An introduction to Samulnori at Hongbeopsa in Busan !

Samulnori Hongbeopsa-1

A couple of weeks ago I suddenly got a Kakao Talk message from a member of the Hongbeopsa community.  It was an invitation to attend their monthly culture program for foreigners. This time they planned an introduction to Samulnori, which means literally translated ” playing the four instruments”. 

Long time ago, before my passion for Korea even started, I was passionated by the Japanese Kodo drummers. However, after attending a performance of the famous Kim Duk Soo’s Samulnori band in Belgium in 2001, I got more attracted by the strong and energetic sounds produced by the 4 different instruments.

On the 3rd Sunday of January, my wife and I, we went to the nearby Hongbeop temple, which is located in Geumjong dugu-dong, Busan. If you drive from Busan to Ulsan, your attention will certainly be drawn by the huge bronze (golden) Amitha Buddha statue, that can be seen from far.

An empty car battery delayed our arrival with 30 minutes so we missed the performance of the local Samulnori band. Even though it was winter it was not really cold so the whole event was planned to take place outside in front of the temple.  Twelve foreigners had shown up for this event and all the instruments already had been distributed. I had no other option than taking the left over changgo, which is actually my favorite samulnori instrument.

Samulnori Hongbeopsa-2

As mentioned before, Samulnori is played with four different instruments. This type of music has its roots in pungmulnori,  a Korean folk genre comprising music, acrobatics, folk dance and rituals. 
It was traditionally performed in the rice villages to celebrate a good harvest. Band members are traditionally dressed in five main colors (black, white, red, blue, yellow) showing influences of shamanism but also of Korean Buddhism.
The four instruments are all associated with different weather conditions. The four instruments are all associated with different weather conditions and also the yin (um) & yang theory is reflected in them.
  • The changgo (장구) is an hourglass shaped drum representing the sound of the rain (um – earth)
  • The buk (북) is a drum associated with the clouds in the sky (um – earth)
  • The ching (징) is a big gong representing the sounds of the wind (yang – heaven)
  • The kwaenggwari (꽹과리) is a small gong associated with thunder (yang – heaven), which is often the lead instrument in farmers’ dance

Samulnori Hongbeopsa-3

The band leader, equipped with a kwaenggari, introduced us to “humor” & “jajinmori”, two of the five basic rhythms of Samulnori.
To play the changgo you need two different beating sticks or “chae” are used. The left hand holds a “gungchae” ,  a the  wooden stick with an egg shaped top part while the right hand holds a “yeolchae”, a flattened bamboo stick . Both sticks are supposed to hit both sides of the drum, hereby producing a different sound on each side.
 
The change is the only of the four instruments that is played with both hands simultaneously. In the beginning it was quite difficult to hit with both sticks correctly, but with the guidance of some dedicated group members I improved fast. It made me even sweat.
After we learned and repeated the “huimori” rythm for half an hour it suddenly started to rain heavily. I guess we provoked the dark clouds too much with our changgo. We had to continue our class in a practice room under the main hall. Here we started to learn  “jajinmori, our second rhythm of the afternoon.
We practiced and repeated both rhythms while sitting on the floor and then we went to a more advanced level of the samulnori which is which is playing combined with moves, steps and 360 degrees turns.
This was quite difficult ! Our skills were not that great but it was fun ! It was good to see the joy on the faces of all the foreigners who took part. 

Samulnori Hongbeopsa-4Almost two hours after we started we ended our workshop.  My respect for the acrobatic samulnori players only got bigger after this workshop. It must take them a lot of practice to play their instrument and to control their body without getting dizzy.

As usual we posed for a group picture with all the participants and samulnori band members. Hereafter we were invited over tea and traditional rice cakes. It was the end of an exciting winter afternoon at Heongbeop temple in Busan. 
More information about the monthly events at Hongbeop temple in Busan can be found at http://www.facebook.com/busanbuddhism

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