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Songs about the arrival of spring

#Sounds of Korea l 2023-02-16

Sounds of Korea

Songs about the arrival of spring

Coming Sunday is usu우수, a seasonal subdivision when snow and ice supposedly melt. The next seasonal period is gyeongchip경칩 when frogs are said to come out from hibernation. There is an old Korean saying in which the frozen Daedonggang대동강 River melts on usu and gyeongchip. The thawing of rivers means boats can sail on the water to transport goods and people. That also means that there are going to be lots of goodbyes said at the docks. The first song for today’s episode is “A Planted Willow Tree.” Its lyrics go as follows.

I planted a willow tree for my love to tie his horse, 

But he broke off a willow branch every time he left to whip his horse.

I wonder if all the willow branches would become a whip to beat my horse following my beloved. 

The remaining ten million branches will hold down the resentment released every year.

This song will be comforting to those who don’t welcome the coming of spring. “A Planted Willow Tree” will be sung by experimental gugak group Shiro. 

A Planted Willow Tree/ Performed and sung by Shiro

Goryeo-era poet Jeong Ji-sang정지상 described the Daedonggang River in springtime as below in his poem. 

The grass is greener on the embankment after the rain. 

The song that sends my beloved to Nampo sounds so forlorn. 

When will the Daedonggang River run dry?

The tears of parting are added every year to the blue waves.

People not only say goodbye but also welcome their loved ones on the dock as the rivers thaw. Psychologists say that people tend to obsess over small losses rather than big gains, which is why there are more songs about the sorrow of parting than those about happy reunions. Coming up next is a danga단가 song entitled “Sacheolga” or “Song of Four Seasons.” 

Seeing that flowers bloom here and there, spring sure has come.

Although spring is here, the world is still a lonely place.

How sad that I was young yesterday, but old today.

The song starts this way and then continues to bemoan the swiftness of time. 

Even if a person lives to be a hundred,

Take out all the days spent in sickness, in sleep and in worry, he barely lives for forty years.

He will turn into the dust of the netherworld once he is dead.

Since a human life never lasts long, one should enjoy living while still alive. This is a song that resonates more when a person is older. Let’s listen to master singer Jo Sang-hyun singing “Song of Four Seasons.” 

Song of Four Seasons/ Sung by Jo Sang-hyun

Danga is a song that is sung by a singer to relax his singing muscles before starting a pansori piece. Pansori is emotion-laden while danga is sung in a composed manner. Next song is the jeongga정가 version of “Song of Four Seasons.” A jeongga song is characterized by the restraint of emotions. The beauty of jeongga is that a wide range of sentiments is conveyed to the audience even when a singer does not outwardly express those emotions. This is why a danga song sounds quite different from a jeongga one even with the same lyrics. Try to tell the difference between these two types of song by comparing the next version of “Song of Four Seasons” from the previous one sung by Jo Sang-hyun. Here’s Ha Yoon-joo singing “Song of Four Seasons” in jeongga style with the accompaniment of the Budapest Orchestra. 

Song of Four Seasons/ Sung by Ha Yoon-joo, performed by the Budapest Orchestra

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