Korean music is an ancient art form and there is written material documenting its history, dating back to the 15th century. Today we can still hear examples of Korean traditional music as well as modern Korean pop music, also called K-pop.
Korean traditional music
Korean traditional music can be divided into Korean folk music, aristocratic chamber music, Korean court music and religious music:
Religious music is based on Buddhist and native shamanistic rituals. One example of Korean religious music is sinawi or shinawi, which is music improvised by a musicians ensemble during shamanistic rituals.
Korean folk music includes: Dongbu folk songs that are mostly simple and bright songs, but their style varies according to the region they originate from; Pansori, also called Korean Opera, is performed by one singer and one drummer and the lyrics tell different stories; Nongak, which is a rural form of Korean percussion music performed by twenty or thirty drummers together; Sanjo is instrumental only music that combines rhythms with melodic modes.
Court music is a music form whose origins can be traced back to the beginning of the Choson Dinasty in the XIV century. Korean Court music includes: Aak, imported from Chinese ritual music; Hyang-Ak, purely Korean performed with Korean string instruments and a Korean oboe called piri; Dang-ak that is a mixture of Korean and Chinese influences.
Aristocratic chamber music was aimed at entertaining members of Korean aristocracy informally and it can be either entirely instrumental, or sang by male and female singers in a style called kagok.
Korean traditional musical instruments
Korean traditional musical instruments are divided into three categories: string, wind and percussion instruments. String instruments include: gayageum (a 12 string zither), geomungo (six string zither), haegum (vertical fiddle with two strings). Some traditional Korean wind instruments are: daegum (a transversal flute) and piri (cylindrical oboe). Percussion instruments include: large and small gongs and janggu, an hourglass shaped drum.
Korean Pop Music
Korean pop music firstly originated in the 1940s 50s and the oldest type of Korean pop music is teuroteu, which was born during the Japanese invasion and is a kind of foxtrot. Teuroteu is popular among elderly Koreans, although a contemporary singer, Jang Yoon Jeong, has recorded a couple of popular teuroteu songs.
In the early 1970s a genre of Korean music, called tong guitar developed. Tong guitar was inspired by American folk singers like Joan Baez. Norae undong developed in the early 80s and is a form of Korean rock music with politically and socially aware lyrics.
Nowadays, Korean pop music, also called K-pop, is inspired mainly by R&B and hip hop and it has become very popular around eastern Asia. This increasing popularity of K-pop in Asia has been called the Korean Wave and it emerged in 2004 in Japan, thanks to popular TV dramas such as Winter Sonata, Stairway to Heaven or Daejanggeum.
Boys and girls bands, such as Baby V.O.X.,Fin.K.L., g.o.d, H.O.T., Shinhwa, Sechs Kies, and S.E.S. were very popular in Korea at the end of the 90s and now R&B and hip hop are gaining more and more popularity. Some Korean hip-hop musicians are MC Mong, 1TYM, Rain and Epik High. Other popular Korean artists include Lee Jung Hyun and Kim Hyun Jung and more.
Koreans and the western opera
Koreans also enjoy western style opera and many Korean opera singers have become internationally famous in the world of opera. The National Opera Group was estabilished in Souht Korea in 1968 and La Traviata by Giuseppe verdi was the first western opera to be performed in Korea. Famous Korean opera singers include Jo Su-mi, Hong Hye-kyong, Shin Yong-ok, Kim Yong-mi and the baritone Ch'oe Hyon-su, who won top honours in the 1990 Tchaikovsky Musical Competition. Many Korean students travel to Europe, especially Italy, Spain, France and Germany in order to study opera and improve their operatic skills.
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