Korean Traditional Instrument Gayageum

Photo credits. South Korean actress Lee Ha Nui playing the gayagum. She graduated from the number 1 university of Korea, “Seoul National University” with a major in Korean traditional music.

I grew up learning how to play Western instruments like the piano and recorder. I didn’t know much about the Korean traditional instrument gayageum, until recently, I came across a gayageum cover of a famous Korean song, “Fate”.

“Fate” is one of the most popular songs sang by singer Lee Sun Hee. Lee wrote the song based on what she felt watching the 2003 historical drama “Damo”. The song is also well known for being the soundtrack of the 2005 wildly popular movie “The King and the Clown” starring Lee Jun Ki.

This gayageum cover of “Fate” was so moving and beautiful that I read up more about gayagum, a traditional Korean instrument often seen in historical dramas.

Photo credits. Photograph of a gayagum

The earliest record of the gayageum is in the Three Kingdom Period (57 BC to 668 AD), during which Korea consisted of three kingdoms Goguryeo, Shilla and Baekje.

According to historical records, after Gaya (another kingdom of Korea) had fallen, a musician of Gaya brought a gayageum to King Jinheung of Shilla as a gift.

(FYI the king Park Hyung Sik acted as in drama “Hwarang” is Jinheung of Shilla)

Photo credits. Korean actor Park Hyung Sik starring as King Jinheung of Shilla in “Hwarang”

The public officials of Shilla’s royal palace were against accepting the gayageum, claiming that the gayageum was responsible for having ruined Gaya.

This sentiment stemmed from the belief in the times that some music brought chaos and unstability to a country.

King Jinheung of Shilla, however, remarked, “Gaya has fallen not because of music but because of the king.” and even provided the musician with a house and land to live in Shilla.

The gayageum is a string instrument made of wood and produces a clear sound that conplements the clear, elegant, calm and sentimental vibe of traditional Korean music.

Listening to the sound of gayageum seems to really transport me to decades ago in Korea, to the era when hanbok was worn and people lived in hanok instead of apartments. The trembling, clear sound of this instrument evokes feelings like sadness, tranquility and longing (as if I’m missing someone I haven’t met for a long time).

Photo credits. Actors Kim Tae Hee and Yoo Ah-In in drama “Jang Ok Jung”
Photo credits. Kim Soo Hyun playing the gayageum in drama “Moon embracing the sun”
마이프린세스] 김태희님 협찬 - 산호 3작 노리개 : 네이버 블로그
Photo Credits. Kim Tae Hee playing the gayaguem in drama “My princess”

I’m a little tempted to consider picking up the gayageum (lol)- although it’ll probably take a long time before I can sit down in a hanbok and play it gracefully!

Check out these other covers of gayageum! These songs are called “Hong Yeon” and “Sang Sa Hwa”, both of which were used as soundtracks of historical drama “The Rebel”.

That’s it for my post on gayageum! If you’ve liked this post, please give it a “like” and check out my other posts on “Hanstyle!”

Cheers, Han Seol 🙂

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