Korean music tradition (kugak) is in a precarious position, due not merely to the Korean public’s infatuation with Western musical sounds, but also to the binary thinking that pits “traditional” against “modern.” The domestic-foreign hierarchy along the line of tradition as antithesis of modern is shared by the broader Korean population. In the recent nationalistic drive for global recognition—and global recognition appears to be the primary raison d’être—Korean music is further conceptualized for global palatability. Could Korean music be simply Korean even in contemporary form? Rather than prioritizing international tastes, should we not also probe what makes Korean music Korean? What role could traditional Korean music pedagogy play in contemporizing it? How could we achieve balance between preservation and modernization and between artistic perpetuation and popularization? What is missing in the field is the originary material and cultural contexts. Critiquing the current problematic trends of contemporization of Korean traditional music, I diverge from both the politics of preservation and that of fusion to identify the continuing flows of p’ungnyu, “wind and stream,” the core inspiration of Korean music tradition. Recalling the Confucian teaching, “Find new ways by learning old ways,” I propose that the contemporization of Korean music occur with an understanding of the ecology that produced Korean music tradition. Realigning contemporization with understanding the ethos of “wind and stream” should help negotiate between our contemporary reality and traditional musical semantics.


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pp. 25-43
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