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Hansik and Arbor Day

#Sounds of Korea l 2023-03-30

Sounds of Korea

Hansik and Arbor Day

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’s topic is Hansik, one of Korea’s four greatest traditional holidays, and Arbor Day. I’m your host ________. Please stay tuned, I’ll be back shortly.  

At present, about 65% of Korean territory is comprised of mountains. Very few countries can boast of having tall, green mountains in the middle of cities or near villages. But, as recent as 60 or 70 years ago, more than half the mountains in Korea were barren. There were many reasons why the mountains in Korea became treeless – one was the Japanese colonial government that stripped the forests in Korea to plunder lumber and the other was the Korean War when people scrounged the mountains for firewood. It was surprising that any tree or vegetation survived at all. During those years, the nation experienced floods and mudslides whenever there was a rainstorm. Everything changed in the 1960s when illegal logging was regarded as a social ill just like smuggling or drugs. Taking down trees were strictly regulated and coal use was encouraged instead of burning firewood. Meanwhile, ordinary people watered the mountainsides to improve soil quality and planted trees. This hard work turned dusty, lifeless mountains into green sanctuaries for plants and animals. It is a proud achievement hardly found anywhere else in the world. Today’s first piece is “Saetaryeong새타령,” or “Bird Song,” sung by gugak band AUX억스.

Bird Song/ Sung by AUX

That was “Bird Song” by modern gugak band AUX. Were you able to feel the gentle breezes blowing in the forest as you listened to the birdcalls? 

April 5th, next Wednesday, is Arbor Day in Korea. April 5th was when Silla신라 united the ancient three kingdoms of the Korean Peninsula and King Seongjong성종 of the Joseon Dynasty held a farming ceremony to encourage agriculture, which was why that date was designated Arbor Day. You might ask why the Joseon king held a pro-farming event on that day. The answer is probably because it was Cheongmyeong청명 by Korea’s traditional seasonal calendar. The two letters of Cheonmyeong mean clear and bright, indicating that it is a time when the skies become clear and bright. In such weather life flourishes. There is an old saying in Korea that even a wooden poker would sprout buds if it were planted on Cheongmyeong. Hansik, one of four greatest traditional holidays in Korea and the 105th day from the winter solstice, also falls around this time of the year. Hansik falls either on the same day as Cheongmyeong or one day apart. In the old days, people used to celebrate Hansik just as grandly as Seol or Chuseok by mowing the grass at their ancestors’ graves and holding memorial services. Since Hansik and Cheongmyeong fall on warm spring days, it would have been nice to have a picnic with loved ones in the lush, peaceful mountains. Next song is for those who still tend to their ancestors’ graves on Hansik. Here’s fusion gugak band SsingSsing performing “Song of Youth.” 

Song of Youth/ Sung by SsingSsing

 “Jejeon제전,” a folksong from the western region, is about a young woman who visits her dead husband’s grave on Hansik. She spreads a clean piece of tablecloth to place the food offerings in front of the tombstone and pours three cups of wine for her husband’s soul. Then she tearfully asks the husband why he died so young and left her all alone and pleads for him to take her if he is afraid to lie in the ground by himself. One wonders how a young, childless widow managed to live after her husband’s death. It must have not been easy for women living hundreds of years in the past. Modern gugak band Akdangwangchil, now called ADG7, added its own story to this folksong. The version by ADG7 has the husband lost at sea during a storm, leaving his wife to make a grave without his body. There must have been many such cases in the old days. Let’s offer a prayer for all those unfortunate souls whose bodies were never recovered. Here’s ADG7 singing “Jejeon.”

Jejeon/ Sung by ADG7

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