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Songs inspired by spring flowers

#Sounds of Korea l 2023-03-09

Sounds of Korea

Songs inspired by spring flowers

Welcome to “Sounds of Korea” on KBS WORLD Radio. This traditional music program invites you to deepen your understanding about Korean traditional music by taking a closer look at various music-related topics every week. Today, we’ll talk about Korean traditional songs inspired by spring flowers. I’m your host ________. Please stay tuned, I’ll be back shortly.  

Around this time in March, we get news of spring flowers such as rapeseed or cherry blossoms blooming in the south. Koreans look forward to the spring flowering season after a long, cold winter and wonder when flowers will begin blooming in their area. People in the old days considered plum blossoms, pear flowers and peach blossoms as the most iconic spring flowers. Flowers that bloom in early spring characteristically sprout flower buds earlier than leaves. Compared to cherry blossoms, which bloom in masses to cover the branches completely, the above three flowers bloom sparsely, almost hanging precariously to the twisted, dry branches. This may be why these flowers look so delicate and precious. Their fragile appearance, however, seems to mask the steely resilience within, the very manifestations of ancient Koreans’ favorite aphorism “gentle on the outside, tough on the inside,” or “an iron hand in a velvet glove.” Today’s first song is “Pear Flowers” by Choi Youn-young.

Pear Flowers/ Sung by Choi Youn-young

Coming up next is a poem-based song titled “Ihwawu” or “Pear Blossom Rain.” Falling pear blossoms usually indicate that spring is almost over. This poem was written by a gisaeng기생 or female entertainer named Maechang매창 of Buan부안, Jeollabuk-do전라북도.

I said teary goodbye to my love when pear blossoms fell like rain. 

Would he think of me when autumn leaves fall like rain? 

Lonely dreams come and go over the distance of a thousand li. 

Maechang was known to be a talented poetess as well as a geomungo virtuoso. Many men admired her for her talent and lovely appearance and wanted to be in a romantic relationship with her. But she fell in love with a much older poet named Yu Hui-gyeong유희경, who came from the lowest of the low class. The poem “Ihwawu” was written when Yu went to fight the Japanese army during the 1592 Japanese invasion, leaving Maechang to spend many worried nights all alone. She poured out her longing and resentment in the poem. While most poem-based songs are sung rather evenly, without much fluctuations in pitch, this song, belonging to the discipline of “jireum지름 sijo시조,” features the beginning part sung in high notes. A singer takes a big breath before belting out the first phrase as if to release pent-up frustration and yearning. Here’s Kim Na-ri singing “Ihwawu.” 

Ihwawu/ Sung by Kim Na-ri

Today’s last song has to do with peach blossoms. It comes from the part in pansori “Jeokbyeokga적벽가” where the three main characters – Liu Bei, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei – become sworn brothers in a peach garden. Pansori “Jeokbyeokga” was adapted from Chinese historical novel “Romance of the Three Kingdoms.” In the beginning of the pansori performance, the chaotic situation at the end of the Han Dynasty is explained, and then it is followed by a scene in which the three heroes vow to become brothers in front of an altar set up at a peach garden. Why did they choose a peach garden to make their vow? The pinkish pear blossoms make a very pretty backdrop, but the word “dowon도원” or peach garden brings to mind “mureungdowon무릉도원,” or Chinese paradise, a place that is said to be the origin of peach trees. So, vowing to be brothers in a peach garden illustrates the three men’s commitment to change the world into an ideal place. Let’s conclude this week’s Sounds of Korea with the “Oath of the Peach Garden” passage from pansori “Jeokbyeokga” sung by master singer Ahn Sook-sun. 

Oath of the Peach Garden/ Sung by Ahn Sook-sun

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