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National Changgeuk Company's endeavor to foster pansori composers continues

Nov. 15, 2023 - 15:52 By Park Ga-young
Participants of Pansori Composer Project (from left) Lee Bong-geun, Lee Youn-joo, Kang Na-hyun and Shin Han-byeol pose for photos during a press conference at the National Theater of Korea on Tuesday. (NTOK)

The National Changgeuk Company of Korea’s project to bolster the renewed popularity of changgeuk, which is akin to a traditional Korean version of opera, continues for the second year with four selected participants set to unveil their works next month.

During a press conference on Tuesday, the project participants gave a sneak preview of the creations they have been working on for the last 10 years as part of the Pansori Composer Project.

Lee Youn-joo, Lee Bong-geun, Kang Na-hyun and Shin Han-byeol each partnered with a writer over the past 10 months to compose songs for a potential changgeuk work. Each team worked on Korean and other folktales and fairy tales with the mentorship of top artists: pansori singer Ahn Sook-sun, Chung-Ang University professor of traditional arts Han Seung-seok and traditional musician Lee Ja-ram for "jakchang" or song creation, and playwrights Bae Sam-sik and Koh Sun-woong.

"There was a significant difference in the way I approach things," Han told reporters during a press conference on Tuesday. "There were many innovative ideas that are characteristic of the new generation. While it is essential to adhere to the original pansori conventions, sticking to them alone cannot keep up with current trends. The success of contemporary changgeuk is due to its acceptance of new elements," he said.

Lee Youn-joo, who is an actor with the National Changgeuk Company of Korea, will present compositions for “The Golden Axe and the Silver Axe,” based on Aesop's Fable “The Honest Woodcutter.” Lee Bong-geun, who is also a Korean traditional singer, will present songs for “Dume,” which is based on Medusa from ancient Greek mythology.

Kang Na-hyun developed songs for “The Snow Queen” by Hans Christian Andersen and Shin Han-byul for the folktale “Ghost Cap.”

“Pansori contains many scales that cannot be expressed in Western music. Additionally, there are embellishments and ornamental nuances that cannot be conveyed through Western musical notation,” Lee Youn-joo said. “I decided to participate based on the belief that someone who has experienced pansori firsthand would ‘jakchang’ more effectively," she added.

In changgeuk, both the music and the narrative are important. Pansori singers create new music based on the rhythms and scales of traditional Korean music, which is referred to as ‘"jakchang."

The works by the four participants will be introduced in a showcase on Dec. 8 and 9 in the National Theater of Korea’s Haneul Theater.

"In changgeuk, composing is as crucial as a ‘plan preparing for a hundred years,' but it seems to have been underestimated,” Yu Eun-seon, artistic director and director of the National Changgeuk Company, said.

“The fostering of composers is not something that ends with just one showcase. We are planning to implement a continuous program in stages and we will develop the project into a comprehensive project by coordinating with writers and directors,” Yu said.

To nurture pansori composers, the National Changgeuk Company launched the Pansori Composer Project last year.

Changgeuk derives from pansori, Korea's traditional narrative singing form that is registered as UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage. “Chang” refers to pansori, while “geuk” means drama in Korean. It is a relatively recent creation that dates only to the early 20th century, which came about with the introduction of Western-style theaters in Korea and the role of the director.