Sunday, January 25, 2009

The buk starts here

Tomorrow (Monday) is the biggest holiday in the Korean calendar, Lunar New Year. (In the States, we mostly call in Chinese New Year, if we think of it at all.) Because of the three-day holiday, a lot of the students in our Saturday morning Korean language class are traveling, so we didn't have a regular class. Instead, we had a Korean culture class, in particular a session playing the buk, the traditional Korean drum.

It was so. Much. Fun.

We had an energetic, expert guy showing us how to play. His English was quite good, but there was also a woman interpreting when needed. They had a whiteboard with two huge sheets of paper hung on it, with a couple of dozen lines of an odd music notation: RlRlLR LRLrlr and so on. (Actually, they were all capital letters, many of them with circles around them, which I'm representing as lower-case letters, since I can't find the Circle-L and Circle-R keys... maybe I should have bought a desktop computer.)

Every plain R and L was the sign to hit the drumhead with the stick in your right or left hand. (You, with your erudite musical mind, may have guessed that already.) The circled letters represented hitting the wooden rim. The feeling of doing it right, of playing a long succession of bangs and tocks correctly, in conjunction with all the others in the room, was terrific. I've never been much for percussion, but I love the sound of buks played in unison. Did you see the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics? It sounded like that, to the degree that 20 novice expats in a YMCA meeting room can sound like thousands of Chinese virtuosos in a multimillion-yuan stadium.

We learned to strike the drumhead with a crisscross pattern, to give a little tap with the left stick and an overhead wallop with the right, and even to end with a flourish, yelling hoi! and finishing with our right-hand drumsticks overhead.

I wish I could explain it better; just saying how satisfying it was to end a two-hour class with a bang BOOM bang BOOM tock tock BOOMBOOM BOOM hoi! BOOM isn't vivid enough.

I want to spend my nights practicing the buk in my apartment. Do you think the cats would mind?


Cindy said...

Hi Stephen, I found your blog under the running tag. How long have you been in Korea? How far are your from Seoul? I'm planning a trip "home" next year. It will be my first visit since being adopted as a baby.
Thanks for sharing about Korea.
Best Wishes,

Stephen J said...

Hey, Cindy! Glad you found the blog. I'm in Daegu, 145 miles (235 kilometers) from Seoul. I've been here five months; my contract is for a year, but I expect to be in Korea for a good deal longer.

Please keep in touch; maybe when you come over, we can say hi.