I am so excited to post about this! In fact, I have been waiting for days now to share with you an exciting opportunity that I am able to participate in. As of today I am learning how to play the gayageum. It is a Korean zither of which you can read more about here. The National Center for Korean Traditional Performing Arts (NCKTPA) hosts classes for foreigners to learn various Korean traditional instruments such as the gayageum, janggu (drum), and danso. It is a 12-week program which culminates in a performance where we get to perform what we have learned on stage with the professionals who play for the NCKTPA.

Today was my first day and I just know that I am going to love it. I have such an international class consisting of people from places like South Africa, Japan, France, China, and the US. My teacher is a talented gayageum major and she teaches the class both in Korean and English so I get to practice some Korean as well. Here are some pics of my first day:

This is my teacher tuning all the gayageums whilst the class tries to memorize all the strings.

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Here’s another picture of the gayageums:

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Here’s my gayageum:

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Here is a close-up of the movable bridges:

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It really is a very elegant instrument. The strings are traditionally made of silk. You tune the strings by moving the bridges. It is definitely different than the violin, and I love it! After watching the Korean drama “Hwang Jin-Yi” I fell in love with the gayageum. The drama is about Korea’s most famous gisaeng, Hwang Jin-Yi (similar to Japan’s geisha). In the drama it shows the different courtesans playing the traditional instruments like the gayageum. The sound is so rich and beautiful. Here is a video I found on google video of the sanjo gayageum :

As you can see this instrument takes a lot of skill and technique with both the left and right hand. I have quite a formidable task ahead to learn the gayageum at least decently. Today we learned the proper way to sit and hold the gayageum in our laps. We also learned the proper technique of plucking and we learned the names and the pitches of the different strings (there are 12 in all). We also worked in groups of four to learn and practice some simple exercises to help us get comfortable with the different strings.

I also met some really neat people today and I hope that along with learning the gayageum and more of Korean culture I will also get to make some good friends.

Here is the website for the NCKTPA if you are interested in attending any of their regular performances. The center is located in Seocho-gu, Seoul. If you missed this semester of learning Korean traditional instruments, you can find out more about their fall semester at this website as well. Just click here. The site offers both a Korean and English page.

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