In the past, people who aspired to attain knowledge or skills from a master had to watch, listen and learn directly from the teacher. So, there is a Korean expression with a literal English translation that goes “knee disciple” which refers to the best follower among those who apprenticed face-to-face under one’s tutor. Such close relations helped the teacher and the student to develop a permanent companionship that transcends time and space.
Master singer Oh Jeong-suk, the designated master of pansori Kim Yeon-su’s style Chunhyangga, was well known for her powerful sori despite her petite figure. But she is also famous for introducing her teacher Kim Yeon-su’s sori to the world.
In today’s program, we’ll learn about the life and sori of myeongchang Oh Jeong-suk. For the first piece of music on the show, we have Jebinojeonggi from pansori Heungboga. The piece sings of the journey of a swallow which used to be in the southern region during winter and migrated through the mainland of China and finally arrived at Heungbo’s village, situated between Jeolla and Gyeongsang Provinces.
Jebinojeonggi from Heungboga / Sori Oh Jeong-suk
Master singer Oh Jeong-suk was born in Jinju, South Gyeongsang Province, in 1935. Thanks to her father who loved pansori and enjoyed playing the traditional gong called kkwaengwari, she used to listen to sori and sing to herself from her early age. When she turned 14, she entered the changgeuk troupe that staged a show in Jeonju and officially began her career as a professional sori singer.
The next year, she moved to Kim Yeon-su Changgeuk Troupe where she met pansori master Kim Yeon-su whom she honored throughout her life. Myeongchang Kim was the most noted sori singer along with myeongchang Im Bang-ul during the period from Japan’s colonial occupation to the nation’s liberation from Japan. Since Kim was young, she studied Chinese classics and graduated from middle school. Therefore, Kim is also famous as a sori singer who performed with accurate understanding of long sijo.
By virtue of intensive lessons and training from Kim, Oh is reputed for her clear and correct pronunciation of sori performance. When Oh became 20-years-old, she quit the troupe and concentrated on pansori. For several years from 1972, she held a complete performance of each pansori every year. In 1975, when the distinguished Jeonju Daesaseup Contest for pansori was reintroduced, she won the top prize at the first event. This time, let’s take a listen to Sugung Pungryu from Sugungga by Oh Jeong-suk.
Sugung Pungryu from Sujungga / Sori Oh Jeong-suk
That was “Sugung Pungryu” from Sugungga by master Oh. Sugungga, which is one of the five surviving pansori pieces, is about a rabbit that barely escapes death by lying to the Dragon King. The section we just listened to sings about the banquet hosted by the deceived underwater king for the rabbit.
The day when sori master Oh Jeong-suk staged the complete performance of Sugungga in 1974 is filled with bitter-sweet memories. After the curtain came down, she was informed of her teacher Kim Yeon-su’s death. Wrapping up her activities in Seoul, Oh established the Dongchogak in Wanju, North Jeolla Province, and paid her respects to the late master Kim in the morning and evening.
Oh Jeong-suk also devoted herself to passing down her teacher’s sori to her students. Various sori events are transmitted to date, but in virtue of her efforts, the most widely known sori event is the Dongchoje Pansori. Myeongchang Oh Jeong-suk passed away in 2008. When she was alive, she also played humorous roles as well. In particular, she often played the role of Wolmae, the mother of Chunhyang, in the changgeuk Chunhyangjeon.
For the final selection of music on the show, we’ll listen to a section from Chunhyangga when Lee Mong-ryong, who became a royal secret inspector, disguises as a beggar and meets Wolmae.
A Section of Chunghyangga / Sori Oh Jeong-suk