Bella Frey bangs the drum for some exciting classes.
Since the first time I went back to Korea and was treated to a performance of a Samulnori percussion group performance, I have wanted to try to play one or all of the four instruments, particularly the drums. I was blown away by the energy, fun and exhilaration I felt from watching and listening to the rhythms, which increase and decrease in volume and and pace. I imagined how wonderful it would be to actually be playing.
I have spent over a decade trying to find a class or a teacher to help me fulfil my wish but there are hardly any groups in the UK and found it incredibly difficult to find a situation which fits into my working schedule. I had heard of summer classes through the years but these seemed to be generally in the daytime which was not convenient.
It was by chance that a friend of mine said she was attending a workshop in Bethnal Green on a Saturday, and asked if I would like to go along too.
The class was held on a Saturday afternoon which was great for me and I joined about seven other enthusiasts for my first Korean drumming lesson.
Arriving at the class I was a little nervous but our teacher Jeung-Kyung Choi and her helpers made us feel at ease. Jeung-Kyun is a cheerful lady who looks delicate but who can belt out some awe-inspiring pieces of drumming, particularly on the Janguu, the iconic hourglass shaped drum. She is also the manager for the hugely successful Dulsori performance group who travel the world sharing the art of Samulnori, and is the only member to be residing in the UK so we are incredibly lucky to have her here to share her skills with us.
We began by speaking a series of simple beats out loud then repeating them on our instruments. I irrationally decided to begin with the Janggu despite the fact that I have little co-ordination between my brain and hands at the best of times, let alone trying to get each hand to move at different paces on each side of the drum. I must admit it didn’t come naturally but I persevered and eventually was able to keep up when repeating the same exercise. The sound of all the drums beating together is fantastic and uplifting. We then began to link a series of different sets of beats together and this was where my brain could not communicate fast enough with my hands and it all became a little chaotic. I tried to think less and just let the hands do what they wanted but just when I thought I had got the hang of things and was trying to place emphasis on particular beats I broke one of my sticks in half. Huge embarrassment followed, but was short lived thanks to the light hearted and fun atmosphere of the class. One aspect I particularly enjoyed was the use of our voices as part of the beats. We were encouraged to shout a hearty ‘Hoy’ at the end of one of the rhythms which felt like a great tension release. By the end of the workshop I felt like I could have happily continued for several more hours. It actually felt like I had attended some kind of therapy session and I left feeling cheerful and stress free.
In my second lesson I tried the other type of drum called a Buk, and I found this to be more comfortable than the Janggu as only one hand is used, and the stick is much stronger than the one I broke when trying the Janggu. The Buk makes more of a bass drum sound and the beats are simpler than that of the other instruments but include pauses which can be tricky to get the hang of, but Jeung-Kyun and advanced student Ji-Eun were on hand to encourage and help. I was surprised how quickly we were able to pick up the sets of beats just by repeating the sounds vocally before drumming them. Of course there were mistakes but with practice I hope I hope that I may eventually become OK at this. The Buk definitely felt more comfortable for me but the competitor in me is still being called by the challenge of the Janggu.
For anyone who has not tried Korean drumming, I would wholeheartedly recommend learning this challenging and exciting traditional art form. It is also a great fun way to release tension.
Workshops run by Jeung-Hyun Choi are currently being arranged in London according to demand, so if you are interested in finding out when and where the next one will be contact her at email@example.com The more people who are interested the more workshops can take place. Jeung Hyung also offers private tuition for those who really get the drumming bug.