A Brief Introduction to Pansori by Chan E. Park
An Intangible Cultural Asset of the Republic of Korea, pansori is a story-singing art that grew out of the composite musical-literary culture of premodern Korean storytelling. While the basic storylines partake in the main staples of fictional and historical repertoires, the detailed contents of pansori narrative is dense with esoteric literary quotes and historical allusions few experts readily grasp. During its nineteenth century heyday, pansori singing blossomed into a finer narrative art gaining favor among the interested members of the aristocratic and royal households. A means to heighten its literary worth responding to such esteemed audience, singers sought to elevate the lyrical contents with help from the likes of Shin Jaehyo (1812-1884).
The stylistics of pansori singing finds roots in the Korean indigenous folk, ritual, and poetic singings, with the Southwestern provinces as the hotbed. Accompanied on barrel-shaped drum (buk), the singer alternates between spoken passages (aniri) and sung passages (sori). In singing, the poetic and/or dramatic aspects of storytelling are amplified. The singer employs several distinct rhythmic cycles (jangdan) that respond to the changing mood or context of storytelling: the slow 6-beat jinyang, medium 12-beat jungmori, faster 12- beat jungjungmori, syncopated 4-beat jajinmori, urgent duple hwimori, and the10-beat eonmori for a feeling of asymmetry in its 2-3-2-3 sequence. Five of the narratives are canonized today, and they are: Chunhyangga (Song of the chaste wife Chunhyang), Shim Chongga (Song of the filial daughter Shim Chong), Hungboga (Song of the good brother Hungbo), Sugungga (Song of the Underwater Palace), and Jeokpyeokka (Song of the Red Cliff).
In 2003, pansori became designated by the UNESCO as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible World Heritage of Humanity. How pansori can be a meaningful heritage or practice for the world is the question to be equally shared by the singers, preservationists and researchers today.