20 Nov

K-Folksong Revisited

There is a growing interest in Korean culture in the US due to Korean drama and Korean pop music. We have seen a heightened desire to learn Korean arts songs from classical singers. However, the existing Korean art songs prove only to be in meager compositional style; using triadic harmony and homophonic texture. During the last seven years, Dr.Raejin Lee and Jean Ahn have been collecting Korean folksongs and re-interpreted them and have given concerts of these songs. The purpose of this was to publish a collection of Korean art songs for voice and piano, including texts, translations, and international phonetic alphabet, which can be used as a source by professional singers who are seeking to expand their contemporary repertoire. During the process, we have confronted problems of authenticity, practicality and applicability. In this lecture concert, we would like to present several versions of the rearrangements of the Korean folksongs and discuss the following questions. How can I reproduce ‘Shigimse”? How can the ornamentations be authentic and yet creative? How can I negate tonality? What should be the relationship between piano and voice? How can I reinterpret the song so that western trained singer can easily sing?



1) Performance of five re-composed Korean Folksong

2) Explanation of a proper style and diction for singing Korean Art Songs

3) IPA and word by word translations of the texts


The Arrangement of Five Songs

1) Kangwondo Arirang (East Province)

Kangwondo Arirang is from eastern province and its melodies often evoke the struggle of the region’s tough, mountainous terrain. The refrain that goes ‘ari-ari-ari’ may be used in many other Korean folksongs, which paradoxically imply both sadness and grief.

The character of specific ‘Shigimse’ which is called Menari Tori (LaSolMi ) is the most notable in this song. Here ‘Sol’ is always a passing note. The top note gets the accent. ‘Mi’ is the arrival note. The ‘Shigimse’ happens on the beat. Three different notations are used to ask the performers to approach the gestures differently. The gesture is more important than the individual pitch and I often gave chromatic inflection to play with ‘rawness’ of this Menari Tori.


2) Song of Mongeumpo (West Province)

The Song of Mongeumpo is from North-Western province. Itis a boating song for sailors, dreaming of their lovers in land. The song has two moods, peaceful and rumbling. I exaggerated the contrast to portray the emotions of the sailors. As in other songs from West Province, this song is in ‘La-Do-Re-Mi-Sol‘ mode and  “Mi” (5thabove the tone center) has ‘nonghyun’, deep vibrato.  Koreans have learned to appreciate and hear the several tones in nonghyon as an entity of one tone. [1]In this slow song, I explored the nonghyun extensively, producing many subtle nuances that color and enrich the melody. The elastic rhythm gave me more freedom in time and I purposefully avoided stressing the jangdan in this piece. The piano partakes in ‘all inclusiveness’ by doing Major-minor chord trills and undulating lines.


3) Baetuelga (Kyoungi Province)

Baetuelga is from Kyeong-gi Province.  It originates from a song that seamstresses sang as they weaved clothing. Both the piano and the song center on one pitch and gradually expand its line as to reveal the hidden emotion behind the repetitive act of weaving. Here I limited the pitch materials of the piano and used it as a percussion. I experimented on giving ‘shigimse’ to the percussion which is not the usual way of using percussion in Korean folksong.


4) Poonyunga (Kyoungi Province)

This song is a festive song celebrating the yearly crops at harvest time. Pungnyeon literally means “year of abundance” Here I imagined the farmers dancing while singing. Not a sophiscated dance but a flexible, continuous gesture with hands and shoulders. I used the pentatonic scale upward and downward throughout the piece as the visualization of this fluid dance. The voice part is unadorned but the singer is responsible for emphasizing the triple meter while the piano supports more subtly and sparsely. Both Baetuelga and Poonyunga are from Kyoungi Province, which is the area of Seoul and the tendency was to use light and bright voice.

5) Jindo Arirang (South Province)


Unusual Pronunciations in Korean Language

Alveolar Plosives [d, tʰ, t͈] and Allophones [t  ]

  • [tu] in Italian = [t͈u] in Korean
  • [tu] in English = [tʰu] in Korean
  • [du] in Korean; between [d] and [t]
  • [t ] in Korean – become implosion at the end of a syllable


Velar Plosives

  • [ga]= between [ga] and [ka]
  • [kʰ]= [k] in English
  • [ k͈]= [k] in Italian

Alveolar Fricatives and Allophones

  • 사             [sa]
  • 시             [ɕi]
  • 씨             [ɕ͈i]
  • 쉬            [∫i]

Palatal Affricates

  • 지             [tɕi]
  • 찌             [tɕi͈]

Unrounded back Vowel

  •  [ɯ]





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