Contemporary Directions: Korean Folk Music Engaging the Twentieth Century and Beyond

Contemporary Directions: Korean Folk Music Engaging the Twentieth Century and Beyond

Contemporary Directions: Korean Folk Music Engaging the Twentieth Century and Beyond

Contemporary Directions: Korean Folk Music Engaging the Twentieth Century and Beyond

Excerpt

It is perhaps inevitable at the close of a century to stop and ponder not only our place in history but the way in which we define ourselves and meaningful activity taking place around us. This volume is largely an attempt to address and answer the question What is Korean folk music? or, perhaps more important, What is the nature of Korean folk music? Definitions of “folk” in the West have been problematic at best. The concept within musicological circles was initially associated with “primitive” or nonindustrial communities (Wallaschek 1970; Lomax 1968), a lack of formal education (Herzog 1936), and traditions that are untouched, stable, communicated almost exclusively by oral means, and without the “benefit” of a notational system (McClean 1983; Anon. 1954). Various components of these older perspectives resurface in the definition of “folk(life)” provided in the 1976 law passed by Congress creating the American Folklife Center: “Generally these expressions are learned orally, by imitation, or in performance, and are maintained or perpetuated without formal instruction or institutional direction” (cited in Bartis 1990:1).

Despite recent activities of the center to return the “folk” to contemporary experiences—as well as criticism leveled by (ethno)musicologists at the more negative connotations of this term (perhaps most eloquently stated in Blacking 1987:2)—there remains the lingering feeling that folk music must somehow be linked to an anonymous past, a feeling evident among large segments of music revival movements (Livingston 1999:75). This issue is further confounded when entering the field of Korean musicology. Traditional music is commonly divided between kugak, often translated as “court music” or “classical music,” and sogak/minsogak, or “folk music.” Folk music in the Korean context, however, encompasses local and rural traditions as well as semiprofessional and professional urbanized genres, “music whose sources and materials lay in the lowest social classes, but . . .

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