Have you ever seen a band wearing hats attached with big flowers and long sashes that twirl round and round as they play brass gongs or drums? If you’ve never been to Korea, probably not. But this sort of scene is something that you can see at any Korean folklore festival. Called pungmullori, this traditional art form is a performance unique to Korea.
What is Pungmullori?
Pungmullori is a traditional Korean art form that combines music, dance and acrobatics. Originating from farming villages, pungmul is also referred to by its other name, nongak, which translates to “farmer’s music.” Pungmul was the center of entertainment for farmers; it was a way to relax after a hard day of labor, performed at village festivals and performed at agricultural rituals.
Although pungmul performances vary by region and event, drumming is always the main focus. Additionally, each pungmul group will have a kkwaenggwari (small hand-held gong) player, a janggu (double-headed drum) player, a buk (large, shallow drum) player and a jing (large gong) player.
The Instruments of Pungmullori
The kkwaenggwari is a small hand-held gong. Usually made of brass, this instrument is
played by striking it with a small stick
covered in soft cloth. This instrument is
usually played as the lead in pungmul
performances due to its high-pitched, sharp
The janggu is a double-headed hourglass-
shaped drum that is generally played by
striking it on its two leather-covered ends
with one stick and one hand. It is usually
played as accompaniment to wind or string
instrument solos because of its flexible nature and its agility with complex rhythm. It is
carried with a strap worn over the shoulder.
The buk is a large but shallow barrel-shaped drum. There are many types of buk used in
traditional Korean music, but the buk used to accompany pungmul music has laced heads, and is played by striking it with a single drumstick on only one of its heads.
The jing is a large gong usually made of brass. It is played by striking it with a large mallet
that is layered with soft cloth.
The sogo is a thin, small drum with a handle
that is held with the left hand and is beaten
on the drumhead with a stick with the right
hand. Although it is a musical instrument, it is more significant for its role as a prop for
dancing. Sogo percussionists typically
wear the sangmo on their heads, a hat that is
attached with a white sash that twirls around as they dance.
Also going by the names of hojeok and
nallari, this double-reed instrument is a
conical oboe with a wooden body and a
metal mouthpiece and bell at the end. Due to its high volume it is rarely played with other melodic instruments, but will usually be
accompanied by drums.
The Origin of Pungmullori
There is a lot of debate as to the origin of pungmul. One view is that pungmul started as way to a pray for a good harvest or to celebrate happy occasions. Another view is that it started with a group of Buddhist monks who would go around to houses playing instruments to raise money to build a temple. Some believe that pungmul started as music for training exercises for the folk villagers when they were getting ready for war. No matter how it originated, pungmul has continually been performed over the decades and is still performed today.
Variations of Pungmullori
Pungmullori carries different characteristics for each region in Korea. In the mountainous eastern part of the Jeolla province, the pungmul variation of Honam jwado nongak is popular. This variation is characterized by a quick tempo in the music and a variety of large movements in the dancing. But in the western plains of the same province, Honam udo nongak is popular, a variation characterized by a very developed and complex janggu rhythm. Other provinces like the Chungcheong and Gyeonggi provinces are home to utdari nongak, while the Gyeongsang province is home to Yeongnam nongak. On top of pungmullori variations by region, there is also namsadang, a troupe of roaming performers who play pungmul as part of their performance.
Where to See Pungmullori Performances
If you’re visiting Korea during Chuseok or Lunar New Year’s Day, you’ll have no problem finding a pungmullori performance, as most traditional Korean tourist sites will definitely include pungmullori in their event programs for the holidays. But if you’re not visiting during the holidays, don’t fret. Here are some places where you can catch a performance all year round.
● Korean Folk Village
・Admission: Adult - 12,000 won;
Child - 8,000 won
・Hours: 9 a.m. – 6:30 p.m.
(Sundays･Holidays 9 a.m. -7 p.m. Winter season 9 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.) ・Performances: 11 a.m., 2:30 p.m.
・Open throughout the year
・Website (English): http://www.koreanfolk.co.kr/folk/english/main.html
How to get there:
▶ Subway line 2, Gangnam station exit 6. Take red bus no. 5001-1
▶ Subway line 1, Suwon station exit 4. Take city bus no. 37 or no. 10
▶ If you buy your admission ticket at the Korean Folk Village information center located near Suwon station, you can take the free shuttle bus.
● Chongdong Theater
・Admission: Adult, R section 50,000 won;
S section 40,000 won; A section 30,000 won;
Child 20% off
※Online reservations: 10% off
・Performances: 4 p.m., 8 p.m.
・Closed on Mondays
・Website (English): www.chongdong.com
How to get there: Subway line 1 or 2, City Hall station exit 2 or 12. Walk along the pebble path by Deoksugung (Palace) for about 5 minutes.
● Korea House
・Admission: Performance 50,000 won;
meals starting from 68,200 won; Performance & meal package 103,200 won
・Performances: 7 p.m., 8:50 p.m.
(Sundays 8 p.m.）
・Open throughout the year
・Website (English): http://www.kangkoku.or.kr/eng/index.html
How to get there: Subway line 3 or 4, Chungmuro station exit 3. Walk for about 5 minutes.
Where to Try Pungmullori Instruments
● Chongdong Theater
Janggu playing experience, taught by a professional musician. Single reservations are accepted. English and Japanese translators are available.
・Time: 3 p.m. – 3:30 p.m., 7 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. (Closed on Mondays) ・Reservations only
Janggu playing experience. Groups of 20 people or more are accepted. Translators are not available.
・Admission: \30,000 per person
・Time: 9 a.m. – 11 a.m., 2:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.（Mondays - Fridays） ・Please make a reservation at least one week in advance.
●National Gugak Center
At the National Gugak Center, visitors can see pungmul instruments up close and personal. Several traditional Korean instruments are ready and available for people who want to try and play them. Many instruments are on display at the museum as well, and visitors can learn about the history of traditional Korean music, traditional Korean instruments and notable musicians. You can also catch a pungmullori performance around Lunar New Year’s Day and Chuseok.
How to get there: Subway line 3 Nambu Terminal station exit 5. Take green bus no. 4429 and get off at the National Gugak Center, Arirang Broadcasting Station stop. Take the underpass to get to the other side.
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