Traditional Korean Music
Korea is rich in musical culture, and its music is distinctive despite tremendous influences from China. The same is true for Japanese music despite Korean influence. Evidence of these influences can presently be found in the existence of Koreanized-Chinese music called tang-ak in Korea and of Japanized-Korean music called komagaku in Japan. The Korean term tang-ak literally means music from T'ang Dynasty China. Similarly the Japanese term komagaku signifies music from the Koryo Dynasty in Korea.
Korean traditional music can be roughly divided into two major categories, chong-ak and sog-ak: music for the ruling class and for the common people, respectively. Within these two major types are various subcategories that make up the whole of Korean music. Thus, in chong-ak there are two different, but somewhat related meanings. In this broader sense the term refers to the elegant musical style that was considered "right" for the Korean ruling class in terms of Confucian philosophy, and within this broader meaning it also refers to ensemble music for men of high social status outside of the court. In this category, three important terms are a-ak, tang-ak, and hyang-ak. Chong-ak and A-ak can be used interchangeably, in their broader sense, referring to music for the ruling class, which includes tang-ak, hyang-ak, and Confucian ritual music. In its narrower sense A-ak refers to ritual temple music, of which at the present time only one example remains, Munmyoak. Munmyoak is music performed at Munmyo, the shrine where Confucius and his disciples are honored. Tang-ak refers to secular music of both the Chinese T'ang and Sung dynasties, which was altered to become court music after its introduction to Korea. Hyang-ak simply means native Korean music, a noted example of which is Sujech'on, a piece of instrumental music often claimed to be at least 1,300 years old, which would predate the first compilation of Gregorian chants. Court music, a subcategory of chong-ak, includes three types: ritual, banquet, and military music. Ritual music includes Confucian music and royal shrine music, while banquet music is of course music for courtly banquets. Sujech'on is one of the most famous pieces of banquet music.
Music for the upper class consists of a type of ensemble music, p'ungnyu, the most sophisticated Korean lyric song genre; kagok, and the indigenous Korean popular song, sijo. P'ungnyu is an archaic word that formerly meant music in general. Its present literal meaning denotes the state of being in which a man at leisure physically and mentally removes himself from the everyday world into a harmonious mood suitable for the appreciation of poetry, music, and female companionship. When the term is used in the context of Korean classical music, however, it refers to a type of ensemble music for the nobility. One variety of this music, called chul-p'ungnyu, consists mainly of stringed instruments. A second variety, taep'ungnyu, consists mainly of wind instruments, and a third is a combination of the first two. Kagok uses a rhythmic pattern of either a 16 - beat changdan (which literally means "long-short") or its varied form, a 10 beat changdan. Any kagok selection is based on the ujo or kyemyonjo mode, or sometimes on both. Instruments used for accompaniment are the komungo, kayagum, yang-gum, haegum, p'iri and changgo.
Sog-ak, music for the commoner includes shaman music, Buddhist music, folk songs, farmers' music called nong-ak, a form of dramatic song called p'ansori, and an instrumental solo music called sanjo. In shaman music, the role of an inspired female shaman priest called a mudang is very important. The mudang plays the part of a medium between the visible world and the supernatural. Singing, dancing, and instrument playing are always involved. One of the most important types of Buddhist music is called pomp'ae, a song of praise to Buddha, and today preserved by only a few priests. To promote this music, the government has designated pomp'ae as an intangible cultural asset and is taking steps to encourage new devotees of the art.
Since Korea traditionally has been an agricultural nation, the life of the farmer has always had significant influence on the musical history of the country. The most interesting characteristic of farmers' music is its 12 different rhythmic patterns called shipich'ae, which are led by a small gong called kkwaenggwari. One of the more appealing types of sog-ak is the sanjo, an instrumental solo piece originally in improvisational style for various instruments: the kayagum, komungo, taegum, haegum, tanso, and p'iri. P'ansori is another musical treasure of leading importance in Korea and can be defined as song in drama, an indigenous opera-like production with one singer storyteller. Within the p'ansori, aniri is the spoken description of the dramatic content between songs, and pallim is the physical motion of the drama.