WORDS: Students of the Korean Drumming Ensemble (Edited by Willa Nielsen)
IMAGES: Solenne Spitalier '20
The students of Wesleyan's Korean Drumming Ensemble, directed by Visiting Assistant Professor Jin Hi Kim, have spent the past semester learning about the instruments, practices, and meanings which come together to shape the music and culture of Korean Drumming. To show what they've learned, the class wrote about their personal and shared connection to the music, the effects of diversity within the classroom, and music's ability to respond to American anxiety.
The ensemble plays samulnori repertoire, performed on two-headed drums (janggo), barrel drums (buk), hand gongs (kwenggari), and suspended gong (jing). The class plays newly arranged pieces based on traditional materials, to be performed on April 29th and May 5th. The performance will feature a variety of mesmerizing janggo rhythmic patterns, which swing through innumerable repetitive cycles and get dramatically and vigorously developed.
The ensemble will play three pieces:
1) The first piece is called 'Lotus Play,' to welcome parade-band drumming. This is a 'welcoming to the audience' and collaboration with hip-hop dancer, Henry Lombino. The ensemble will play percussion instruments carried on their shoulders as they walk throughout the stage. This piece serves as a joyous introduction to the rest of their performance.
2) The second piece is titled 'Mediation for America’s Anxiety.' Each student meditates on their janggo drum, but the collection of individual drumming comes together to form an organic sound, highlighting elements of unity and stillness. The class hopes that "the focused group energy will reach beyond our personal boundaries as we extend out to America during this time of political anxiety."
3) The third piece will be the 'Star-Moon Walk.' To get a sense of the piece, Jin Hi Kim says to "Imagine the farmer’s percussion band playing together in the village under the stars with a bright full moon." Kim explains that "For the farmers in the olden days, rain was extremely important as they prayed for a successful harvest." The ensemble plays four instruments symbolizing rain (janggo drum), clouds (buk barrel drum), wind (jing suspending gong) and thunder (kwenggari hand gong). This piece also features selected student soloists.
Throughout the course, students were asked to consider not only the music's sound, but also it's physical forms. They learned to explore the meanings behind each instrument and its connection to personal practices and beliefs. For example, the two-headed janggo drum symbolizes yin and yang, which is reflected in the characteristics of sound and energy. Students focus on their individual drumming as a meditative practice, but they also learn to work together as a united and respectful group. Discussions about music lead to discussions of diversity and community. The class notes that a deep respect for the diverse cultural backgrounds of the students developed from the efforts of teamwork and creating music together.
The following are thoughts from students within the ensemble:
The time of meditation allows students to get in sync with themselves and their drums in order to relax and feel the music. The yin-yang of the male, heavy pound and the female, soft tick creates a pattern that eases students. In the first weeks of meditation, students found it difficult to pay attention to the drum; some students heard how not-in-sync the class was, which threw off their ability to relax. However, after discussing this, Professor Kim imparted an important lesson: listen to your OWN drum. In order to meditate one has to listen to themselves – which is why meditation can lead to self-awareness. Although the sync of the meditation goes in and out, we should focus on our own drum in order to relax.
- Nicolas Fernandez
A group of diversity cultures:
Students in our Korean Drumming class have described their experiences working in a multicultural group as refreshing, providing us with an opportunity to engage with people outside of our own majors. It's nice to meet new people and to be exposed to the new ideas they present. Many agreed that our class dynamic is a very "American" thing-- to see such diversity in one room is not something that would happen anyplace else. Some described this as a "mini global village." In class, everyone brings in a new perspective, a different sense of humor, and a different association with the music. Overall, the diversity of our class presents a truly unique experience.
- Sadasia McCutchen
How does Korean Drumming impact you as an American student?
I think it’s extremely important for me as an American student (specifically, an American student who has lived in the continental US my entire life and only speaks English) to learn about cultures different to the one I have been raised in, and to engage in activities specific to these cultures. Taking this Korean Drumming class has been a wonderful opportunity for me to learn new musical skills, while also learning about the history of traditional drumming in Korea (an art form that has been practiced there for countless generations spanning thousands of years). Professor Kim is a Fulbright scholar who has extensively studied Korean music, and her dedication to the craft was really apparent to me from the moment I met her. She is really knowledgeable and passionate about the subject; she teaches us how to play the musical pieces, but also ensures that we learn about the historical importance of each instrument. On the first day of class, everyone was given a two-headed janggo drum to play. Before learning anything musical, Professor Kim gave a brief overview of the drum’s symbolism: the right side of the drum represents the female, while the left side represents the male. When played, the sides sound noticeably different from each other, but mingle together to produce a beautiful harmonic sound. Professor Kim also leads meditations in class, followed by a reflection. Overall, the class is unlike any other I have taken at Wesleyan. The course is not a standard, text-driven academic class, but rather something different and refreshing that breaks up the long established lecturing and note-taking format that the rest of my classes adhere to. In spite of (or perhaps, because of) the class’s departure from the usual academic setting, I feel like I am learning an abundance of new things about myself, my musical ability, and the history of traditional music in Korea.
- Olivia Kohan
The Beginning Korean Drumming Ensemble will be performing in the coming weeks:
April 29 (Saturday)
CT Percussive Arts Society Day of Percussion
2:55pm-3:15pm in World Music Hall
May 5 (Friday)
Korean Drumming and Japanese Taiko Ensemble
7pm in Crowell Concert Hall