Tag: Korea

A Brief Comparison of Korean Gayageum, Chinese Guzheng and Japanese Koto

Eun Chae, one of my students, submitted this interested topic for her writing.  I thought it was quite intriguing so I thought I would publish it. She didn’t do exceeding amounts of research but enough for all of us to benefit. Enjoy and thanks, Eun Chae.


 

Why do musical instruments that come from Korea, Japan, and China look similar? All three countries were in the same cultural area, and shared commercial relationships, and musical elements such as instruments, and songs. Just like the evolution and changes that occurred culturally between the regions, music and instrument variations also occurred. People in their respective countries improved the instrument to benefit their unique playing methods. Therefore, the instruments in each country do not look identical. The reason why they updated the instrument was a result of a lack of understanding of those methodologies, and to make clear their own respective and unique national identities. Thus, one cannot state that Korea, China, and Japan have the same instruments. After comparing the three countries’ typical stringed instruments: the Gayageum (Korea), the Guzheng (China) and the Koto (Japan), the differences will become apparent.

Chinese Guzheng

A good starting place to begin to explore the similarities between the Korean Gayageum and the Chinese Guzheng is that both are Asian traditional long zithers, and both are made of paulownia. An Asian traditional long zither is a square, elongated, stringed wooden resonance box that looks like the harp but played lying horizontally on the floor. The paulownia is a tree that produces the best wood for musical instruments because it is not vulnerable to fire and because it resonates well. In addition, both the Gayageum and the Guzheng have bridges and both are played with the fingers, and people usually push the left side of string to produce a vibrato effect on both instruments. There are also differences between these two cousins. While the Gayageum has twelve strings made of silk thread, the Guzheng has twenty-one strings made of metal. The Gayageum player performs a vibrato technique – the gentle bending of the string to create a wavering effect on the sound wave- but the Guzheng creates a celestial sound by doing rapid alternate picking. Lastly, the Gayageum is played with the bare fingers, but the Guzheng requires picks on the player’s right thumb, forefinger, and middle finger.

Korean Gayageum

The Korean Gayageum and the Japanese Koto also have similarities and differences. The Gayageum and the Koto are similar in that they are both made of paulownia, and they are classified as Asian traditional long zithers. Also, both instruments’ bridges can change the pitch of the string by manipulating or moving the bridge. In regards to their strings, they are usually made out of silk. The Gayageum and the Koto are different in that the Gayageum players put the instrument on their knees in a cross-legged position when they play it, where the Koto is placed on the floor in front of the kneeled player. On the top surface of the body of the Koto, there are tuning pins like a piano’s, to facilitate tuning. The Gayageum sounds soft, and lingering, but the Koto has sharp, clear tones and its sound limited sustain. While the Gayageum is played with the bare fingers, the Koto requires the use of picks on player’s right three fingers like the Guzheng. Finally, the Gayageum was invented by Wu Ruk, who was commissioned by Gaya’s king, but the Koto is an ancestor of the Guzheng.

Japanese Koto

Comparing the Japanese Koto and the Chinese Guzheng reveals more similarities than differences. Both have clear, and sharp sound. In addition, unlike the hand controlled tuning pegs of a violin, they have a tuning mechanism for tightening and loosening the strings more like a piano. Both musical instruments usually use rapid alternate picking when the players want to make the sound ornate. Furthermore, their movable bridges along the body look similar, in that they are angular arch-shaped and have two long legs while the Gayageum has round arched bridges with short legs. However they differ in that the Koto has thirteen strings, while the Guzheng has twenty-one strings. It is difficult to find the differences between these two instruments because the Koto originated from the Guzheng.

The Chinese Guzheng, the Korean Gayageum, and the Japanese Koto have individual, indigenous sounds distinguishing one from the other, though they look similar externally. Each respective country’s musicians redesigned the instrument by applying to it their character which contributed to the unique sound of each one. Also, traditional instruments are connected to their own country, so people who might think that those three musical instruments look the same and have almost the same sound could find the differences easily after hearing them individually. One should not be surprised because China, Korea, and Japan share similarities between their cultures, while maintaining their own unique customs.

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Origins of April Fools (All Fools Day) Day

April Fools day has thrown me off since I was a kid.  I thought it was quite irrational if not ‘wrong’ that there would be a day when you could trick (a.k.a. lying) your parents and do pranks and not get in trouble.  I noticed people also enjoyed tricking me.  For me it was the only day of the year I could put saran wrap over the toilet bowl or point the water hose out of the back of the toilet tank and not get in serious trouble.  All I had to do was make the ‘April Fools’ mercy cry.  I knew something was wrong with this day.

The real moment of curiousity and intrigue came while I was living in Korea.  I was completely thrown off that Koreans also ‘celebrate’ this wacko tradition of tom foolery.  I thought it was another inexplicable western mystery (like Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny)(which incidentally I have blogged on and de-mystified slightly) but apparently the Asians like to have a day of acceptable folly as well.

Here I am thirty some-odd years later and I still don’t have any of the answers so this year I started doing a little casual research that I thought I would blog for myself and anyone else who would like to solve the mystery of its roots. Especially absent seems to be the participation of Korea in this wackiness.  For example, did the west, by chance, steal the tradition from the east and claim it as their own (like chess perhaps) or vice versa?  This truly was intriguing.

I did the usual large search engine search and came up with the usual suspects:

  • Wikipedia page which lead to my favourite explanation of the day – Sizdah Be-dar from Iran
  • An info page by some info article site
  • Huffington Post article which contains lots of faith-rooted suggestions for the history.  This was probably the most enjoyable and generally interesting article of the three so far if you have to choose for the sake of time 😉
  • More?  Now it’s your turn to add to the learning

Since this is still a wild card, I would love if someone could, in the comments below, throw in some useful links so that by this time next year I can publish a very awesome ‘guide to April Fools day’ kind of thing.  I’m especially looking for when and how April Fools day started in Korea. I’m guessing at this point maybe the foreign soldiers brought it in and played pranks on their unsuspecting Korean comrades to improve morale and help them laugh amongst nasty blood shed?

 

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Jesus is Not the Reason for the Season

MODERN DAY DISCIPLE OF JESUS DECLARES JESUS NOT THE REASON FOR THE SEASON

Before I was a disciple of Jesus, I thought that Christianity and Jesus and all that virgin birth stuff was the root of the Christmas holiday. Even the word ‘Christmas’ seemed like ‘the mass of Christ’ – some kind of ‘Christiany-Catholicky-religiousy’ thing. It didn’t help that everyone around me – including those who attended Christian churches – boldly claimed ‘Jesus is the reason for the season’.

It wasn’t until I actually decided to wholeheartedly follow Jesus Himself that some of these claims about Christmas started to show some cracks. A little bit of study on these topics allowed some water to leak out and after digging in to the next level, the ship had sprung a leak and was on its way down.

One of the first thoughts that made me question this Christmas thing was the fact that many unbelievers around me had absolutely no problem ‘celebrating Christmas’. For many of them it was a chance to get more drunk for a longer period of time without work getting in the way. To take it one notch further, when I announced to people around me that I wanted to drop the gift-giving thing from Christmas (at that time it was just because I was broke and realized the nastiness of the commercial aspect of the season on broke people) it was the unbelievers who seemed to be most upset. They said ‘It’s fine if you don’t buy anything but don’t prevent us from buying gifts for you.” It was from these same folk from whom I received emails ‘Jesus is the reason for the season’ or “Let’s put Christ back into Christmas’ or ‘I will say “Merry Christmas!” not “Happy Holidays!”’ as if they were standing up for something very dear to them. The notable thing was that I never heard the name of Jesus exit their lips at any other time of the year yet, for them, Christmas was about Jesus? They were ‘celebrating the birth of Jesus’ they sometimes said.

I have to admit – there was something about that ‘Christmas magic’ that compelled me. It had me addicted. Something about those gifts. Something about Santa. Something about that decorated tree. All these things are very deep, cultural, and most definitely unavoidable.

One of the second Christmas experiences that happened occurred while I was living in Korea. My wife is Korean and a believer, so I did Christmas Gangnam Style a few times. It was interesting for me to note that this entire country goes to work and school and don’t think twice about it. The Christians in Korea gather for a service focused on the birth of Jesus and that’s about it. I suppose even this is rooted in the long term connection between the North American and Korean churches. The Santa thing was considered an ‘American cute thing’ and no one treated him much more seriously than you would treat a fast-food mascot walking down the street promoting cheap burgers as you drive by. I don’t recall meeting anyone who would actually lie to their children telling them that this fat old man was real and had God-like moral authority over their lives. It made me question what this time of the year was all about and why I was even a participant as a Christian.

These events prompted me to search the history of all these Christmas symbols. I found that all of them were pagan or secular at best. There was even substantial evidence saying that mixing the birth of Jesus into this holiday was a way for the ‘church’ to be able to participate in the dominant pagan festivities of the time (related to sun gods and other winter solstice events). The ‘Christians’ may have felt left out and wanted a piece of the pagan pie. Or, another view was that they celebrated Jesus’ birth because there was already this event going on so you might as well ‘Christianize’ it. Regardless of the reason, there is no proof at all to substantiate that Jesus was behind this December event whatsoever.

There are, however, many reasons to believe Jesus is NOT the reason for the Christmas season. Here is just a snapshot:

  1. Christmas trees are a pagan ritual condemned in Jeremiah chapter 10
  2. Jesus wasn’t born anywhere near December 25th. All scholars agree on this one.
  3. Santa has nothing whatsoever to do with the Bible but instead is a significant distraction from the God of the Bible painting an inaccurate view of our Heaveny Father and the reality of faith.
  4. It wasn’t really until around the mid 1850’s that Christmas was even regarded as a special day in the United States. Before that the celebration of it was even condemned and the existence of a Christmas tree in a church was nothing short of heretical.
  5. {More to be inserted here one day, maybe winter 2013}

After having researched these things and inside of myself decided that as for myself and my family we will not participate in these aspects of Christmas, I started to realize the immense social pressure to do it so as to not ruin the fun for others. In fact, the very day after I decided this, our family ended up at a Christmas event where I was the only white guy (again). Within just a few moments I was handed a big box full of Santa gear and asked to be Santa for these kids, one of whom was my daughter. Instead of ruining the event I decided that I would give them one year’s warning of my non-participation and make sure that as for my daughter, she knew that it was daddy under the suit. The pressure to do all these things is akin to high school social pressure.

The argument against Santa for Christians, with which I concur is this: If you lie to your kids about Santa, what makes you think they will trust you when you are teaching about the God of the Bible? In fact, it is this exact ‘argument’ that many atheists use when trying to refute the stories of the Bible. They say ‘The creation story, virgin birth and resurrection are nothing more than fairy tales like Santa and the Tooth Fairy.” Is this the kind of foundation we want to leave with our children? I cannot stop you from lying to your kids but if mine ask me if Santa is real, they are going to hear the truth in the same way I will tell them the truth that God is real. Our words and actions must line up.

So, then, what is the solution?

I do not have a complete answer yet and it will likely be a work in progress over the next few years. The best one I have heard so far and I will attempt to implement it is the idea of following the feasts and celebrations of the Bible (mainly Old Testament ones like the Passover). This will create a better understanding of the Bible while allowing us to celebrate something with eternal importance. Further, I believe that preparing a solid answer as to why we’re not celebrating the Christmas that the world celebrates will open many doors of discussion.

One of my concerns, admittedly, was that someone might consider me a cult member like a Jehovah’s Witness. So, I think it’s important to create a ‘new thing’.

Something that’s fun: family, friends, social.

Something that’s different completely from the ‘Christmas’ that the world celebrates.

Something that honours God.

 

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