Evelyn Glennie’s musical journey in Korea

by Philip Gowman on 17 March, 2015

in Book Reviews, Books on Music, Books on traditional culture, Korean traditional music, Pansori, Travel Books

Great Journeys of the WorldPercussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie has just been in the news for winning the Polar Music Prize 2015 along with Emmylou Harris. The award, according to its website, is “one of the most prestigious and unique music prizes in the world, crossing over musical boundaries and awarded to individuals, groups and institutions in recognition of exceptional achievements.”

One of the musical boundaries that Glennie has crossed is that of Korean traditional music.

A work colleague recently gave me a 1994 BBC book called Great Journeys of the World, which accompanied a TV series. Tony Robinson goes to the Caribbean, Juliet Stevenson to Morocco… it’s an enjoyable celebrity travel book. And there’s a chapter on Korea which his a bit more substance than the others. In an inspired choice, the BBC sent Glennie to Korea, seemingly giving her a free rein to pursue whatever story took her fancy.

Evelyn Glennie with Hwang Byung-ki in Gyeongju

Evelyn Glennie with Hwang Byung-ki in Gyeongju

The journey she chose was to seek out living traditions of ancient music. As a priority, of course, she meets percussionist (and Samulnori founder) Kim Duk-soo for a lesson on the changgo. And having honed her Korean percussion skills she gets together with kayageum player and composer Hwang Byung-ki (they play his Chimhyangmoo together in Gyeongju by the side of Anapji pond, with Glennie on changgo). She then travels southwest and witnesses a shamanistic ceremony in Jindo. But her favourite experience was meeting Ahn Sook-sun – who sings Pansori under Chunhyang’s waterfall near Namwon. All three Korean musicians have performed in London in the last 10 years.

Ahn Sook-sun

Ahn Sook-sun

The book is well worth searching out for its 40 pages on Korea, though I think it’s only available second-hand nowadays.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Bill Littlewood March 17, 2015 at 10:32 am

Thanks so much for the information about this book. I’ve tracked it down in a library in Hong Kong and wait with eager expectation. (There are a lot of copies on Amazon UK costing from one penny each! I hope lots of other people read your post.)

Philip Gowman March 17, 2015 at 1:28 pm

Glad you managed to track down a copy!

Simon Fay December 17, 2016 at 12:47 pm

I do wish I could see this programme again. It has lingered in my memory. Perhaps the book will fill part of the gap.

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