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[Eye Plus] 'Sangmo' adds wings to gugak

By Lim Jae-seong

Published : Dec. 23, 2023 - 16:01

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“The 'sangmo' can be called the ‘wings for gugak,’ as it enriches gugak performances,” says nongak performer Kim Ji-won.

The "sangmo" is a Joseon-era military hat with ornaments. The ornaments -- attached to the top of the hat -- come in diverse shapes, such as ribbons, feathers or flowers.

Performers wearing the sangmo spin their heads while playing an instrument alongside other band members in nongak, a type of traditional music and dance created by farmers.

The rhythmical movements of the twirling ornaments attract the audience visually, adding buoyant energy to a nongak performance.

Kim’s sangmo has a long paper ribbon connected to the top.

“I am good at turning around and around while flying this ribbon, making a circle in the air while playing an instrument. We call that dance ‘yeonpungdae,’” Kim said.

Sangmo performances, or "sangmo dolligi," require dramatic movements with the neck and body, so performers are also thus prone to injury.

“However, when I step on the stage, I am absorbed in the music and forget any worries about injuries. I am very happy that I can enjoy being on stage,” Kim said.

Kim first encountered gugak in her school’s traditional music band when she was a high school student. Being attracted to folk culture, she began playing in several traditional bands and performance teams in Seoul and Suwon, Gyeonggi Province, after majoring in Korean traditional music at university.

“I feel rewarded when foreign tourists come to see our performances and try to play the instruments. But have found that not many Koreans are interested in Korea’s traditional culture,” Kim remarked.

“Korean traditional culture has the potential to be developed in countless ways. A recent trend is also reinterpreting traditions from modern perspectives, though we also have to preserve them. I hope such efforts to gain contemporary audience members' appreciation come to fruition,” she added.

Photos by Lee Sang-sub

Written by Lee Sang-sub, Lim Jae-seong