The program got off to an impressive beginning recently with Kamehameha: A Hawaiian Epic. The series now moves from the music and stories of our island state to the traditional drumming and dance of Korea with SamulNori.
The troupe known as SamulNori was started by Kim Duk Soo in 1978. Over the past 20 years, it has traveled the world to present and preserve an ancient form of rural Korean music. It performs an interpretation of the style of music believed to have been played by farm workers to lessen the fatigue of endless backbreaking days. The collective farms common in old world Korea would have musicians playing throughout the day to increase the workers' efficiency. This utilitarian form of music eventually evolved to the point where it became the entertainment and pastime of succeeding generations.
The musical instruments of the time were mostly percussive in nature. Like many folk instruments, they would have to be inexpensive and easy to produce. The four primary instruments used represented the forces of nature so important to the farm life. Lightning is depicted by a small brass gong called the k'waenggwari. Played with a bamboo mallet, it produces a metallic sound. The wind is portrayed by the deep resonance of the jing, a much larger iron gong. The two-sided hourglass drum called the changgo represents rain with its high-pitched tones. And finally, the buk is a barrel drum whose loud bass sound rumbles like the stormy clouds overhead. Thus, the name SamulNori translates simply as "to play four things."
Since its beginnings as strict traditionalists in the 1970s, the troupe has continuously expanded its scope. When not performing, the troupe presents educational workshops to teach the history of Korean music, and has released nearly 20 recordings. Its occasional collaborations with the jazz group known as Red Sun have created music that truly deserves that most misused term: "fusion."
SamulNori is scheduled to perform one show at 8 p.m. Friday, October 15, at Gammage Auditorium, Mill and Apache in Tempe. Tickets are $5 and $29. For details call 480-965-3434 (Gammage) or 480-503-5555 (Dillard's).