I enjoy listening to traditional Korean music. I sometimes listen to it in the car when I’m out and about town. There is a music station here in Seoul that specializes in traditional Korean music. It doesn’t play traditional music 24/7, but it does play it in the evening when I’m most keen to listen to it. I am far from a music expert, but I am a music aficionado who appreciates listening to good music. My tastes have changed over time. I’ve moved away from listening exclusively to American top 40 pop and rock music toward appreciating diverse musical genres. I’m not an avid fan of international pop music, including Korean pop, but I enjoy modern music mixed with traces of traditional rhythms and instrumentals.
Traditional Korean music is a unique part of Korean culture. Beyond the Korean drum processions you may have heard at Korean cultural exchanges, traditional Korean music comprises a family of musical styles ranging from royal court arrangements to rural folk music. Although shades of traditional Korean music mirror certain aspects of other forms of Asian music, notably traditional Chinese and Japanese music, it is very much its own music form. (Before I knew anything about Korea, I mistakenly assumed Korean music was just like Chinese music. I was wrong.) Traditional Korean music features percussion, stringed, and woodwind instruments, mostly of Chinese origin. However, the way they are played is distinctly Korean. Traditional Korean music is earthy and more melodic than it is harmonious. It features odd musical beats that often leave one feeling unbalanced and restive for more. Some traditional Korean music is an acquired taste for Westerner ears; it’s not for everyone. But if you give it a chance and listen to it closely, it can grip you and draw you in.
I prefer traditional Korean music over its Chinese or Japanese counterparts. Although it can be loud and triumphant, for the most part it is moody and ponderous. It reflects the passion and spirit of the Korean people, their hopes and aspirations. At the same time, the music reveals a sense of inner pensivity and a hint of despair and fatalism that comes with the belief that you cannot control your own destiny. It can leave you feeling helpless against the forces of nature and society that continually assail you. You can feel it with every accented fluorish of the reed instrument, the dull thud of the percussion beat, the grating bend of the strings, and in the wailing voice of the singer who strains to beseech the heavens for some relief from misfortune. It may sound strange, perhaps annoying to the uninterested ear. It may sound more alternative at times than a group on the fringe of alternative music. But it is powerful all the same.
Here are a couple links with some great samples of traditional Korean music:
Give it a listen, and enjoy!