Press release

Unraveling the Art of Pansori at the Jeonju Int’l Sori Festival by Charlie Crooijmans
관리자 | 2019-01-22 15:14:01 | 900

Unraveling the Art of Pansori at the Jeonju Int’l Sori Festival

Charlie Crooijmans
Music journalist from the Netherlands    


Captured by the raspy voice of Pansori artist Kim Kyung-ho, I tried to keep up with ‘Jeokbyeok-ga’ (the war story). I could read it along in the book that was handed out, but I had to check the screen at the side of the stage to find out the right page. Unfortunately I forgot my glasses at home, so it was hard for me to decipher the English words. From time to time the text accelerated on the screen, which I mistakenly assumed to be a technical error. So I got lost. I didn’t realize that some of the paragraphs of the story could be skipped. The musicologist Dong-hyun, Choi probably explained about this in the introduction before the performance, in Korean…

For the second time I was invited to visit the Sori Festival in Jeonju to learn about Pansori, musical storytelling performed by a singer and a drummer. At the festival the five different stories are performed by Master Pansori artists. There is also room for the next generation, and interesting collaborations. I’ll come back to that later. There is a bunch of other things to do and see. There is even music from all over the world, hence Jeonju Int’l Sori Festival, with a focus on Asian countries. Too much for somebody with FOMO! So I didn’t regret it at all when the outdoor events had to be canceled on Friday and Saturday, because of the typhoon. Finally I could seriously take the time to concentrate on the authentic Pansori Batangs. 


So from the third Batang on, I decided to sit next to the screen with the relevant story book in my lap. Finally I started to understand and feel the structure, the moods and the rhythms. It reminds me a bit of the Affektenlehre, a German theory in the aesthetics of music in the Baroque era (1600–1750), in which musical means are linked to emotions. The different rhythms in Pansori are linked to certain moods, from very slow depicting sadness and solemness, to uptempo (almost like rap) suggesting cheerfulness and excitement. The art of storytelling includes timing, intonation, gestures, and dramatic expressions. A skilled singer incorporates the different characters flawlessly. Out of the five (or better six) Pansori singers, Zang Mung-hee who performed ‘Simcheon-ga’ (the story of a blind father and his daughter) absolutely stood out. Zang intensely knows how to grab your attention. Her performance lasted two and a half hours, but it was finished before you realized. It was almost like binge watching. Irresistible! Also the performance of the 70 years old Kim Soo-yeon with Kang Gyung-a (her pupil) was excellent. In turns they performed ‘Huengbo-ga’ (the story of two brothers). Each time they appeared in a different hanbok (traditional Korean dress). They finished together in unisono.


Not only me as a foreigner had to focus to be able to enjoy Pansori, the Korean audience has to make an effort as well. The words are ancient Korean and the way the voice is used doesn’t even come close to the cheerful K-pop style of singing. The pansori voice is hoarse, sometimes larmoyant, with beautiful ornaments. The drums are complex but minimal, giving the essential accents of the different measures. The ancient stories are fixed, but they are universal and identifiable for every one. A Pansori performance wouldn’t be complete without the encouraging shouts and clapping of the audience. So a new audience is required. To make it more accessible for adolescents one could try develop an interactive app. The good thing of the Sori Festival is that the school kids are exposed to traditional expressions of the Korean Culture, and beyond.


To bring Pansori to a different, international level, the festival organizes collaborations with foreign artists. Last year there was a project of La Tit'Fanfare from France with Pansori singer Taepyungyang yu. They had to simplify they music strongly to make it work. The result wasn’t very interesting. This year at the opening ceremonie, which was absolutely briljant, we witnessed various (traditional) styles linked to contemporary forms. Among them a collaboration between Pansori artist Jung Bo-gown (vocals and drums) and Vanessa Aibar, a young Flamenco dancer from Andalusia. It was a cooperative project between the Sori Festival and the Dutch Flamenco Biennale. Apparently Flamenco and Pansori are two contrasting genres. Yet there are similarities. Both have strong emotional expressions, a long history, complex rhythms and the need of encouraging shouts. In two days they had to learn from each other and prepare the piece. Vanessa dived into the complex rhythms to embody them gracefully in her dance. It was a great pleasure to see both of them coming out of their comfort zone, challenging themselves and each other. Hopefully there will be a continuation of this project. The co-existence of the authentic Pansori, and the innovative (international) Pansori is essential for the future of this beautiful genre.


Charlie Crooijmans
Music journalist from the Netherlands