There are two kinds of traditional string instruments in Korea. One type of the classical string instruments includes the geomungo or the gayageum and the like that produce sound by plucking the strings, while the other group includes the haegeum or the ajaeng that makes sound by sawing out a tune with a bow.
The plucking sounds of the traditional string instruments have a clear timbre, while the tunes produced by rubbing a bow against the strings seem to eat into one’s heart. In particular, the very low notes of ajaeng feel as if they are resonating deeply into one’s heart.
In today’s edition of Sounds of Korea, we’ll meet master musician Yun Yun-seok who is an ajaeng virtuoso. For the first piece of music on the show, we have “Ajaeng Sinawi” by myeongin Yun Yun-seok.
Ajaeng Salpuri / Ajaeng by Yun Yun-seok
We can say that ajaeng master Yun Yun-seok lived a unique life as a classical musician. During his lifetime, he rarely held his own concert and never enjoyed taking center stage in his daily life. But, as we know, renowned musicians receive recognition by the general public when they devote themselves to true music, not by increasing their presence in front of other people.
Master Yun Yun-seok was born in Iksan, North Jeolla Province in 1939. Thanks to his father who was a gayageum player, Yun was able to learn how to play the string instrument starting at age 11. Also, he studied pansori from master singer Lee Chang-seon who used to live in the same town. When Yun turned 16-years-old, he became a professional classical musician by entering the most popular Im Chun-aeng Female Gukgeuk Troupe and played the janggu, gayageum, and ajaeng.
In the 1960s, Yun Yun-seok met master musician Han Il-seop, the founder of ajaeng sanjo, and started to study the music genre created by Han. Then in the 1980s, Yun finally developed an ajaeng sanjo piece that featured his original melody. With his ajaeng sanjo, Yun swept the top awards at the contests such as Jeonju Daesaseup Competition and Silla Cultural Festival. That’s how his melody and his name gained publicity.
What’s more, he fashioned the metal ajaeng that has eight metal strings instead of twisted silk strings. It’s usually played by plucking the metal strings with one’s fingers. Because of its pure sound, the unique metal string instrument is often utilized for performing background music for traditional dance shows or for changgeuk, Korean traditional opera. This time, why don’t we take a listen to a metal ajaeng sanjo by master Yun Yun-seok.
Metal Ajaeng Sanjo / Metal Ajaeng Yun Yun-seok
Myeongin Yun usually plays the ajaeng with tightened strings compared to other ajaeng players. Since he has to concentrate all his strength on handling the taut strings with his left hand, the tune renders a heavier and deeper sensation than others. Yun is also known as a kind, devoted teacher as he was even dedicated when training a young student. His sincere attitude seems to mirror his devotion to music.
Yun’s professional life as an ajaeng player came to an end with the concert featuring Korean master musicians held at Umyeon-dang of the National Gugak Center in 2001. His health worsened, and he passed away in 2006. His original melodies have been passed down to future generations by his many followers and his son, Yun Seo-gyeong.
Currently, Yun Seo-gyeong is a member of the Folk Music Group, one of the performance groups of the National Gugak Center, and has been making efforts to impart his father’s repertoire to the world. We are confident that Yun Seo-gyeong will also become a great master musician like his father someday.
So, we learned about the life and music of myeongin Yun Yun-seok in today’s program. We’ll sign off the show with Yun Yun-seok School Ajaeng Sanjo played by Yun Seo-gyeong.
Yun Yun-seok School Ajaeng Sanjo / Ajaeng Yun Seo-gyeong