“Good morning, starshine! The Earth says hello”
-Willy Wonka, from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Hello, world! It’s been almost two years since I last blogged on this site. So, this girl has decided to start blogging again. Why, you ask? Several reasons:
1. I realize that I keep losing contact with my friends, and I’m not good at keeping in contact with people unless I see them all the time (exception being Cyna, whom I’ve started to write to). Keeping people updated via blog is probably the easier than scheduling in reminders to text people on Google Calendar…
2. I have a lot of thoughts these days that really don’t get processed. Blogging helps me think aloud.
3. My English is deteriorating. Lord have mercy… it’s terrible. Working in a lab full of foreigners is not helping. Blogging will at least remind me of the basic grammar rules which I am so prone to forgetting in the absence of practice.
Okay, so here goes nothing. There’s a lot that hasn’t changed about me, and there’s a lot that has changed. One of the new things in my life is haegeum.
This is the korean haegeum– it is similar to the chinese erhu, and it is a type of fiddle. The haegeum is special because:
-There are only two strings, as opposed to four for the violin.
-The horse bow is trapped between the strings, unlike the violin where the bow and body are separate.
-The strings are made of thousands of silk threads wound together, unlike the metal/gut strings of the violin or the chinese erhu.
-The body of the haegeum is literally a huge chunk of really old bamboo root.
-The combo of silk strings and bamboo body give the haegeum a characteristic, “scratchy” voice. I love it so much.
I decided to take up this instrument a while back because I needed an outlet to express myself other than through words. Moreover, I felt that as I grow older, I needed to understand my heritage culture better. Anyone who knows me well enough knows that I’m really into Korean indie music, and one of my favorite bands these days is Coreyah. They are a korean folk fusion band– and through listening to their music, I fell in love with haegeum. Something about generating that blues-y husky voice despite being such a small instrument caught my attention.
I’ve been feeling a lot of different things these past two months through learning the haegeum. I used to play the violin in my adolescent years, and I’m pretty sure that my consistent involvement (8 years…) with orchestra helped me get into UCLA. I’m done with college so I can say this now– I didn’t like playing that thing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful instrument with beautiful intonation and clear, resonant voice. At one point early in junior high, my violin teacher had told my mom that I had enough potential to pursue violin as a career if I wanted. Unfortunately, I didn’t take ownership of my violin like some of my peers did, and I didn’t understand why until more recently as I took up the haegeum. When I listen to classical music, I get a sense that feelings tend to be separated into their component emotions and expressed in a way that intensifies and purifies that emotion. For instance, with Caccini’s Ave Maria, the music sounds intensely sad, sorrowful– beautifying the anguish that Virgin Mary might have felt at some instance, perhaps when her son is dying. It’s beautiful– western classical music.
But that’s exactly what prevents me from completely identifying with it. It’s too beautiful, it’s too refined. Like white table sugar. You can sprinkle it on everything (in the traditional American pre-diabetic way harhar), but at some point I just get sick of it because it’s not raw. It doesn’t sound real enough for me. Everyday feelings aren’t blocked into specific categories like anguish, sorrow, joy– they’re intertwined and difficult to pull apart. That’s why half the time in life, we feel confusion because we don’t know exactly what we feel. Tears and laughter go hand-in-hand in nature.
The haegeum really embodies that natural, raw feeling. It sounds so organic, and korean music is so raw that it almost sounds like it breathes–like a big organism. In addition to its voice, the way haegeum is played to produce sound reflects life, too. A famous haegeum player, Eun-Il Kang once stated in so many words, that the haegeum is a restricted instrument. The bow cannot separate itself from the body of the haegeum– and this limitation reflects how we are limited in our lives as well. Our hopes and dreams are limited by mundane responsibilities,worries and burdens that we carry. However, despite this limitation, the haegeum produces a beautiful sound and expresses freedom. Likewise, within our restricted lives, we also continue to dream, continue to soar every day. To Eun-Il Kang, playing the haegeum is like dreaming. Super philosophical, right?
Lastly, the haegeum is really versatile, and yet it never loses its characteristic voice. Have you ever heard a person play jazz with violin? I have, and personally I’m not too fond of it. Having such a clear and “pretty” voice, the violin doesn’t fit too well with jazz (maybe the electric violin is different, though? I’m ignorant, forgive me). Given the haegeum’s scratchy, tearful sound, it renders an interesting combo with jazz. And I LOVE jazz. One of my chief complaints about playing violin was not being able to compete with more jazz-y instruments like contrabass or sax. If you want a feel for what I mean, check out Hyelyung Cho playing bossa nova music on haegeum in the video below:
So that’s what’s new. I’m probably going to have to take years of lessons and I still won’t be able to play anything like the chick in the above video, but hey it’s a start!
I’m going to try to update this blog periodically. I wanted to keep a theme (you know, like current events, or western-eastern culture… I have a lot to say about being a dorky Korean-American, or about Ukraine at the moment), but screw that. It’s not happening. I’m not organized enough for it.
Happy Sunday, y’all.