Sunday, May 24, 2015

Samulnori - my attempt at Korean drumming!

I saw this ad pop up in my e-mail one day in February and said, "Oooh, me! Me, me, me!"

[Special Class for Foreign Residents] SAMULNORI(사물놀이)
The Korean traditional percussion quartet called “Samulnori(사물놀이)".
●Period: From March 19 to May 14(Every Thursday), 3pm ~ 5pm (120min)

-Orientation : March 19, 3pm at 국립민속박물관
-Class (8 Weeks): March 26 ~ May 14, 3pm~5pm at Seoul Global Cultural Center
*Performing Day: May 20(Wed), 2pm at 국립민속박물관 (National Folk Museum of Korea)
●Fee: FREE for foreign residents only

So I quickly signed up, convinced my friend Vilija to join me, and we've spent the last few months in Myeongdong on Thursday afternoons, sometimes with Michael tagging (and dancing) along, learning to play the janggu and buk. We started with an orientation at the National Folk Museum, located on the grounds north of Gyeongbokgung Palace.

The attendees were first treated to a samulnori performance and lecture. The performer pictured below, Mr. Oh, was to be one of our teachers.

Here's a quick clip of a portion of their performance:

We were then quickly given instruments, handed two sticks, and were walked through the beginner steps of reading the notation. I found this great link which shares more info: Samulnori 101

Right hand stick = / = "dak"
Left hand mallet = O = "kung"
Both played at the same time = ø = "deong"

picture courtesy of the Seoul Global Cultural Center

Each week we practiced at the Seoul Global Cultural Center in Myeongdong, where we learned a few more patterns and got quite the aerobic workout. Here is one drum I used during the class. The leather bindings are actually used to tighten the right side drum head and have to be released after you are done playing.

Here's my chicken scratch version of the songs we were performing. The Xs above the janggu notation were the buk's part (think of it like the bass drum of the group). The rhythms are all grouped in 3/4 time patterns (similar to a waltz) but are often much more intricate.

After a lot of practice and many attempts at memorization, the day of the performance arrived. 

We headed back to the National Folk Museum and the hosts played this short video of our practices and interviews (yup, that's me talking in one clip, followed by Vilija). My only wish is that they had not covered up our drumming with the extra video music, but you can get the general idea.

We wore traditional costumes for the performance, with red, yellow, and blue accents. Red symbolizes fire, blue is for wood, and yellow is for earth. The white we wore is for metal and there can be black accents, for water. The sashes all get tied with large bows in the back.  :)

There was a bit of a media frenzy as we practiced here - lots of flashes and camera clicking added to our drumming - since we're all foreigners trying a bit of traditional Korean culture. 
Here are links to two reports I know of:

picture courtesy of the Seoul Global Cultural Center

There is a video clip of our performance, but I am not received it from the SGCC yet. As soon as I do, I will update this page with it.

picture courtesy of the Seoul Global Cultural Center

We all received this nice set of certificates for completing the course, one in Korean and one in English.

Interested in learning more about samulnori? 
I found this great site that I'll be referencing in the future, since I'm bringing back a janggu!


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks! It was a lot of fun. I'll be sure to share the video when they give me the link. :)