- Folk Song Study -
Hyo-shin Na Ė written for the Korea Times SF Ė 8/31/2012
Iíve always enjoyed listening to folk music - folk music from many places: Korea, Japan, Tibet, Pakistan, America Ė and, some years ago, a group of my Korean, Japanese, and American friends started playing this music. I guess it started when I suggested we get together at my house and learn each otherís folk songs. So we tried to sing (lots of funny pronunciation) and play them on a variety of different instruments.
These music-making sessions officially bore fruit when, in 2004, I wrote arrangements of two folk songs, one Korean, one Japanese, for the Korean instruments piri and chang-go and the Japanese shamisen and koto. Now Iím working again with Korean and Japanese musicians to make versions of folk songs for concerts that will take place this fall in San Francisco. This time our work is more collaborative Ė instead of, as the ďcomposerĒ, writing each personís part myself, we try out together different combinations of playing and singing and see if we can come up with something that pleases us. And, after all of this, Iíve come to think that, if I want to get to know the music of a certain culture or region, I should get to know that areaís folk music first.
Iím interested in the contrasts between different musics, for instance folk music and court music (in Korea) or folk music and classical music (in the west). When you hear folk music you can usually feel the music right away and people from the area where the music originated identify with it immediately. However, one often needs to hear a piece of court music, or western classical music, a number of times to begin to get a feel for what is happening, even though the piece might be very beautiful or even moving.
When I play someone elseís folk song I try to suspend judgment. That way I not only learn the song, but I also begin to understand my own instrument and music on a deeper level. Iíve been amused to hear a few Korean musicians say that theyíre reluctant to play any non- Korean music since Korean music is clearly the best. I couldnít help thinking that, if I donít know anotherís music, how do I know mine is best?