Minji Park, a 24 year old musician had her annual performance playing Komungo at the Korean Society for the second year in a row, a special event given to a large audience who, despite the cold, was present and concerned to see her play.
Before any start, you may have some questions about the instrument. What’s the Komungo? In fact, it’s a very hard question because even when you check online, there is no single relevant answer. The best way is to ask the instrumentalist. It was a pleasure to meet Minji Park and very easy to speak with her. She is always laughing, and happy to help with any question. She answered openly without any holding back I hope you will enjoy the article as much as I enjoyed spending time with her.
Komungo is a very old instrument brought by Wong San ak. He adapted the instrument to the national style, and while he was playing a black bird came to him and danced. Since then, he named the instrument Komungo. Literally “Komon” means black (reference to the bird) and “Go” can be translated by strings. With its six strings, it can be associated to the bass. The association is not really relevant because the Komungo has a unique sound, and an uncommon use. The player has to hit the strings using their fingers or a stick to send out a sound. Mainly recognized as a male instrument, and only a few decades ago were women allowed to play it.
Thus, the union between this young artist and this antique instrument wasn’t expected by anybody. She became attracted to it when she was 14 years old. She had played piano since she was 6 years old, but the day she heard the deep melancholic sound of Komungo, she knew it was the one, she knew it was “the perfect sound just for me”.
After performances in Washington DC, Atlanta, Costa Rica, Hawaii, and plenty of other destinations, she stopped by the Korean Society last Thursday. For this special evening she decided to invite us to a journey through time and space while she was performing four different songs. Minji’s concert was a ticket straight to Korea. The elevators doors on the eighth floor became the doors of the plane we took to her country.
The theme of her performance was a chronological presentation of Komungo dealing with the evolution of the instrument from its origins to now.
This was the delightful program:
Su-yun-jang-ji-gok: Like in the origins, she played Komungo on the floor. This first song was performed by the noble society a long time ago while the men were enjoying their drinks listening to the music. It was a whole philosophy called P’ungnyu. P’ungnyu refers to a state of leisure where people celebrate arts and companionship.
Sin-kwae-don-nryu: This song from the old repertoire too, is performed by the common people. The rhythm is slow at the beginning, and then picked up at the end. This alliance is the representation of the Han. All Koreans carry inside them a sadness caused by the big war. Therefore, the slow part is to remind the Han, but the quick sequence is linked to work, endurance and revenge on life. To accentuate the message, Minji chose to play with Hong Jin-wood, a drum professional. The combination of the two instruments gave more intensity and enchantment.
Mu-young-tap: Still accompanied with the drum, she decided to pursue with a modern song, a composition of Jung Dae-suk. The modern generation uses a stand to put the Komungo on. The technique is also different, but the topics are still dealing with sad feelings. This song is the story of a young man who fell in love then lost his beloved. He tried to find her, but in vain. Therefore, as it was customary, he started building a Top, a typical building with different floor. The Top was so high that people could see it from outside the temple. His love saw it, and jumped in a pond and drowned because she was not allowed to get inside the temple.
Inspiration: The last but not least was her own composition. She used her experience to write this song. In an intimate and deep sound, she tried to illustrate the change that has occurred in her life since she moved to NYC. The young Korean girl decided to continue her study in an American University. However before that she needs to improve her English. Therefore while she is getting ready, she has to deal with a personal dilemma. On one hand, she is happy. She is living in the greatest city of the world. She is learning a new language with people from different countries and cultures. On the other hand, a part of her is missing something. She missed her family, her own private room, and her mother’s food. She is however perfectly lucid about the big change that happened since she is in NYC. The city has been kind to her, giving her the opportunity to play her music, and to share it with both aficionados and curious people. Every day is a blessing as long as, thanks to her instrument, she’s carrying Korea with her.
The movement of her hand was fascinating, sometimes energetic and sometimes soft but every time precise. The little caterpillar became a wonderful butterfly, flying with her own wings while she was performing her own song.
She is a generous complete artist who looks deep inside herself to interpret the different emotions. Because Komungo is a very raw instrument, her interpretation is essential to give tones to the sound.
She is aware of the big responsibility she’s carrying by being one of the few people who knows how to play the Komungo. Minji is doing a good job by performing on different stages, and trying to get people familiar with her instrument. She is generous, and ready to share her knowledge with everybody. Just ask her, and you will never stop her.