29 Apr 2022


The Korean Traditional Music; Pansori

Format: Chicago

Academic level: University

Paper type: Research Paper

Words: 1629

Pages: 6

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The Korean Traditional Music; Pansori

Music has been a main way of expression of people’s culture over the centuries. The main aspects of the way of life of the way of life of given ethnic groups has been through music, especially the folk lore. Music also serves to unite an ethnic community. Composers of music employ various styles including the choice of genre, rhythm, tempo and instrumentation in the quest of bringing out the message as well as creating aesthetic beauty. Depending on the intended purpose of the song, artists combine these literary skills to maintain relevance.

The Asian music has revolved over the years. For instance, two types of the Korean traditional music existed in the traditional settings. These include the Chong-ak and the Sog-ak. Chong-ak was a music form that mostly entertained the royalties during important national events while Sog-ak was the music sung for the entertainment of the common nationals. These two genres employed the use of instruments and choreographed vocals to bring out artistry in either the long narratives known as the kasa or the short lyrical compositions known as the sijo. 1 However, a more objective view of the music forms classifies Korean traditional music into three forms. The music played for courts, which majorly employed instrumentation, the music for the royal class and the folk music that was sang for the public. The pansori was a type of a long narrative song that employed dramatics and majorly laid attention on rhythm and tune. The word is composed of two phrases namely, pan and sori. Pan literally means a place where the action occurs while sori means sound.

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Pansori is widely known as a one-man opera due to its distinctive use of a single vocalist with the accompaniment of a drummer or gosu (percussionist) and an audience known as Cheongjung. These three players complement each in the activity of the song performance. The origins of pansoni have a link with the Confucianism literature whose main aim was to teach societal virtues of respect, honesty and righteousness and trustworthiness to authority. The deepest expressions of the song occur through cry that the Koreans use air “han” which relates to resentment and hatred. In all instances, the singer may use cry to relay happiness and sorrow alike. This has its basis on the culture of the Koreans, which relates most of sounds to a cry regardless of the circumstances.

Literature Review

The traditional Korean music embraced the value of use of artistic language in expression of personal views. Such was the case of the use of folk music that concentrated mostly on societal issues. The music history covers over three hundred years, although most historians have limited number of accounts of the period that existed before the Choson Dynasty. During this rule, Choson promoted the culture of music by sponsoring events that related to the Korean traditional music. He also inspected the composition of Akhak-kwebon, which is highly regarded as the Standard of Musical Science. 2

Park Chan describes pansoni as a type of music in which a young male performed a solo narration with the accompaniment of drumming. Park describes the music to have originated from the Southwestern Chola province but became prominent the 18th century as a genre that had a strong affiliation to the shaman ritual enactment. 3 The artist, also known as kwangdae performs in alternate episodes of recitation and beating a drum with sticks. The performance occurs in mat whereby the kwangdae he plays a mix up of imitation of the mannerisms of the characters in the song while singing. This enables the singer to portray in gestures the actions of the subjects in the song as he narrates the story.

Marshal Pihl describes pansori a genre that encompasses four major characteristics. These include dramatics, a solo oral technique, narration, and use of rhymes. The use of these in combination creates a singer that narrates one instance, sings at another and dramatizes the actions of the characters that he implicates in his song. The singer uses excessive phonation to bring out the sound (chang) features of pansori. The literary art employed both the skills of articulate speaking (aniri) and singing. The audience characteristically engaged the singer into performance by applauding the acumen he displayed in action via of the song with dramatization (ballim). Pansori also relayed the aspects of culture through its strong association with the shaman women traditions. 4 The song could last for about six hours with interrupted episodes of breaks. The audience of the kwangdae, who included mostly the young, was composed of anglers, farmers and the rich fortune makers who would gather for entertainment and celebration of their earnings.

Objectives of the Research

To explore the historical background of the pansori music.

To evaluate the performers of the pansori music in terms of the age group and gender

To investigate the cultural, geopolitical, and aesthetic issues relating to pansori music

Research Questions

This research will the address the following questions

What was pansori music and what are the historical relations of the revolution of this type of music?

Who were the participants in the pansori music performance?

What were the cultural, geopolitical, technical and the aesthetic issues addressed by the artists of the pansori music?


This qualitative research employs bibliographic research method. In this research technique, the paper analyses information gained form secondary sources of data, which include journals, books, and video recordings. This is an advantageous approach since the information regarding the history of the pansori music is retrievable from the sources available. It is also a cost effective method as compared to ethnography would require a researcher to become a participant in the Korean communities for direct observation of the culture. The paper also employs qualitative data analysis methods.

Results and Discussion

The pansori music took into consideration three major features. These features include speech, sound and use of gestures. The singer enjoys the company of a drummer who uses bare hands or sticks to create rhythms that bring the aesthetic beauty of the performance. Sound is the greatest component of the songs. The artist uses deep phonation and cry to express the message and emotion in an explicit manner commonly known as “han”

History of Pansori Music

Since the 18th century, the revolution of the pansori music is divisible into four major eras. These include the period of growth, which occurred in the 18th century, the period of advancement in the 19th century, the period of decline in the 20th century and finally, the latest period of reconstitution that started form 1960s. In the18th century, most of the Korean music centered on folklore. Later during this time, pansori music grew and established itself as a distinct form of music that was a combination of both lyrical rhythm and long narration and extreme dramatization. The composition of the famous twelve repertories of pansori occurred during this period with songs like Chunhyangga addressing the theme of love while Simcheongga expressed the subject of self-denial and redemption. 5

The 19th century marked the period of prosperity of pansori. People became fonder of the music genre, leading to expansion of the audiences and all of the twelve repertoires were acted. In the 20th century completion from other theatrical arts led diminished performances of pansori. More women joined the genre, while indoor performance replaced the conventional outdoor entertainment. This led to a decline of the pansori music. The period of rebirth of pansori started in the 1960s with the institution of the Intangible Cultural Properties Law that targeted reinstitution of the people’s culture through preservation of traditions. Legislators formulated laws on the manner of transmission of customs and performing art skills. These milestones marked the origin of the modern pansori enactments.

Nature of the Pansori music

The audience of the pansori music was mainly the middle class citizens from the early 18th century. The gwangdae also were the young men of low social class. However, as the music gained popularity, it attracted liking from the rich middle class and high-class men (yangban) as well. The increase in the number of the listeners coupled with an improvement in the aesthetic ideals of the genre. The combination of harmony, recitation and vocalization and use of gestures offered greater appeal. Humor also incorporated the use of slanderous language, witticism, and parody. Performers started to use tragic beauty in description of themes and portrayal of characters in a balance that relayed humor an atmosphere of sadistic utterances. 6

Women had not actively participated in pansori until the wake of the period of decline of the 20th century. Gisaeng with the the help of Gisaeng Johap played major pivotal roles in reinstating the talent of women in the performance of music. 7 To overhaul the male dominance in music, women formed organizations to foster their efforts in establishing female artists into the music arena. There were constitutional changes made by the government of the time in support of the freedom of expression for women through this music. This was a major milestone in the institution of female performers and massive sponsorship erupted in support of women.

Different from the conventional view of cry by the Western world, the Korean culture perceives cry as a form of self-expression and gratification. Pansori employs this aspect as an artistic style in which the moaner may not necessarily express a prevailing circumstance of grief. A narrator in the performance of pansori may shrill as an expression of happiness, joy or the extremes of emotion such as sadness. The cultural view of a cry, which may express hunger, dissatisfaction and satisfaction at the same time, is different from what other communities may perceive. The audience participates in the performance by chanting words of praise and encourage to the singer at the instances of the climax. This active participation brings completeness in the song and is an essential characteristic of any successful portrayal of pansori. 8

The ability of the singer to call the audience into joining the performance highly relies on the theme of the song and the environment of the activity, that is, whether it is an outdoor activity or a theatre. Contemporary audiences are even more difficult to call into action. This is attributable to fact that most pansori listeners of the modern times do not possess the familiarity that could offer them enough confidence to join into action when called upon. Instead, modern audiences are more likely to applaud by clapping hands rather than the traditional cries and active participation in the narration. 9


Chan Park “"Authentic Audience" in P'ansori, a Korean Storytelling Tradition”, The Journal of American Folklore , Vol. 113, No. 449 (Summer, 2000), pp. 270-286. http://www.jstor.org/stable/542103

Heather, Willoughby.“The Sound of Han: P'ansori, Timbre and a Korean Ethos of Pain and Suffering”. Yearbook for Traditional Music, Vol. 32 (2000), pp. 17-30 http://www.jstor.org/stable/3185241

Kim, Kee,Hyung. History of Pansori. Seoul: John & Wiley’s, 1995

Marshal, Pihl. “What is Pansori” Chicago Review, Vol 39, No 3/4, A North Pacific Rim Reader. (1993). Pp. 227-230. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25205756 .

Park, Chan, “The Song of Ch’unhyang: A performance of P’ansori.” The Journal of Asian Studies 60.3 (August 2001): 879-881. http://search.proquest.com/business/docview/230421510/fulltext/CF9934B67A2B4074PQ/15?accountid=45049.

Won-Ku, Kim, “Variety and Excellence in Korean Traditional Music,” Business Korea 18.3 (March 2001): 80-81. http://search.proquest.com/business/docview/206656569/fulltext/6B767D9133C94301PQ/1?accountid=45049

Yeonok, Jang. “P'ansori Performance Style: Audience Responses and Singers' Perspectives”, British Journal of Ethnomusicology , Vol. 10, No. 2 (2001), pp. 99-121. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3060664

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StudyBounty. (2023, September 15). The Korean Traditional Music; Pansori.


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