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Imagine the methodical beat of a drum, the music of many a nation worldwide. This rhythmical pattern was used for many things, like religious rituals or something as humble as bringing joy to farmers. Such were the beginnings of poongmul, a Korean cultural drumming practice that began in the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1800s) and lives on today as a form of Korean cultural expression.
Such cultural practices are kept alive by Hansori, a Korean cultural awareness group at the University of California, Irvine. This group works to celebrate the poongmul tradition through its performances across Orange and Los Angeles counties. Created in 2002 as a tribute to Korean poongmul star Kim Duk Soo, this group has become one of the most skilled, self-taught poongmul groups in Southern California.
Yet there are other aspects of this organization that also set it apart from Southern Californian poongmul groups.
“The amount of non-Koreans [in Hansori] is greater than in other clubs,” Hansori President Chris Lee says, then adding that the “performance community” of the group was greater than many of the other poongmul groups nearby.
As the kkwaenggwari player, and therefore, the musical leader of the group, Lee plays a vital role in Hansori. Poongmul’s four instruments — the kkwaenggwari, the jing, the buk, and the janggu — can be divided into two groupings: earth and sky. The two metal instruments in the group, the kkwaenggwari and the jing, symbolize the sky. Conversely, the buk and the janggu, which are made of wood, symbolize the earth. Under the leadership of the kkwaenggwari, all four instruments unify to make one sound, known in Korean as the word hansori.
According to Lee, there are three different styles of drumming, the sitting routine, which is called yeongnam, a combination of stand-up and sit-down called buknoris and the stand-up routine, kwenggi. Though based in the age-old poongmul traditions, these routines often vary depending on the group playing it. The most individualistic form is kwenggi, which allows the group to create unique combinations of rhythms to march to. However, “though our routines change, other stuff stays the same,” Lee says. One of these things is the rhythms, which differ from group to group, but generally stay recognizable to other poongmul players.
One of the key differences between Hansori and other Korean drumming groups is the large performance community this group participates in. Along with the various performance requests Hansori receives throughout the year, the group also participates in two annual events: Jishin Balpgi and UC Irvine’s Korean Culture Night.
Recently, the group performed in Jishin Balpgi, which is a festival based in a shamanistic ritual. In this festival, Korean drummers from the University of California, Los Angeles, the University of Southern California and UCI marched around Koreatown in Los Angeles.
“[We] go into the stores and play music to kick out bad spirits and bring good luck to the store owners,” Lee says.