Koreans drum in a new year
Japanese taiko may be one of the most widely recognized forms of Asian drumming but CIBC LunarFest is doing its part to popularize a broader view of Asia’s percussive diversity.
The Meeting of Drums series will include taiko performed by Chibi Taiko on February 9, but will also present drumming from Korea and Taiwan. Dharma Drum Mountain, which incorporates meditation into its practice, will present a rhythmic taste of Taiwanese culture on February 8.
Meanwhile, C3 Korean Canadian Society cofounder and director Steve Kim, who helped to coordinate LunarFest’s Korean content, is particularly excited about the Cheondoong Performing Arts Society’s shows on February 7 in the wake of Seollal, or the Korean Lunar New Year (January 31).
“They bring in the Korean-culture aspect of the drums but they [also] bring an intensity and an energy that just lights up any venue or area in which they play,” Kim says of the Burnaby-based troupe in a telephone interview.
It’s no wonder that its name translates as thunder in English. Yet that’s only the start of the traditional symbolism that runs through the energetic musical discipline.
Troupe leader Hyunsoo Lim explains by phone that the different percussion instruments used represent various aspects of weather. Lim plays the kkwaenggwari (a small gong), which leads the rhythms and represents lightning. Meanwhile, a large gong, the jing, represents wind. The standard barrel-shaped drum, the buk, symbolizes clouds, while the hourglass-shaped janggu, with two heads, represents rain.
Lim says that the Cheondoong ensemble’s music is a fusion of traditional and modern beats, and that while its pieces typically start slowly, they often rise to a fast, sustained tempo. In fact, Lim adds, some drummers even lose weight from the intense physical workout.
“We move the whole body. We jump around,” he notes. “There are a lot of movements that are really energetic.”
Kim also recognizes how physically demanding, even exhausting, the performances are. “They almost look like they’re in a trance when they’re up there,” he says. “It’s almost tribal....I know for them to even do two in a day is going to be tough because they put so much into it.”
While Lim, who hails from South Korea, says the performances help to introduce Korean culture to Vancouverites, he adds that they also help Koreans in Canada maintain their roots in the face of assimilation. “For some people in Canada as a Korean, it’s really easy for them to forget our own culture as a Korean people,” the percussionist contends. “By playing drums and then learning Korean culture at the same time, it really helps a lot to connect with Korean society.”