, she won first prize at a contest for famous singers (myŏngch’ang taehoe) sponsored by the newspaper Chosŏn ilbo. Despite her success at such contests, Yi Ch’angbae reports that Chang was becoming too weak to teach students in the 1960s, which suggests that her activities became limited to special occasions. As her condition deteriorated further, Yi Ch’angbae took over teaching her students until her death on September 6, 1970.38 Chang’s inability to teach did not preclude her nomination as holder of Sŏdo sori. Considering poor health may have stood in the way of Kyŏnggi minyo singer Kim Okshim becoming holder, Chang’s appointment was possibly related to her close relationship with Yi Ch’angbae, who was very influential both as a singer and music scholar. It may, however, also be related to the very large number of commercial recordings on which Chang appeared.

(p.124) Another former holder of Sŏdo sori, who was appointed to replace Chang Haksŏn, was Kim Chŏngyŏn. Kim was born in Pyongyang’s Sangsuri District on June 26, 1913. She was the fifth daughter and tenth child, but she was one of only five children in her family who reached adulthood. She excelled at learning and continued to attend school after her family moved to Kaesŏng when she was nine. Although her ancestors had been wealthy, her father had squandered the family fortunes, so her older sister Kim Chuksa, who shared her passion for folksongs and would later become a noted singer in her own right, suggested sending her to the local kwŏnbŏn. Despite a schoolteacher’s efforts to dissuade her parents and Kim Chŏngyŏn’s own resentment, her family was unable to support her staying home. Kim therefore moved to the kwŏnbŏn, where she studied kagok and kasa with Yi Sŭngch’ang, folk dance with Yi Changsan, and Sŏdo sori with another pupil of Hŏ Tŏksŏn, Kim Ch’ilsŏng, an old friend of her father. Because her dance teacher found that despite having talent she was a little too short to become a professional dancer, Kim decided to focus more on singing.

In 1930, Kim married a businessman at the age of seventeen, but the marriage was without passion. Although her husband did not support her continuing her career as an entertainer, he went bankrupt and fled to Manchuria two years into their marriage, which led Kim to return to performing. Soon after she had joined the Chosŏn kwŏnbŏn at the age of twenty-five, her husband returned, but in part because she was now the mainstay of her family she gave him the silent treatment for years. When he eventually turned to heavy drinking, Kim took him with her to Seoul and had him hospitalized. He eventually regained his health, but Kim’s career was taking off and he refused to accept her late-night performance schedules. He eventually left her, not long before he died in 1945, a few years after Kim was enlisted by the colonial government to perform for Japanese troops in Korea and Japan alongside other Korean performers.

After liberation, and inspired by the loss of her homeland, Kim made many efforts to preserve traditional arts, putting out recordings and publishing five books on song and dance. In her final years she also volunteered for the Youth Education Association (Ch’ŏngsonyŏn kyohwa yŏnhaphoe), visiting juvenile penitentiaries and reform schools. Kim’s nomination as a holder of Sŏdo sori on January 8, 1971, was owed partly to her many efforts toward education and the great concern she showed for maintaining Korea’s traditional culture. She died at her home in Ch’angjŏn-dong, in Seoul’s Map’o District, on February 26, 1987.39 Her main student, Yi Ch’unmok (b. 1953), replaced her as main teacher, but she was not appointed holder until more than a decade later, when she was forty-eight years old.40 As discussed in chapter 2, one of Kim’s former graduate students, Yi Munju, was eventually appointed holder of a folksong tradition from the northern regions, Sŏdo sŏnsori sant’aryŏng.

(p.125) Two Personal Stories

O Pongnyŏ

Among the “first-generation” holders of the genre, O Pongnyŏ and Yi Ŭn’gwan had the longest careers. O was born in Pyongyang’s Sangsuri District on December 17, 1913. She showed a talent for singing from a very early age, and whenever she came to the bank of the Taedong River in spring or summer, people going on boat rides would ask her to join them onboard to sing. The other children in her neighborhood would tell her not to go along, but O enjoyed the opportunities to practice singing in front of a wide range of audiences. She remembered vividly how the old people in her neighborhood would dance and play the hourglass drum while she sang: “Those boat rides along the Taedong River, during which people would tie up the boat at a small island … opposite Nŭlla-dong and eat gourd soup and play, were [like] a big party that made the whole town move up and down.”41

When O reached the age of sixteen, her family moved to Seoul, where at Kyŏnggi High School she became close friends with Chang Okchŏng. Chang’s parents taught folksongs in one of their house’s spare rooms, and because O often came to their house to play, she started to become interested in taking lessons herself. Because O’s own parents did not consider learning folksongs a worth-while pastime, she had to try very hard to persuade them.42 Within days after O began to take lessons, her teacher Chang Kŭmhwa recognized her talent and allowed her to continue her training free of charge. Having merely relied on her ability to copy the sound of other singers until then, O was now able to learn the foundations of vocal technique. In 1929, she went to study kasa and kagok with Chŏng Hakki, who was teaching at the Chosŏn kwŏnbŏn in Ta-dong, Seoul,43 but after one year she returned to her former teacher, Chang, to study Sŏdo sori.44

Although O eventually married and had four children, the Korean War brought her great hardship. In addition to losing three of her children, her husband was kidnapped and taken to North Korea. O had to give up singing in order to raise her only remaining son. She moved to Taegu, where for some fifteen years she sold quilts, fruit, and vegetables.45 In 1966, she decided to return to Seoul, where she first went to see her old companion from Pyongyang, Kim Chŏngyŏn. With Kim, she took part in a folk art festival called I Still Want to Sing Folksongs (Kŭjŏ soriga hago ship’ŏ), which marked her return to the folksong scene.46 In 1971, O Pongnyŏ was appointed holder of Sŏdo sori, alongside Kim Chŏngyŏn.

From the time she was appointed until her death on January 8, 2011, O was a very active instructor and performer. From the early 1970s onward, she was a regular instructor at Chung-Ang University, after Sŏdo sori became a major (p.126)

Embodying NostalgiaSŏdo Sori

Front cover of Seoul Records SRCD-1171 (1994; CD), O Pongnyŏ Sŏdo sori che-2-chip (O Pongnyŏ’s Folksongs from the Western Provinces, Volume 2).

(Courtesy of Tony Jung.)

there. She even taught special classes at Yongin University at the age of eighty-one. Among her first students at Chung-Ang University was Kim Kwangsuk (b. 1953), who in 1981 became O’s assistant teacher and was appointed holder in 2001. In 1991, O had eleven pupils, four special scholarship students and five graduates.47 O Pongnyŏ once commented that while Kim Kwangsuk was “solid” (tŭndŭnhago), Yu Chisuk, one of her special scholarship students, was “promising” (hŭimang-i issŏyo).48 Yu Chisuk (b. 1963), who like Kim Kwangsuk was born and raised in Seoul, began teaching at O’s Sŏdo sori hagwŏn (Institute for Folksongs from the Western Provinces) near Kwanghwamun in Seoul from the time of its opening, in January 1994. Since 1997 she has regularly performed at the National Gugak Center, while also lecturing at institutes such as the Gugak National High School and Ewha Woman’s University.49

Over a period of ten years, O Pongnyŏ taught Yu Chisuk approximately fifty songs, all without using musical notation, as she strongly believed in oral transmission: “The way you use your throat is naturally difficult, so you don’t find many people studying [Sŏdo sori]. It has to come out by putting pressure on the stomach and you have to use different singing techniques. But you cannot sing (p.127) old songs unless you learn them by rote.”50 Her belief lay partly in the fact that she considered Western musical notation to be inappropriate for Sŏdo sori.51 In 1978, she therefore published a book in which she transcribed songs using a modified system of notation. With this system, O attempted to indicate the exact current of her voice, using a graphic line that goes up and down a ten-bar scale. Apart from detailing the lyrics and the voice, the notation also showed how she used the hourglass drum.52 Yet despite O maintaining that oral transmission was the only way to learn how to sing, she did not believe that you could teach someone to become a good singer: “You don’t need a special teacher. If you have talent, then even if you haven’t been taught the quality of your voice will show when you hum.”53

Yi Ŭn’gwan

On October 15, 1984, at the fairly late age of sixty-seven, Yi Ŭn’gwan became holder of Sŏdo sori. Yi was born in the township of Ich’ŏn, in Ich’ŏn County, Kangwŏn province, on November 27, 1917. He grew up in a farming house hold as the oldest of seven siblings. From when he was very young, Yi had a good ear for songs and enjoyed singing folksongs at school or with his friends. He disliked heavy farming work, and whenever his father, Yi Yunha, made him help out with the farming chores, he did so reluctantly. After finishing the local public school, Yi went to Ch’ŏrwŏn High School and in the same year married a girl two years his senior named Nam Sangok.54 In his third year, at the age of nineteen (1937), he participated in a contest held at the local Ch’ŏrwŏn Theater and won first prize.55 In addition, Yi appeared on Seoul Radio, an experience that brought him instant fame back in his hometown. Because of his success, Yi decided to drop out of school and focus on becoming a professional singer. Since his voice was high pitched and soft by nature, he decided it was best to concentrate on Sŏdo sori. For that purpose, he went to Seoul, where he roamed around searching for a teacher until he heard about the possibility of studying with Yi Insu, a noted singer who trained kisaeng at the Hwangju kwŏnbon in Hwanghae province.

Yi Ŭn’gwan’s father could not afford the two-wŏn teaching fee, so Yi Insu allowed Yi Ŭn’gwan to help out in the house and to sleep on the poorly heated part of the floor. While commuting between Hwangju and Seoul, Yi studied with Yi Insu for a period of three to four months. Besides the one-man operetta Paebaengi kut, he studied the singing and performance style of Sŏdo sori, such as the slow and fast versions of “Yŏmbul”; “Ŏrang t’aryŏng” (Fishermen’s Song),56 from the northeastern Hamgyŏng province; and a shin minyo, “Chang t’aryŏng” (Field Song). Yi eventually incorporated all these songs into his Paebaengi kut.57 In addition, Yi took lessons in shijo with Ch’oe Kyŏngshik in Seoul. (p.128) And, to increase his chances of being employed by a record company, he also began studying with Yi Myŏnggil, a well-known member of the Wangshimni Troupe. From him, Yi Ŭn’gwan learned Kyŏnggi minyo such as “Ch’ŏngch’un’ga,” “Ch’angbu t’aryŏng,” and “Sabalga” (Rice Bowl Song).58

Having learned the basics of folksongs from both the Kyŏnggi and north-western provinces, Yi landed a job teaching folksongs to kisaeng at a kwŏnbŏn in Changyŏn, Hwanghae province. Aftera while, however, he returned to Seoul to study with Kim Pongŏp, who was famous for tightrope walking and a skilled player of the Korean fiddle. From May 1942 onward, Yi performed in a group called the Chosŏn kamudan (Korean Singing and Dancing Group), which was managed by the well-known singer Kim Tuch’il. In that group, Hyŏn Ch’ŏl took on the role of leader, and Yi Ch’angbae that of music director; the remaining singers included Pak Ch’ŏnbok, Yi Ch’unok, Ch’oe Kyŏngshik, Ch’oe Ilsong, Chŏng Tŭngman, and Ŏm T’aeyŏng. The group performed in many different places, including Pyongyang, Haeju, Shinŭiju, and Wŏnsan.59 Because the other members were well-established singers, Yi Ŭn’gwan was not given much opportunity to sing, but the experience of working with them must have been a good learning opportunity and likely added significantly to his credentials.

Yi Ŭn’gwan told me that Pak Ch’ŏnbok arranged a job for him at the Chosŏn kwŏnbŏn, where he then worked for some time. Pak also introduced him to the famous Shin Pulch’ul.60 After an audition, Shin asked Yi to perform in his group, which at that time included, besides Pak himself, the comedian Song Hongnan and the singer Kim Kyech’un. It appears that many of the members of this group were also part of the Korean Traditional Music Entertainment Company (Kugak yŏnyesa), including Yi Ŭn’gwan. Kim Kyech’un, with whom Yi ended up performing Paebaengi kut, was usually the opening act.61 Her version of Paebaengi kut was different from that of Yi in that it contained many sad, narrated parts, while Yi’s was much funnier overall. Yi wished to establish his own name, but because Kim was well known, he found it difficult to compete with her. During one of his performances, he therefore had a close friend clap his hands, stamp his feet, and shout “chal handa” (bravo) in order to win the approval of the audience, and as a result he was allowed to perform Paebaengi kut on his own at their next show in Taegu. Even so, the success that Yi enjoyed in Taegu did not immediately win over his colleagues. Yi remembers the disappointing reaction of Kim Kwangsan of the group’s management, who warned him not to overdo it.62

In the 1940s, Yi Ŭn’gwan started to appear frequently on the radio and his popularity led to his participation in many folksong recordings in the 1950s. It was through several recordings of this time that Yi became known as a specialist of Paebaengi kut. In addition, he performed at shows organized for the Japanese military, presumably for quite a while, but not voluntarily: “In those days, if you were young, in order to avoid being drafted you either had to follow [performing] (p.129) troupes and cooperate with the Japanese, or, if you didn’t want that, walk around hiding in the mountains.”63 By the end of the colonial period, when the Japanese started to enforce more and more regulations aimed at undermining Korean nationalism, both Shin’s group and the Korean Traditional Music Entertainment Company began to fall apart and Yi came to depend largely on invitations to sing at private occasions.64 Although both groups briefly resurfaced in the late 1940s, they disbanded following the outbreak of the Korean War.65

In May 1946, after leaving Shin’s group, Yi became a member of the folksong society of the Korean Traditional Music Institute (Taehan kugagwŏn). A few years later, approximately two months before the outbreak of the Korean War, the Bureau of Public Information (Kongboch’ŏ) drafted Yi to perform for servicemen stationed in rural areas. Yi Ŭn’gwan subsequently participated in several propaganda activities as part of a group that included a few other singers from the folksong society, namely Pak Ch’ŏnbok, Chang Sop’al and Yi Ŭnju.66 At the time, the only way to travel was by truck, and Yi spent most of his time in the back of pickups, traveling from village to village, preparing for his next performance. Because there was little time to rest and because the performers often had to sit out in the cold and rain, Yi eventually lost his voice. When war broke out, Yi took his family with him to a shack in Yŏngju-dong, in Pusan, where they lived a very desolate life for a while. It was not until 1952 that Yi was able to sing again.67

In 1956, Yi’s role as the charlatan in Yang Chunam’s film Paebaengi kut led him to become a house hold name throughout the country, a condition to which he ascribed his later popularity.68 A record released along with the film sold an astounding 60,000 copies. According to Yi, it is because of this film that Paebaengi kut is now well known throughout Korea.69 Later, Yi played both the narrator and a male shaman in Kim Ki’s 1973 movie Paebaengi.70 He also appeared in the movies A Henpecked Husband (Kongch’ŏga, 1958), alongside Chang Sop’al, Pak Hŭngsu, and Paek Kŭmnyŏ; Blossoms Fall, Water Flows (Nakhwa yusu, 1958), in which he sings “Paennorae” (Boat Song); and The Village Where the Cuckoo Calls (Tugyŏnsae unŭn maŭl, 1967), in which he sings “Sangyŏ sori.” In the 1960s and 1970s, Yi Ŭn’gwan began performing abroad, visiting Japan, the United States, and Vietnam. In the mid-1990s, he told me that he was asked to perform in Japan as part of a celebration of Korea’s independence almost every year. Despite all his travel, he remained a prolific recording artist and appeared on more than thirty recordings.71

In March 1970, Yi began to run his own institute, the Yi Ŭn’gwan Institute of Folk Artistry (Yi Ŭn’gwan minsok yesul hagwŏn). It was first located on the third floor of the Seun Sangga business block in Changsa-dong, in Seoul’s central Chongno District, but it moved to Sŏdaemun District in 2012.72 A widower (p.130) for many years, Yi lived alone in Hwanghak-tong, in downtown Seoul, but spent much of his time in his office. The sorrow of losing touch with his relatives in his hometown in the north weighed heavily on him,73 and it would have been compounded by the growing unlikelihood of reunification. In part due to his very old age, Yi regained considerable popularity within the Korean folk music scene. In 1993, he had six special scholarship students, two of whom were women, and one male assistant teacher, Kim Wansu (b. 1945).74 They comprised his first two students of Paebaengi kut, the twins Kim Kyŏngnyŏl and Kim Kyŏngsŏn, as well as Pak Chunyŏng, Ch’oe Pyŏngmun, Pak Kiok, and Kim Kyŏngbae, who had moved to Yi’s institute following the death of his mentor Kim Chŏngyŏn in 1987.75 Back in 1997, Yi felt the talent of his students left much to be desired: “I have students studying with me, appointed by the CPMO [Cultural Properties Management Office]. They get scholarship money to learn it. The country provides them with the money to learn traditional Korean songs, but there is no one of real merit among them. If I live for ten more years, there has to be one that will be good, or even five years, but I don’t know if I can live that long.”76

Embodying NostalgiaSŏdo Sori

Yi Ŭn’gwan teaching at his institute in Sŏdaemun District on September 11, 2012.

(p.131) When I visited Yi again in 2001 and asked him about the transmission of Paebaengi kut, he recommended that I go see Pak Chunyŏng (b. 1957), who had become his assistant teacher in February 1996. Pak currently runs the Pak Chunyŏng Traditional Music Institute (Pak Chunyŏng kugagwŏn; named Institute for the Preservation of Folksongs from the Western Provinces [Sŏdo sori pojonhoe] until 2014) in Incheon’s Pup’yŏng District. He told me that when he first approached Yi to enquire about the possibility of becoming his student, Yi asked him to sing for him first. He then just looked at him intently for a moment and said, “Hmm, you do have the face for it” (Mm, ŏlgur-ŭn twaenne). Before taking him to his institute for further auditioning, he explained to Pak that the radio era was almost behind them, and because TV was now important, they needed to focus on visual performances.77 Pak chose to specialize in singing Paebaengi kut, but despite his efforts, it was his junior Kim Kyŏngbae (b. 1959) who on March 14, 2013, approximately a year before Yi’s death on March 12, 2014, was selected as holder.

Paebaengi kut

All holders of Sŏdo sori have so far mastered a wide range of the genre’s most popular songs, but Yi Ŭn’gwan’s special skill in performing the operetta Paebaengi kut was officially recognized at the time of his appointment in 1984. Paebaengi kut constitutes a dramatic performance by one performer and an accompanying musician. Although the story pokes fun at a senior government minister and his wife, as well as at monks and shamans generally, it equally elicits empathy for the couple by emphasizing their emotions by way of both the length of specific sequences and their performance. As with p’ansori, the performance space used is small, not exceeding a few square meters.78 Despite the spatial confines, the piece includes many different scenes and characters. Paebaengi kut is made up of approximately fifty sequences that are either narrated (as aniri) or sung (as ch’ang). Most of the sung parts follow the melody of “Sushimga.” Occasionally, however, Yi also uses the style of “Kangwŏndo Arirang” in the menari mode.79 Some songs in the operetta are introduced by name, such as “Tungdung t’aryŏng” (Boom Boom Song) and “P’yŏngyang mudang sori” (Song of the Shaman from Pyongyang).80

The length and selection of the operetta’s narrated and sung parts vary depending on the occasion.81 Like other Sŏdo sori, the sung parts convey a sense of melancholy, and consist of a number of high-pitched exclamations that slide down in a wide tremolo while the tempo slows. The rhythmic patterns used include semach’i (9/8) and kutkŏri (12/8), both typical of the northwestern style, as well as the common chungmori (12/4) and ŏnmori (10/8). On a few occasions (p.132) the songs are cut short when the character Yi acts out and is overcome by emotion. Although Yi’s accompanying musician mostly plays the hourglass drum, he may switch to other instruments, such as the p’iri (bamboo oboe), the taegŭm (large bamboo horizontal flute), the para (cymbal), or the haegŭm (Korean fiddle).82 As in the case of regular folksongs, more musicians may be employed for a recording.83 On three recordings from the 1950s,84 for example, Yi performed the piece to the accompaniment of either a Western-style or a traditional Korean orchestra.

Over the years, Yi has performed in a hanbok, sometimes with a traditional tall horse hair hat (kat). He often holds a large and brightly colored shaman fan,85 which he uses to visually support his gestures (ch’uimsae) throughout the performance. Under neath his costume he usually wears traditional silk shoes, but he occasionally opts for the folk culture-related traditional straw sandals.86 The use of the sandals, which connote the peasantry, is somewhat peculiar, considering that Yi does not represent farmers or farming at any point in his performance of Paebaengi kut, nor when he merely sings folksongs. Yi is likely to have worn sandals when he was young, and may have felt encouraged to use them again when they began to be widely introduced in the folk music scene following the Minjung-supported drive to revalorize farming culture in the 1980s.

The protagonist of the story is a wealthy minister named Ch’oe, who along with his wife and two close friends lives in the capital, Seoul.87 Yi Ŭn’gwan’s present version reveals little about Ch’oe’s past (see the appendix for a translation of a full performance from 1980), but based on Yi’s earlier performances the late musicologist Chang Sahun elaborated on the minister’s identity, saying that he lives at the bottom of Mount T’aebaek in north Kyŏngsang province. Having become wealthy through his work as a shaman, the minister decides to take the state examination, which he passes with the highest score in the capital. He is appointed a royal archivist and is given the opportunity to become a government inspector for Kyŏngsang province. Yet four days after he arrives at his new office, his shaman background is discovered. This makes it difficult for Ch’oe to focus on his work, and he therefore decides to move to Hwanghae province, taking his wife and parents with him. It is there that he meets the retired ministers Kim and Yi, with whom he forges strong friendships.88 Two other versions appear to corroborate this account. One is the first part of a recording of the operetta by Yu Inman, of a performance by an unknown singer, entitled Mudang kwahak kŭpche (The shaman passes the civil service examination). Another is that by Yang Soun, who used to perform an introduction called Mudang satto (The Shaman-Governor).89

According to the 1980 version, the Ch’oe, Kim, and Yi house holds are all childless and the three wives decide to pray for a child at a large temple on a (p.133) noted mountain over a period of one hundred days. Only two older transcriptions of Yi Ŭn’gwan’s version mention that the three wives decide to pray at a large temple on a noted mountain for that particular length of time.90 In a version of Paebaengi kut by Kim Chuho, on the other hand, the decision to pray at a temple comes from the idea to follow the actions of Confucius’s mother, who equally prayed at a temple prior to giving birth.91 Im Tonggwŏn commented that in Korean folklore one can find many examples of people praying for a child at a temple, such as in the p’ansori tale Ch’unhyangga.92 One can also find the idea in Changdaejang t’aryŏng, a comic folktale from the Seoul area, which, like Paebaengi kut, has many sung parts and may also be loosely related to p’ansori.93

The wives of Kim and Yi subsequently have a dream in which moons fall from the sky into their laps. Because the Korean word for moon (tal) is similar to that for daughter (ttal), the moons are a positive omen. Ch’oe’s wife, on the other hand, dreams of an old white-haired man who descends from the sky to give her a pair of decorative false hairpieces (talbi), which she then twists and folds away tightly in her skirt’s pleats. Immediately after the dream, the three women turn out to be pregnant and, soon after, they all give birth to girls. Since her mother dreams of receiving three moons, the character Yi’s daughter is named Sewŏlle (sewŏl = three moons), and because her mother dreams of receiving four moons, Kim’s daughter is named Newŏlle (newŏl = four moons)—the ending-(l)e derives from ae (child). Because sewŏra newŏra is also a colloquial expression that indicates the idle wasting of time, the girls’ names are somewhat ironic. The shaman’s daughter, meanwhile, is named Paebaengi.

Chang Sahun argues that the name Paebaengi must come from the word “hundred” (paek), which, he conjectures, the shaman and his wife would have chosen to honor the successful outcome of the one hundred days of prayer.94 But Yi Ŭn’gwan’s version explains the origin of the name this way: “because the wife of minister Ch’oe said she gave birth after dreaming that a white-haired old man gave her a pair of false hairpieces, which she had then folded tightly [= paebae] into the plaits of her dress, it was called Paebaengi.”95 An almost identical description appears in a transcription of a performance by Kim Yonghun (1917–1992).96 In a version by singer Kim Sŏngmin, on the other hand, it is a pair of pigeons that come flying down into the woman’s lap.97 In still another variation, Detlef Nolden has found a North Korean transcription of the operetta in which the family’s surname is Pae, and Pangi98 is the name of a lovely female servant in whose honor the parents name their child, Pae Pangi.99

The three daughters all grow up quickly, and both Sewŏlle and Newŏlle move out to their in-laws’ houses, where they give birth to their own children. When Paebaengi is eighteen years old, she falls in love with a Buddhist monk who comes to her house to beg for money.100 The monk, who has equally fallen (p.134) in love with Paebaengi, cannot stop thinking about her and falls ill from love sickness (sangsapyŏng). To help him, his fellow monks hide him inside a deep wicker basket, which they carry to the door of Paebaengi’s house. They tell her father that the basket contains flour, which they plan to use for a Buddhist ceremony the next day. Saying that it is too late for them to return home, they ask him if they can store the basket in the most sacred place of the house for the night. Trusting the monks’ good intentions, the father cannot refuse and allows them to place the basket in Paebaengi’s room.

The monk and Paebaengi are therefore able to secretly spend some time together, but aftera while, the monk has to return home. According to Pak Chunyŏng, the monk feels trapped when Paebaengi gets too serious about their affair.101 He promises to return for her in several months’ time, but when he fails to come, Paebaengi cannot overcome her sadness and falls ill. The situation worsens and one day, when her father has gone to town to get medicine for her, she suddenly dies. The parents are overcome with grief. In order to placate the spirit of the young girl, the shaman and his wife call upon noted shamans from all provinces and have them perform rituals. They promise that the shaman who allows them to once more speak to their daughter will receive all their possessions. A vagrant learns about the circumstances surrounding Paebaengi’s death from an old lady who serves him at a small tavern. Later recordings of Yi Ŭn’gwan’s Paebaengi kut suggest that the old lady learned about the circumstances from Paebaengi’s father when he drank himself into a stupor on his way home to his dying daughter, while two older versions of Yi’s performance tell us that the old lady used to be Paebaengi’s nanny.102

Because the vagrant is broke and unable to pay his tavern bill, he pledges to fake a ritual and win the reward in order to pay back the old lady. He goes to the parents’ house and manages to convince them that Paebaengi’s spirit has taken possession of his body, but the other shamans are not impressed. They decide to test him by making him pick out Paebaengi’s father’s horse hair hat from among others. When the shaman impersonator begins to tear up every hat that is not that of Paebaengi’s father, carefully observing the shamans’ reactions, they soon all jump in to retrieve their hats leaving little doubt that the exceptionally large hat remaining is that of the father. The charlatan thus earns his reward and returns to the tavern to pay back the old lady.103

The birth of the three daughters, the love affair between Paebaengi and the monk, and the scenes in which the shaman’s authenticity is tested are strongly reminiscent of the fertility ritual Sejon kut (Ritual of Lord Buddha). In this ritual, a girl gives birth to three sons after spending a night in the same room with a visiting monk. The boys grow up the objects of much ridicule and set out to find their father, who then carries out a number of tests to determine if they are related. After the sons and their mother have turned into deities, the ritual (p.135) moves to a second act in which two monks unsuccessfully pretend to be shamans in order to cheat villagers into giving them money.104 It is impossible to determine the age of Sejonkut, but it is likely much older than Paebaengi kut and may therefore have served as a source of inspiration for the latter. Sŏng Kyŏngnin and Yi Pohyŏng report that there is a theory that Paebaengi kut developed out of the “Tongi kimil” song, which used to be performed during shaman rituals.105 Although the meaning of “Tongi kimil” is unknown, the title suggests that a water jar (tongi) was used as a drum during singing. A shamanistic origin is also suggested by the passage dealing with the love affair between Paebaengi and the Buddhist monk, because it bears a resemblance to the narrative muga (shaman song) named “Tanggŭm aegi,” after its protagonist.106

Theories that link Paebaengi kut to shamanism leave open the possibility that the piece is related to p’ansori, which, according to some scholars, has strong shamanistic roots as well.107 Because of the many similarities between p’ansori and Paebaengi kut, Kim Tonguk, Sŏng Kyŏngnin, and Yi Pohyŏng regard the latter as a northern equivalent of the southern p’ansori, which, unlike Paebaengi kut, is listed as a separate NICP.108 Yi Pohyŏng considers that, like p’ansori, Paebaengi kut should be designated separately because it is not a folksong nor a genre of folksongs, and the frequent use of Sŏdo sori clearly distinguishes the operetta from the p’ansori genre: “In the southern regions, in the past, p’ansori singers couldn’t sing folksongs because they were sung by the common people. Professional singers all thought like that and didn’t sing folksongs, but in the western provinces there was no such idea. Because there wasn’t such a concept, they also sang folksongs.”109 Yi believes that Paebaengi kut was created by a type of itinerant singer, kwangdae, in the north of the country. He believes that these singers may have already turned Paebaengi kut into the performance that Kim Kwanjun first became known for: “In the south they made the epic drama song, p’ansori, and kwangdae in the northwest created Paebaengi kut. There they didn’t only have Paebaengi kut, but singers from the south performed there too, so I think they too would have wanted to create something of their own.”110

P’ansori and Paebaengi kut nevertheless share similarities. Both are performed by one male or female singer and an accompanying musician. The latter usually indicates the rhythm and highlights specific phrases, playing the puk while exclaiming short words of encouragement in reaction to the singer’s words. The performances constitute partly sung, partly narrated stories, performed with significant changes in mood and concomitant dynamics depending on the story line. In a commercial recording of Yi Ŭn’gwan from 1979, for example, one at first hears the narrated parts (aniri) performed in an energetic and occasionally ironic or tragic manner; but the performance as a whole, including both the sung and spoken parts, turns into a rather expressive tragedy (p.136) as soon as the story reaches the point where Paebaengi is about to die (see Hyundai Records, Chŏngt’ong paebaengi kut).111 P’ansori and Paebaengi kut both contain several linguistic styles. While some passages are taken from Chinese sources that only the upper classes would have understood in the past, others may be Buddhist,112 or uncomplicated and explicit, reflecting the sentiments of the illiterate masses. The mix of linguistic styles supports the theory that Paebaengi kut was, like p’ansori, performed by itinerant travelers for whom, out of commercial necessity, it was necessary to be entertaining for as wide a range of audiences as possible.

There are nevertheless considerable differences between p’ansori and Paebaengi kut, including that of duration. While a p’ansori piece may take up to six hours and is therefore seldom performed in its entirety, a full performance of Paebaengi kut lasts under an hour. Because the rhythm of many Sŏdo sori is free, the role of the accompanying musician tends to be less prominent in Paebaengi kut. The vocal style is different too, as p’ansori singers excel in picking notes from low and high octaves within phrases, while Yi Ŭn’gwan’s performance of Paebaengi kut, for example, moves across octaves more smoothly. The language used throughout the operetta is on the whole easier to comprehend than that of a p’ansori piece. Cho Tongil argues that p’ansori’s relative complexity in terms of both lyrics and vocal technique comes from the need for singers to constantly embellish their art.113 It is, on the other hand, also possible that the relative simplicity of the words of Paebaengi kut are a recent development. Because the Korean people have long been less familiar with the story of Paebaengi kut than with p’ansori stories, this may have led singers to filter out the relatively more difficult passages from the operetta over time. Yi Ch’angbae claims, for example, that when in the 1930s Yi Ŭn’gwan joined an entertainment troupe led by Shin Pulch’ul, Shin asked Yi to make changes to Paebaengi kut in order to maximize its commercial appeal.114

P’ansori and Paebaengi kut differ in one more important aspect: the nature of the protagonist. In p’ansori, the main character is usually a hero, an embodiment of the good, such as the pious daughter Shimch’ŏng who sacrifices herself for her father in “Shimch’ŏngga” (Song of Shimch’ŏng). Characters like her may display traits such as wit and audacity, but they remain examples of filial piety and loyalty, partly in order not to offend the elite. Even so, this does not imply that p’ansori are incapable of ridiculing moral standards set by the elite; indeed, singers were the only ones among the lowborn whose out spoken criticism of the elite was tolerated.115 In Paebaengi kut, on the other hand, the main character is a no-good charlatan. Although he honors the commitment he makes to the old lady in the tavern, he has no qualms about deceiving and upsetting people in order to achieve his goals.

(p.137) Because the acts of deceit it portrays are clearly cynical and at times undeniably humorous, Yi Ŭn’gwan’s Paebaengi kut is best considered a form of picaresque folk drama. It illustrates the possible benefits of breaking moral strictures and ridicules the establishment. Although it develops empathy for the parents, it tells us more about the charlatan’s motivations than about Paebaengi or her parents. As is common in picaresque stories, wit is an important factor, as in the scenes describing the love between Paebaengi and the monk: the monks show their cunning by tricking Paebaengi’s parents into allowing a basket concealing their lovesick companion to be placed in their virgin daughter’s room. Wit also plays an important role in the final scenes, when the shaman imposter has to improvise in order to win over his scrutinizing audience. The fact that the piece ends with a passage highlighting the charlatan’s triumph shows how important the charlatan’s view on life is to the story of Paebaengi kut as a whole.

The strong picaresque element, as well as the story line that sees a witty man pretending to be a shaman in order to fool a child’s mourning parents, supports the notion, first posited by Kim Tonguk, that Paebaengi kut derives from the folktale about a young man named Tongyun, which is included in Yu Mongin’s (1559–1623) compendium of tales called Ŏu’s Historical Tales (Ŏu yadam).116 Yet another theory is that Paebaengi kut was created by An Ch’angho, a prominent member of the independence movement, in 1907. According to this theory, An wrote a scene that criticized superstitious beliefs in spirits, for the famous singer Kim Kwanjun, who then used this as the basis for Paebaengi kut.117 There is, however, no evidence to support this, and because An’s other compositions follow entirely different lyrical and musical styles, it is difficult to support. What is more, on a few occasions in the version that survives today, the currency “yang” is mentioned (see Appendix). It is possible that it was included much later, to support the ancient setting portrayed, but the currency came into existence only in 1892 and went out of use again in 1902, no more than five years before An would have created the piece, at which point the defunct coin would not have been associated with a faraway past. The true origin of the narrative and the performing style of Paebaengi kut will likely remain as elusive as the charlatan in the story.

Paebaengi kut’s Lineages and Interpretations

In contrast to the origin of Paebaengi kut, tracing the pedigree of its performers is relatively straightforward. Kim Kwanjun, one of Hŏ Tŏksŏn’s pupils who belonged to the professional folksong scene from Ryonggang County in south P’yŏngan province, is believed to have been the first to perform the operetta on (p.138) stage. Yi Ch’angbae argues that after Kim adjusted the story of Paebaengi kut and began to sing “appropriate lyrics,” he passed on his art to his son, Kim Chongjo, who in turn passed it on to well-known singers such as Ch’oe Sun’gyŏng (1902–?) and Yi Insu.118 Ch’oe Sun’gyŏng would become widely recognized for the piece due to a set of 1934 recordings for Chieron (200–202) and another for Okeh (1631A/B) in 1936.119 The only other gramophone records of the piece produced during the colonial period were recordings by Kim Chongjo and Kim Chuho. Yi Ŭn’gwan once noted that although Ch’oe Sun’gyŏng and Kim Chongjo were quite successful, he himself “was funnier, moved better, had a more powerful voice and could sing very high for a man.”120

Yi Insu was born in Ryonggang County, in south P’yŏngan province. Having made a name for himself in the region, he moved to Hwangju City, Hwanghae province, in the 1930s to take up a teaching position at the local kwŏnbŏn. He taught approximately fifteen people, most of whom were kisaeng, and Yi Ŭn’gwan. Two other performers of Paebaengi kut active in Hwanghae province, Chang Yangsŏn and Mun Ch’anggyu, who was from T’aet’an near Haeju City, passed on their art to the female singer Yang Soun.121 Yang Soun, who in 1967 became holder of IICP no. 17, Pongsan t’alch’um (Pongsan Mask Dance), was born in the village of Kuyang, in Hwanghae province’s Chaeryŏng County, on July 12, 1924. When she was twelve years old, she took lessons in a variety of folk dances and songs, including mask dances, Buddhist dance, and Sŏdo sori. She also studied Paebaengi kut with Chang and Mun for a period of one or two years beginning in 1937.122 In 1974 the Cultural Properties Research Institute made a recording of her performing Paebaengi kut (MICD-1847/8), but it was unavailable to the public until it was reissued on CD in 2000.123 Kim Kyech’un, another female performer of Paebaengi kut, alongside whom Yi Ŭn’gwan once performed, dis appeared from the scene in the late 1930s. According to the latter, Kim was born in Hwanghae province in 1913 and died of alcohol abuse in Yŏngdŭngp’o in the southwest of Seoul shortly after the Pacific War.124

When the Korean War broke out, many singers of Paebaengi kut found themselves in disputed territory and were either killed or forced to flee far from their native villages.125 Besides Yi Ŭn’gwan, several other noted singers of the piece nevertheless remained active in South Korea after the Korean War.126 Among them was Kim Yŏngt’aek, but he admitted to having only studied the piece for a short while; in 1982 he was officially recognized as an accompanying musician for another folk performing art, the Ŭnyul mask dance from Hwanghae province.127 Another singer of Paebaengi kut was Ch’oe Sun’gyŏng’s pupil Paek Shinhaeng. Paek was known for both “Sushimga” and Paebaengi kut, and he appeared on a few radio shows and recordings in the 1950s. He also won the Award for Merit (Kongnosang) for a performance of Paebaengi kut at the National Folk Arts Contest on October 14, 1963, but there is no record of him performing (p.139) after that. Yi Ch’angbae reports that Paek never committed himself solely to singing and eventually made a lot of money in the mining industry.128

Three other singers of Paebaengi kut active after liberation are Yi Mansŏk, Kim Yonghun, and Kim Sŏngmin. Yi Mansŏk released a recording in 1991 at the age of forty-four (Shinsŏng Records SSL-053), but he lacked recognition and appears to have left the entertainment scene not long afterward.129 The first transcription of the piece by singer Kim Yonghun was made by Kang Yonggwŏn in March 1974. Again, few details are given, but Kim is said to have been born in the township of Sŏhwa in Ryonggang County, south P’yŏngan province. Sŏng Kyŏngnin and Yi Pohyŏng divide Kim’s version of the operetta into nine scenes, which at least in terms of the narrative differs little from those of Yi Ŭn’gwan.130 According to Han Kisŏp, who transcribed the lyrics of one of his performances, Kim was born in 1917 and died in 1992.131 Unfortunately, no more information about the singer is available, which suggests that Kim’s main career was not in entertainment.

In 1942, folklorist Ch’oe Sangsu went to Pyongyang to record a version of Paebaengi kut by Kim Sŏngmin. Little is known about this singer other than that he was ten years older than Yi Ŭn’gwan and was born in Kirim village near Pyongyang, where he allegedly studied the piece at the age of seventeen with a teacher from Ryonggang County, whose name Ch’oe could not recall but was mostly likely Yi Insu. The Cultural Properties Committee (CPC) reports on Paebaengi kut, published in 1980 and 1984, merely note that this singer was still alive after the Korean War. In Ch’oe’s transcription, there is no love affair like the one in Yi Ŭn’gwan’s versions, and Paebaengi ends up dying because of an unexplained disease. The love affair between the monk and Paebaengi is replaced by an equally long account of Paebaengi’s mother giving birth.132 At the start of Kim’s performance and that of Yi Ŭn’gwan as transcribed by Ch’oe in the 1950s, the full version of “San yŏmbul” is sung first, as a prologue to the story.133 In other versions transcribed, however, performers start with an abbreviated version of the song or no song at all.

In the third volume of his monumental folksong compendium, Im Tonggwŏn includes what he calls “Paebaengi kut yo” (Song of the Ritual for Paebaengi).134 He gives no information other than that the song was recorded in the Seoul area, but in November 1997 he told me that the song was sung to him by an old woman from Hwanghae province (where the song had been popular) who had fled to the south during the Korean War. The song essentially summarizes the operetta’s story, closely following Yi Ŭn’gwan’s version, but with small differences such as the absence of the birth of the girl Newŏlle. Paebaengi’s name is not mentioned until the mother cries out when her daughter dies. The humor, meanwhile, seems to be slightly more earthy than it is in Yi Ŭn’gwan’s version, so that, for example, when the three girls are born, Paebaengi’s father says, “In (p.140) our house it came out of that thing, and in the house in the back something was born out of some kind of shellfish.” A few lines farther on, the father picks up the baby, saying, “Hello, baby! Where would you like to go … Argh, it’s weeing!”135

In 1982, a partly illustrated textual transcription of a ch’anggŭk version of Paebaengi kut was published in Yanbian, called The Folk Epic Ritual for Paebaengi (Min’gan sŏsashi Paebaengi kut), intended for the local population. Unlike other versions examined here, all is arranged in stanzas consisting of four lines, each of eight syllables. Compiled by Chang Tongun using the recollections of a number of senior Korean Yanbian citizens, the storyline is no different from the brief outline given above, but, in the absence of narration, humor is lacking. While the names of Sewŏlle and Newŏlle are not explained, Paebaengi’s name is said to derive from the word “tight” (paebae).136 Because the old minister relies on Buddhist and shaman beliefs, while the charlatan makes off with so much money, Chang suggests this indicates the piece was composed around the late nineteenth century, when the yangban aristocracy was weakening and capitalism was becoming more central.137

Besides these variations, a theatrical version of Paebaengi kut exists. This was performed, but not sung, by several actors and was based on a transcription of an oral recording made by Kim Hŭngsŏp from Unsan City in north P’yŏngan province. This Ritual for Paebaengi Drama (Kŭkpon paebaengi kut) subsequently became known as Unsan paebaengi kut.138 It was first published in the journal Korean Script (Han’gŭl) by Kim T’aejun in 1934 and was republished later that year in Chungang University’s journal Korean Folk Materials (Han’guk minsok charyo) in a slightly altered form, and again in the magazine Historical Tales Monthly (Wŏlgan yadam) in 1938. The latter text includes no background information. It is based on the third act of the story in which the charlatan hears about the reward offered to the shaman who can allow Paebaengi’s parents to bid their daughter a proper farewell, and subsequently pretends to be one in order to get his hands on the reward. It opens with a list of the central characters and their age, and then breaks up the piece into four chapters, providing the lines for each character with some basic information on the sequence between brackets, but without any indication of how the lines are supposed to be performed.139 In 2007, special scholarship student Pak Chunyŏng arranged and performed a new ch’anggŭk version of this piece along with his senior students with financial support from the city of Incheon.

Reputation versus Authenticity

On March 14, 2013, Kim Kyŏngbae was selected as holder. An assistant teacher since March 2001, Kim had won a number of major awards between 1996 and (p.141) 2002. Pak Chunyŏng, his senior, on the other hand, had been an assistant teacher since 1996, and had won a similar number of awards of comparable prestige, including the KBS Grand Prize for Korean Traditional Music in 2008.140 It was nevertheless Kim who managed to win over the four judges when he and Pak carried out a trial performance of a full version of Paebaengi kut on October 30, 2012. The CPC report on the decision dismissed claims of bribery due to a lack of evidence.141 Pak believed that Professor Ch’oe T’aehyŏn from Chungang University, who attended the trial performance as a CPC member, had favored his former student Kim. When he asked the Cultural Heritage Administration to investigate, representative Bang So-Yeon informed him on January 23, 2013, that based on an enquiry the administration had come to the conclusion that his claim was unfounded due to Ch’oe not having been present at the final meeting in 2013 where the decision was made.142 In 2015, in order to increase his status among peers (see also chapter 1), Pak entered Dankook University’s graduate school.

Similar to Kim Okshim for Kyŏnggi minyo, the decision to pass over Pak Chunyŏng as Yi Ŭn’gwan’s successor brings the legitimacy of the preservation system into question. While Kim Chuksa and Yang Soun equally failed to be appointed despite being considered for the position of holder of Sŏdo sori, their cases appear less contentious. Like her sister Kim Chŏngyŏn, Kim Chuksa was a well-known singer. She was born Kim Suyŏng in Seoul’s Central District, on September 25, 1905, and soon developed an interest in music. She took lessons with one of Kim Kwanjun’s students, Kim Ch’ilsŏng, in kagok, kasa, and shijo, while also practicing the yanggŭm (dulcimer). Eventually, she became the first singer to be recorded singing “Ch’up’unggam pyŏlgok,” “P’yŏngyang kyŏnggaega” (Sketch Song of Pyongyang), and “Ip’al ch’ŏngch’un’ga” (Sweet Sixteen), a shin minyo from Kyŏnggi province.143 Although Kim Chuksa and Chang Haksŏn were regarded as the sole contenders for nomination, Kim was not appointed and she subsequently dis appeared from the records. There is a mention of her in a newspaper from May 6, 1976, five years after O Pongnyŏ and Kim Chŏngyŏn were appointed to replace Chang.144 Yi Pohyŏng reckons that Kim may not have been appointed because she did not perform very often, or because she was too old.145 Meanwhile, although Yang Soun’s previous appointment as holder of Pongsan t’alch’um in 1967 did not legally prevent her from being appointed again, the CPC preferred not to burden holders with the responsibility of teaching two types of performing art to more than one body of students.

Yi Ŭn’gwan’s appointment as holder of Paebaengi kut was not without a degree of controversy. Although Ch’oe Sangsu claimed that Yi’s Paebaengi kut was a recent composition,146 the two government reports on Paebaengi kut noted that Yi had made some small changes to his art since the mid-1950s.147 Yi was aware of the criticism around the time he was appointed: “Initially [this CPC (p.142)

Embodying NostalgiaSŏdo Sori

Front cover of Paebaengi kut, featuring Yi Ŭn’gwan (Sinseki Record Co., Ltd. SLN-10607; early 1960s LP).

Muk Kyewŏl, Yi Ŭnju, and Kim Okshim are also featured on this recording.

member]148 didn’t consider Paebaengi kut as having any artistic value. Many among the songs that have now been appointed were initially considered by the CHA as lacking in value.”149 Yi claimed Paebaengi kut as his own creation and freely improvised in various ways, including the use of unorthodox musical instruments such as a saxophone.150 When I discussed this with Yu Chisuk and Pak Chunyŏng on July 11, 2011, they said that the use of the instrument was inappropriate but something Yi could get away with because of his age and position. Another form of improvisation involves lyrical change: whereas in the past a performance lasted approximately two hours, a con temporary version is less than an hour long.151 Since Yi Ŭn’gwan’s work for recording companies began in the mid-1950s and peaked at the end of the decade, it is likely that he condensed his performance around that time. The ten-inch LP that was the standard in Korea throughout the 1950s, when he began to put out records, can only hold up to thirty-five minutes divided over two sides.

Pak Chŏnghong claims that although Yi Ŭn’gwan’s Paebaengi kut is for the most part similar to the “original form” (wŏnhyŏng), there used to be no passage (p.143) dealing with Paebaengi and the Buddhist monk’s mutual love. Pak does not specify which original form he means, but he specifically notes that he once lived in what he believes to be the place of origin of Paebaengi kut, Ryonggang County, where he was acquainted with many folksong singers. He makes a convincing argument that Yi created the passage about Paebaengi’s love affair because love as a theme became so popular and it enabled Yi to expand the number of songs in the operetta, thus changing the balance between song and narrative.152 Since the passage in question does appear in transcriptions of his performance by Ch’oe Sangsu and Kim Tonguk from 1957 and 1961 respectively, Yi likely created it around the mid-1950s, shortly after the Korean War.153

When designating professional folk performance genres, a state preservation system can sometimes benefit from such genres having already gone through a process of restructuring for the con temporary stage. Performance arts like Yi Ŭn’gwan’s Paebaengi kut, staged by one or two performers and lasting less than an hour, can easily be promoted and marketed through recordings and other media. Although there are more amateur folksongs than there are these staged genres, folksongs usually have no connection to professional singers and have rarely been performed on stage, hence few have been refined to appeal to a commercial audience. Several groups of holders have been appointed for amateur folksongs, but the number of professional genres appointed as NICPs is greater. Amateur folksongs are more difficult to promote when sung by people with varying talent. Their texts can be difficult to understand because many are sung in dialect, and shortening their length to suit a commercial stage can be awkward.

The earliest recording of Yi Ŭn’gwan’s Paebaengi kut I have found is from the early 1960s,154 when Yi would have already made some changes to his art. When comparing this with a 1993 recording,155 it is important to consider not only the smaller recording time allowed by the former format, a ten-inch LP playing at 33 rpm with a maximum recording time of approximately seventeen minutes per side, but also that Yi would have been seventy-six years old at the time the CD was produced. Yi would record his last full performance a year later for Jigu Records.156 The use of Western notation to transcribe Boom Boom Song, which in both versions starts at around two minutes into the piece, is complicated. Because Yi regularly changes his tempo considerably within measures, the latter are useful only as an indication of the structure of the melodic line, as opposed to a representation of the rhythmic structure. Ideally, therefore, a transcription like this would be combined with a notation of the changdan. Rather than trying to indicate the changes in tempo through the measures, I give an indication of the average tempo for each of the two transcriptions in the figures on pages 144 and 145. (p.144)

Embodying NostalgiaSŏdo Sori

A transcription of Yi Ŭn’gwan’s 1960 recording of Paebaengi kut.

Boom Boom, Boom, Boom, you’re my daughter. Boom Boom, Boom, Boom, you’re my daughter. Did you drop from the sky; did you spring up from the ground? Boom Boom, Boom, Boom, you’re my daughter. We carried out a Buddhist ritual at a large temple on a noted mountain because we wanted a son, so how come we got a daughter? Boom Boom, Boom, Boom, you’re my daughter. If you are already this beautiful, how pretty your mother must be! Boom Boom, Boom, Boom, you’re my daughter.

Boom Boom, Boom, Boom, you’re my daughter. Boom Boom, Boom, Boom, you’re my daughter. Where have you come from, where have you come from? Boom Boom, Boom, Boom, you’re my daughter. Did you drop from the sky; did you spring up from the ground? Boom Boom, Boom, Boom, you’re my daughter. You were born with the vital energy of all four mountains, Mount Kŭmgang, Mount Chiri, Mount Kuwŏl and Mount Myohyang.157 Boom Boom, Boom, Boom, you’re my daughter. If you are already this beautiful, how pretty your mother must be! Boom Boom, Boom, Boom, you’re my daughter. I will raise you well even though you’re a girl. Let’s see whether your descendants offer to their forebears. Boom Boom, Boom, Boom, you’re my daughter.


Embodying NostalgiaSŏdo Sori

Transcription of Yi Ŭn’gwan’s 1993 recording of Paebaengi kut.

The transcription of the earlier recording shows that despite the faster tempo, Yi sang with a greater number of acciaccatura and a more defined vibrato while alternating between chest and falsetto registers more noticeably. The difference in finesse and ornamentation are presumably caused by the difference in Yi’s age, while the difference in speed may be the result of the different playback (p.146) media the recordings were made for. Although the verses are similar, the later version includes a phrase I have not found in any of Yi’s earlier recordings. The phrase that begins with “Tonggyegol” and ends with “t’ago nak’una” appears in Yi’s compendium too,158 but it is not included in the version sung by his student Pak Chunyŏng, who uses an unpublished booklet called “1970-nyŏndae Yi Ŭn’gwan sŏnsaengnyu: Paebaengi kut” (Paebaengi kut in the style of Yi Ŭn’gwan from the 1970s), which he noted contained a number of errors.159 It is likely that Yi added the phrase later when he no longer had to consider time constraints.

The appointment of Sŏdo sori as an IICP did not have much impact on the tradition of the genre as a whole. Even though the CPC may have been aware that Yi Ŭn’gwan made some changes to his art shortly before his candidacy as holder, the committee considered that Yi would come to represent an important tradition that had a strong pedigree as an art form both on stage and in other media. His elevated status arguably led Yi to take a little too much artistic freedom in performance. His emphasis on the importance of improvisation not only exaggerates this aspect of his work but also draws attention away from other traditional performing arts that have actually shown a greater disregard for authenticity. Yi’s Paebaengi kut is in principle ideal for a preservation and promotion system that seeks to show both the refinement of Korean performance arts and their variety. The operetta is wonderfully diverse, with references to religious practices and rural customs of old and to the various dialects of Korea. Because it is both sung and narrated by a single standing performer and a single seated musician, and ranges from the deeply dramatic to the very humorous, it continues to be compared to p’ansori, a genre now designated as both NICP no. 5 in Korea and as a UNESCO Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

Even so, Yi’s attitude raises the question of whether holders should perform as they did at the time of their appointment or if they should be asked to go back in time and perform according to what they, and perhaps other performers or scholars, think the art once was. This would imply a rejection of variation as an essential element of folksongs, as it denies an art its “human” factor, namely improvisation. Although he must be aware of the changes he has made to his art over time, Yi Ŭn’gwan himself did not feel any constraints. He freely adapted his art according to the length allotted for his performance and to the region in which he performed (or from which the shaman he impersonated was supposed to come) by adjusting to the local dialect. To him, being able to adjust to the needs and expectation of audiences was imperative:160 “Because of the system, many things have been preserved, but you have to think of the populace. Traditions have to be kept, but new things have to be developed out of them.”161 (p.147)

Embodying NostalgiaSŏdo Sori

Pak Chunyŏng’s students perform at the Seoul Training Center for Important Intangible Cultural Properties on November 21, 2008.

The government supports previously staged performing arts by designating them as cultural properties based on their likelihood of becoming extinct, the personal artistic skill of the performers, and the degree to which the properties represent a tradition it considers important.162 The reports on the designation of Paebaengi kut stress the urgency of the first point in particular. Although they acknowledge that the tradition has gone through a number of changes in the recent past, they emphasize that Yi Ŭn’gwan’s art is unique and in need of trained successors.163 By publicly recognizing Yi as the sole holder of Paebaengi kut, the piece attracted and nurtured new talent. This, in itself, justified Yi’s suitability as holder.

The fact that Yi was appointed and given the discretion to adapt his performance according to what he believed were the needs of his audience illustrates that the NICP system is intended to promote cultural icons and present them as objects of cultural nationalism. Indeed, despite the changes Yi made, one must consider that in 2013, at the age of ninety-six, he was still performing at home and abroad, making his status as the holder of something old and worth preserving only that much stronger. Another issue that could be raised in Yi’s (p.148) defense is that during his professional life, Korean society changed much more dramatically than did Yi’s rendition of Paebaengi kut. Today most people appreciate his music through recordings and broadcasts—most young people have neither the time nor the interest in folk music to attend a live performance. Modernization and the spread of Christianity in Korea have also affected how Paebaengi kut is perceived: a few promoters have, according to Pak Chunyŏng, asked that the piece’s name be changed from Paebaengi kut (where kut denotes a shaman ritual) to Paebaengi sori (where sori denotes “song”).164

Further complicating the transmission of Paebaengi kut is the future lack of singers born in the Sŏdo sori genre’s native land. Former holder of Sŏdo sori Kim Chŏngyŏn said that in order to be able to sing in the northern style, one had to have been born there or have at least one parent from the region.165 She later added, “Folksongs will no longer be formed naturally out of the customs or the life that are characteristic of the Sŏdo region. If so, can we then correctly understand and transmit these songs here in Seoul, which is not in the western provinces?”166 Yu Chisuk found that a few older students who were born in what is now North Korea picked up the Sŏdo sori technique much quicker than other students.167 None of the professional Sŏdo sori singers currently active on the professional scene, however, grew up in the northwestern provinces, which means that they cannot genuinely represent the living conditions and sceneries of old. And yet, although the North Korean lands and customs that the tradition is associated with may eventually be considered lost for good, this is likely to strengthen the ability of Sŏdo sori to summon nostalgia. Reunification may prove a greater “threat” to the appeal of the genre in the south than the Korean Demilitarized Zone. Although a desire for continuity will support existing traditions or foster the creation of new ones, “the loss of nostalgia—that is, the loss of the desire to long for what is lost because one has found the lost object—can be more unwelcome than the original loss itself.”168

As Korean society continues to evolve, many—both young and old—will likely come to appreciate the genre for the cultural heritage it represents. With this in mind, the idea that a cultural preservation system should seek to fully preserve the version of a performance art as it existed at the time of its NICP designation, although this is commonly stated in print, cannot be carried through. While doing so would aid historical memory, the appointment of Yi Ŭn’gwan as holder and the discretion he was since allowed shows the importance of weighing such historical elements against an individual’s or group’s ability to nurture interest in the performance art, which was long Yi’s prime concern.169


(4.) Interview with Ch’oe Sŏngnyong, May 21, 2012; Pak Chunyŏng, pers. comm., November 23, 2014.

(5.) Yi Ch’angbae, Han’guk kach’ang taegye, I1: pp. 271, 844; Kwŏn Osŏng, “Sŏdo minyo” (Folksongs from the western provinces), p. 703; Hwang Yongju, Han’guk kyŏng/sŏdo ch’angak taegye, 2: p. 193. People once had a different impression of the adjacent Hamgyŏng province. Those born there were long believed to have strong characters and to be self-sufficient, diligent, and dedicated (Sŏng Kyŏngnin, Minyo kihaeng, p. 172; interview with Im Tonggwŏn, November 9, 1995 ).

(8.) Im Tonggwŏn and Chŏng Tonghwa argue that the use of Chinese historical stories and Chinese phrasing indicates that the song was influenced by kasa (narrative songs) (Im Tonggwŏn, Han’guk minyo sa, p. 223; Chŏng Tonghwa, Han’guk minyo-ŭi sajŏk yŏn’gu, p. 334n407).

(11.) For more on lyrics sheets, see Maliangkay, “Their Masters’ Voice,” p. 6.

(15.) This line also appears in the chapka “Kwansanyungma” (Hwang Yongju, Han’guk kyŏng/sŏdo ch’angak taegye, 1: p. 135).

(16.) The connotation here is sexual.

(20.) A transcription of the ŏtchungmori rhythmic cycle can be found in Kyung-hee Kim, “Theory of Pansori,” pp. 36–37.

(25.) Paek Taeung, “Hwanghaedo sori,” p. 29; Kwŏn Osŏng, “Sŏdo minyo,” p. 702. Yi Ch’angbae suggests that “Kwansanyungma” may also have been influenced by kasa from the Seoul region (Han’guk kach’ang taegye, 1: p. 271). It is believed that the author Shin Kwangsu (1712–1775) composed the song based on a poem by the Chinese poet Du Fu (712–770) (Chang Sahun, “Sŏdo-ŭi Kwansanyungma-wa Sushimga,” p. 133; Han’guk kach’ang taegye, 1: pp. 398–399).

(28.) Yi Ch’angbae used to sing the southwestern “Chŏkpyŏkpu,” a tan’ga (short poem), in the Sŏdo style. Another music piece he converted to the Sŏdo style was “Kwandong p’algyŏng” (The eight sights of the Kwandong region), the lyrics of which were written by Pak Hŏnbong (p.203) (1907–1977), a former principal of the Kugak yesul hakkyo (Korean Traditional Music and Arts School). Yi Ch’angbae, Han’guk kach’ang taegye, 1: pp. 162, 169, 271.

(29.) Yi Pohyŏng argues that no singer ever truly mastered both genres (Sŏdo minyo-wa Kyŏnggi minyo-ŭi sŏnyul kujo yŏn’gu, pp. 7–8, 16).

(30.) The dates given for Pak’s life differ considerably. According to Yi Ch’angbae, for example, Pak lived from 1877 to 1947 (Han’guk kach’ang taegye, 1: p. 237). For a discussion, see Pan Chaeshik, Chaedam ch’ŏnnyŏn sa, pp. 247–249.

(31.) Yi Ch’angbae, Han’guk kach’ang taegye, 1: pp. 237, 272–273; Chang Sahun, Kugak taesajŏn, p. 587; Chosŏn yŏn’guhoe, Chosŏn miin pogam. Pak Wŏlchŏng (born Pak Kŭmhong) even included folksongs from the southwestern region and p’ansori in her repertoire. Chang Sahun, Han’guk chŏnt’ong ŭmag-ŭi ihae, p. 159. As I discuss below, later holder of Sŏdo sori Yi Ŭn’gwan was renowned for his ability to mimic the singing styles and dialects of several regions.

(33.) Chaedam implies the improvisation (creation) or re-creation of witty dialogues, often by one performer. This is intrinsic to many types of folk performing arts, including p’ansori (Pan Chaeshik, Chaedam ch’ŏnnyŏn sa, pp. 121–142).

(40.) In 1991, Yi Ch’unmok noted that three former students of Kim Chŏngyŏn had stopped performing (Ku Hŭisŏ, “Sŭsŭng-ŭi salm-i nae chwaumyŏng” [The life of a teacher is my motto], p. 23).

(46.) Ibid., p. 43. Yi Chongsŏk claims that O’s first return to the stage was at the 1966 Chŏn’guk minsok yesul kyŏngyŏn taehoe (National Folk Arts Contest), but Sŏdo sori were not performed at the contest that year and would not be performed until 1970 (Yi Chongsŏk, “Sŏdo sori O Pongnyŏ yŏsa”; Im Chunsŏ, “Chŏnt’ong yŏnhŭi 50-nyŏn,” pp. 347–349).

(p.204) (48.) Pak Sŏnghŭi 1991: 42. Hwang Yongju has mistaken Kim Kwangsuk for being Kim Chŏngyŏn’s student (Han’guk kyŏng/sŏdo ch’angak taegye, 1: p. 451).

(54.) Maeil kyŏngje, April 19, 1980, 1.

(55.) In an interview with Kim Myŏnggŏn, Yi Ŭn’gwan said he won the contest by singing “Ch’angbu t’aryŏng” and a more elaborate version of “Nanbongga,” “Sasŏl nanbongga,” even though he had said in an earlier interview that he won the contest by singing “Yangsangdo” (Kim Myŏnggŏn, Han, Kim Myŏnggon-ŭi kwangdae kihaeng, p. 191; Ppuri kip’ŭn namu, T’ŏrŏnok’o hanŭn mal 2 (Frank discussions 2), p. 187). In yet another interview, Yi said he competed at the contest at the age of twenty-one (Ch’oe Hongsun, “Sŏdo-ŭi kŭkch’ang Paebaengi kut [Ritual for Paebaengi, the operetta from the western provinces], p. 174).

(56.) Han Manyŏng argues that although the term rang literally means “fishermen,” it may well be a nonsense syllable and simply chosen for its sound (Hahn, Kugak, p. 182).

(60.) Pan Chaeshik also believes that it was Pak Ch’ŏnbok who introduced Yi Ŭn’gwan to Shin Pulch’ul, but in an earlier interview Yi is quoted as saying that he was introduced to Shin by Pak Chin, a veteran of the theater world and a member of the Arts Academy (Yesurwŏn) (Pan Chaeshik, Chaedam ch’ŏnnyŏn sa, p. 66; Ppuri kip’ŭn namu, T’ŏrŏnok’o hanŭn mal 2, p. 192).

(63.) Quoted in ibid., p. 194.

(68.) Interview with Yi Ŭn’gwan, October 26, 1997. The other players included Cho Miryŏng (Paebaengi), Pok Hyesuk, and Pak Hŭngsu (Kim Myŏnggŏn, Han, Kim Myŏnggon-ŭi kwangdae kihaeng, p. 196; Taehan min’guk yesurwŏn, Han’guk yesul sajŏn III [Dictionary of Korean arts III], p. 213).

(72.) Both Kim Hyŏn’gyu, a former graduate of Sant’aryŏng, and former holder Kim Sunt’ae have taught at Yi’s Institute (Yi Pohyŏng, “Sŏnsori sant’aryŏng,” p. 170; Yi Ch’angbae, Han’guk kach’ang taegye, 1: p. 326).

(p.205) (74.) Kim Wansu is also a graduate of Sant’aryŏng (Hwang Yongju, Han’guk kyŏng/sŏdo ch’angak taegye, 1: p. 29).

(76.) Interview with Yi Ŭn’gwan, October 23, 1997.

(77.) Pak Chunyŏng, pers. comm., June 24, 2014.

(78.) For details on p’ansori in performance, see Marshall R. Pihl, The Korean Singer of Tales, pp. 4–5.

(81.) Detlef Nolden writes that some of the songs that Yi introduces by name during the opera are not performed in their “original form” (“Das Koreanische Volksstück Paebaengikut,” p. 34). Since the notion of a single origin only applies to a form of recorded music, Nolden presumably referred to the songs’ common form.

(83.) See, for example, the Hyundai Records cassette recording Chŏngt’ong Paebaengi kut (SSP-1016, 1979; chŏngt’ong/chŏnt’ong = traditional). The cassette sleeve does not provide any information other than the title, but there seem to be two or more accompanying musicians on the recording.

(84.) Oasis 5531–5534, Silver Star M501, and Shinsegi N182/N184/N187/N189.

(85.) See pictures of shaman fans in Sŏk Chusŏn, Han’gk sa, p. 632. See also Han’guk minsok taesajŏn p’yŏnch’an wiwŏnhoe, Han’guk minsok taesajŏn, 2: p. 816.

(92.) Interview with Im Tonggwŏn, November 9, 1997.

(98.) Nolden surmises that pang means “room,”-i being a vocative suffix (“Das Koreanische Volksstück Paebaengi-kut,” p. 91n103). Given that the family loved the servant enough to name their daughter after her, it is unlikely that they would have given the servant such a condescending name.

(p.206) (100.) Yi Ch’angbae argues that sangjwajung, the Korean term used by Yi Ŭn’gwan for “monk,” indicates that the character in the story was a higher monk, eligible to become a teacher (Han’guk kach’ang taegye, 1: p. 715).

(101.) Interview with Pak Chunyŏng, March 11, 2014.

(109.) Interview with Yi Pohyŏng, September 26, 1995. For more details on the social status of p’ansori singers, see Pihl, The Korean Singer of Tales, pp. 60–61.

(110.) Interview with Yi Pohyŏng, September 26, 1995.

(111.) Detlef Nolden finds that the similarities relate only to one particular p’ansori piece, “Shimch’ŏngga” (Song of Shimch’ŏng) (“Das Koreanische Volksstück Paebaengi-kut,” pp. 37–38).

(112.) See, for example, the Buddhist chant in both the prologue and epilogue of Yi Ŭn’gwan’s version (Ch’oe Sangsu, “Paebaengi kut taesa,” part 2, pp. 229, 255).

(122.) The Han’gyŏre reported (May 31, 1991, p. 11) that Yang also studied singing with Kim Chinmyŏng (1913–1997), whom she was able to meet again in 1990 when he visited Seoul as a member of the P’yŏngyang Minjok Ŭmaktan (Pyongyang People’s Orchestra).

(124.) Interview with Yi Ŭn’gwan, October 23, 1997.

(126.) No Chaemyŏng lists a number of additional singers reported in a North Korean directory of folk musicians (Paebaengi kut, pp. 106–108).

(133.) Ibid., part 2, pp. 181, 229.

(135.) Ibid., p. 219.

(137.) Ibid., p. 5.

(141.) Munhwajaech’ŏng, “2013-nyŏndo munhwajae wiwŏnhoe (The 2013 cultural properties committee), pp. 19–20. Although Pak may eventually also become a holder, he does not currently have a student specializing in Paebaengi kut. When I asked Pak about his own successor, he replied, “In the future, I will have to set up a plan, starting with Ms Yuri [Kim; his gradu ate] …” (ap’ŭro-nŭn chido-rŭl haeyachiyo, Yuri-sshi-but’ŏyo …) (Pak Chunyŏng, pers. comm., December 21, 2014).

(142.) Pak Chunyŏng, pers. comm., April 26, 2015.

(144.) Tonga ilbo, May 6, 1976, p. 5.

(145.) Interview with Yi Pohyŏng, October 22, 1997.

(148.) Yi Ŭn’gwan did not wish to give me a name, but he did say that this was a member of the CPC who had transcribed Paebaengi kut in a book. Han Manyŏng’s transcription of Kim Yonghun’s version had only just come out that same year, so I infer that Yi meant the folklorist Kim Tonguk.

(149.) Interview with Yi Ŭn’gwan, October 23, 1997.

(150.) Yi Ŭn’gwan, Kach’ang ch’ongbo (Full song scores), p. 395. In 1999, musicologist Rowan Pease filmed Yi playing his saxophone during a performance in Yanji, Yanbian. Yi is also shown with the saxophone around his neck on the cover of the CD set Paebaengi kut (Hana Records Co., 1353) from 2010.

(151.) When holders-elect Kim Kyŏngbae and Pak Chunyŏng were asked to carry out a trial performance in October 2012, they were given up to forty minutes to perform the entire piece (Munhwajaech’ŏng, “2013-nyŏndo munhwajae wiwŏnhoe, p. 19).

(154.) Shinsegi SLN 10607.

(155.) Seoul Music Sound Co. Ltd. SM-2013.

(156.) JCDS-0447. Although the record company released a new recording of Yi’s Paebaengi kut in 2005 (JMCD-0039), it was a reissue of the 1994 recording.

(p.208) (157.) The four mountains are located in the four corners of the Korean peninsula. Mount Kŭmgang is located in Kangwŏn province in the eastern part of the peninsula in what is now North Korea, Chiri Mountain stretches from north and south Chŏlla to part of south Kyŏngsang province, Kuwŏl Mountain is located in south Hwanghae province in the west, and Myohyang Mountain is located in what is now North Korea, where it stretches from north and south P’yŏngan to Chagang province.

(159.) Pak Chunyŏng, pers. comm., July 9, 2013. See also recording on Synnara, Pak Chunyŏng-ŭi Paebaengi kut-kwa Sŏdo sori (Pak Chunyŏng’s Paebaengi kut and folksongs from the western provinces), NSC-225, 2010.

(161.) Interview with Yi Ŭn’gwan, October 23, 1997.

(162.) Office of Cultural Properties, The Preservation and Transmission System, pp. 9–10.

(164.) Pak Chunyŏng, pers. comm., September 29, 2009.