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[Eye Plus] Pansori: bridging tradition and the modern world

By Lim Jae-seong

Published : July 1, 2023 - 16:02

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"Pansori" was the most difficult art form to master, says Choi Su-in, a 23-year-old student with experience in piano, flute, drawing and ballet.

The complexity of pansori only instilled her with grit and determination, and eventually led her to major in pansori at Seoul National University.

“I found myself improving more when training in pansori than when compared to other arts. Perhaps that is what attracted me to it,” Choi said.

Originating from the southwestern part of Korea in the 17th century, pansori is a traditional performance art in which a singer tells stories through songs, narration and dance.

Choi was training to be a classical vocalist when she first encountered pansori at school at 10 years old.

“It was a short verse of 'Heungbuga' (the tale of a kind but poor man and his greedy older brother). The unique rhythm and lyrics of the Korean songs fascinated me,” Choi said.

Pansori uses expressions spoken by ordinary people and rhythms from people’s everyday life during the Joseon era (1392-1910). Choi says she likes digging into pansori’s “folksy” features, which makes the art easily accessible to the public, allowing them to understand and empathize with the content.

Besides her own love for the art form, her pride in inheriting a piece of traditional culture keeps her on the pansori stage.

“Even with the creation of new music genres, pansori has not perished,” Choi said, stressing that the value of pansori has been recognized over the course of time.

“But, there should also be advances in this tradition,” she added.

Choi is exploring what aspects of traditional pansori need to adapt and change, and what aspects need to be preserved in order for the genre to continue being loved by a wide audience.

She tries to make changes in her performances to catch the attention of a more modern audience, including translating lyrics into contemporary Korean or introducing Western instruments.

However, she still hopes to preserve the Korean spirit embedded in one of the nation's oldest traditional art forms.

“Through this exploration of tradition and change, I want to create a pansori performance that is unique and something only I can perform," Choi said.

“I hope to build a bridge between traditional and modern lives,” she added.

Photos by Park Hae-mook

Written by Park Hae-mook, Lim Jae-seong