The Korea Herald


[Eye Plus] Haegeum music filling in the blanks of life

By Lim Jae-seong

Published : Oct. 28, 2023 - 16:00

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“Haegeum is like ink that has permeated into my life,” Kim Sae-jin said.

Kim majors in haegeum at the Korea National University of Arts, a special educational institution to foster artists.

Haegeum is a traditional Korean string instrument that is played by pulling the bow across its two strings. It is also nicknamed the “ggaeng-ggaeng-i” for its high-pitched sounds.

The haegeum's body consists of a soundbox made of bamboo and oak, a bamboo bar and two tuning pegs. The instrument resembles the Mongolian morin khuur, and was likely first introduced to Korea during the Goryeo Kingdom (918-1392) by northern Asian nomads.

Kim, who took up the haegeum after an injury forced him to give up the violin, says that the Korean instrument “came to fill in a void in my life."

“I went astray. It was a difficult time and I am very lucky to have found the haegeum to be with in my life,” Kim said.

When Kim plays the haegeum, he carefully moves his left hand on the string to find the right spot to press, while the other softly wields the bow.

“Even a slight difference in pressure changes the tune, which makes learning tunes and pressure control very tricky,” Kim said.

“The more I learn, the more difficult the haegeum becomes. But it gives unpredictable fun,” he added.

Kim hopes for a broader appreciation of traditional Korean music.

“I know gugak is fading away and we are losing connection from our musical tradition with changes in time and lifestyle. However, I tried to leave traces of gugak by uploading my performance on social media,” Kim said.

“If many more people get interested in gugak, traditional Korean music can create as much hype as K-pop. I am looking forward to the day,” he added.

Photos by Lee Sang-sub

Written by Lee Sang-sub, Lim Jae-seong