Samulnori … playing 4 instruments

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Before my interest in Korea really started, I was passionated by the performances of the Japanese KODO-drummers. From this point I started to look for information about Korean drums.

In 2000 I saw a TV trailor about a Korea drumgroup performance in Belgium and I went there to watch the performance. What I saw there was really amazing. Korea`s Didim`s Dance Company, on tour in Europe, brought a more than 2 hours impressive show full of percussion with all kind of drums, dance, songs …. This was top level entertainment and the audience was so entousiast what resulted in a more than 10 minutes during standing ovation. It was the best performance I had ever seen before and I left with the desire to see more of this kind of music.

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One year later, at a local restaurant in Brussels, I heard about the upcoming Korean Cultural Festival in Brussels. Together with some students, I attended two live performances by Samul Nori (사물놀이), lead by the famous Kim Deok Soo. The energetic and vibrating outdoor performance grasped people`s attention and in a short time the many visitors at the Brussels Grand Place gathered around the colorful clothed Samul Nori performers.

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During my later Korea visits I regularly enjoyed Samul Nori performances at Suwon Folk Village or Seoul Nori Madang (near Lotte World). Almost every Samul Nori group looks same. They play almost the similar repertoire, wear the same colorful clothes and play the same instruments, and there are some good reasons for. Samulnori reflects the “um-yang” philosophy, influenced by sjamanism and Korean buddhism.

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The words SA (four), MUL (object) and NORI (play) can be translated as “a play with four things“.  Samulnori has its origin in nong-ak (farmers` dance) and was traditionally performed in the villages to celebrate good harvest.

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Samulnori is played on 4 different instruments. All of them are related to different weather conditions.

  • The changgu (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).
    It is often the lead instrument in farmers’ dance

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Listening to the strong, vibrating sound and watching the acrobatic Samulnori creates a kind of energetic trance and makes people feel bright and happy.  In Anseong, not far from Pyeongtaek, there is the Anseong Namsadang, a museum and a theater were you can enjoy the sound of Samulnori but where  you can learn to play.

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In autumn 2014 I had the chance to attend the famous Anseong Baudeogi Festival. It’s a yearly organized folk festival for dance and drums which is attended by many different dance groups from all over the world.

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