Historical Investigation regarding the Perception of Music Therapy among Korean Medical Professionals as Seen in Medical Journal Articles

By Kim, Soo Ji | Music Therapy Perspectives, July 1, 2009 | Go to article overview

Historical Investigation regarding the Perception of Music Therapy among Korean Medical Professionals as Seen in Medical Journal Articles


Kim, Soo Ji, Music Therapy Perspectives


ABSTRACT: The purpose of this study is to investigate how Korean culture has historically understood the incorporation of music into health care. Reviewed journals were collected through internet search engines and library research. Despite the strong cultural influences supporting the establishment of music therapy, there remains a lack of validated research in the Korean medical community on the effects of music in medical settings. Also discussed is the misinterpretation of music therapy as a simple music listening activity. The need for research and active participation in and by the medical community is advocated so that the widespread potential and applicability of music therapy can be fully recognized by the medical community.

The field of music therapy in Korea has grown enormously since the establishment of a formal higher education degree program at Sookmyung Women's University in 1 996. A second degree program was established at Ewha Women's University in 1997. In the past decade, therapeutic aspects of music therapy have also been introduced by music therapists who were educated and trained in Western cultures such as the United States, Australia, or Germany. While music therapy service has been expanded to various populations including special education students and psychiatric patients, the music therapy profession has encountered challenges in disseminating the concept of music therapy to medical professionals.

While the field of music therapy in Korea benefits from cultural familiarity with music and widespread belief among the public in its therapeutic power, many medical professionals maintain a stubborn attitude against recognizing music therapy as a legitimate therapeutic approach. In order to promote the music therapy field, it is crucial that Korean music therapists assert the identity of music therapy as a legitimate health care service. However, to be effective advocates for their field, music therapists would do well to equip themselves with a foundational awareness of how the concept of music as therapy has been perceived in Korea in the past.

Kut: The Earliest Concept of Music Therapy in Korea

A modern understanding of music therapy in Korea would not be complete without acknowledging Kut, an ancient shamanistic ritual of great value and importance in Korean culture. Ritual is defined as "a performance planned or improvised, that effects a transition from everyday life to an alternative context within which the everyday is transformed."1 Religious rituals "open up ordinary life to ultimate reality of some transcendent being or force in order to tap its transformative power."2 Therefore, ritual is a "mode of action taken by real and familiar people to affect the lives of other real and familiar people."3 In Kut ritual, shamans sing and dance to communicate with deities. They utilize special instruments to facilitate therapeutic and shamanistic power throughout the ritual. Therefore, this ritual could rightly be seen as an ancient intersection between music and the healing arts in Korean history.

Performers of the Kut ritual are excellent musicians and dancers, and they incorporate several types of musical applications in Kut ritual: vocalization, verbal expression, singing, instrument playing, chanting, and movement. The accompanying music of this shaman ritual, sinawi, is recognized as an independent genre when played solo or in an ensemble by professional musicians. Presently, sinawi is considered "the music that requires the most extensive improvisation."4 With this accompanying music, a shaman may perform various types of Kut, including Byung Kut. Byung means "disease," and Byung Kut is performed when a person has health problems. Music used in the ritual includes dramatic changes in tempo and dynamics, and a wide range of musical pitches is used by a shaman performer.5

In this process, persons seeking healing through a Kut ritual participate mainly by listening to sinawi and the presiding shaman's performance of vocal chanting and improvisations; thus, the patient's role is primarily passive. …

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