SamulNori Hanullim showcases unique Korean drumming style

By Vincenza Parella

Flickr/ Korean Resource Center

The heavy bass of a drum and the deeply vibrating gong silenced an excitedly chattering audience in the Fine Arts Center.

Korean master drummer Kim,Duk Soo visited UMass Tuesday, along with the eight-member group SamulNori Hanullim. SamulNori translates to the “playing of four instruments,”  a unique performance which highlights an hourlass-shaped drum, a barrel-shaped drum and two gongs – one large and one small.

After the opening tunes ended, the sounds of percussion and winds filled the auditorium. Listeners tried to find where the music was coming from, and were surprised to find that it was not the stage. The performers of SamulNori entered on the same side as the audience, but stood out in colorful costumes while playing their instruments with large animation. Although the show began offstage, the music produced seemed to come from everywhere, bouncing off the walls and flowing into the ears of the eager audience.

The procession proceeded to walk up the front of the stage and dance in a circle. During this performance Kim,Duk Soo delivered an opening message in Korean, which resulted in wild cheering from the crowd. The only words that could be picked out of the message by those who do not know Korean were “UMass” and “Fine Arts Center.” The message served as an excellent opener to the show. Immediately following his speech the curtains opened to an elegantly decorated two-tiered stage layered with traditional and percussionist instruments, an altar of fruits and vegetables and a banner in Korean.

As the lights dimmed, all seven performers chanted a prayer of well-being for the people in the audience. Their voices, although not perfect, conveyed deep passion and dedication – decipherable through any language barrier.

The musician’s costumes served as somewhat of a distraction. Performers donned white, puffy pants tucked into white boots, long white sleeve shirts with a black short sleeve shirt on top and a number of sashes adorned upon their bodies. One red sash was wrapped around their waist, one yellow across their chest, one blue across their back and a group of cloth hanging from their waist. The whole ensemble was clean-cut and decorative, and the sashes hanging from performers waists’ added to the glorious sweeping motions of their arms as they struck their instruments with great precision.

The performers’ body language explained what audience members could not understand of their Korean cheers throughout the performance. They upheld manners even while on stage, bowing multiple times to both the crowd and the altar. Incense was lit on the altar and 30 minutes into the performance the heavily earthy scent filled the auditorium.

The lighting set the mood as the music became quicker with red, and calmer with orange and yellow. The lights were also used to feature different performers as they slowly joined one-by-one into their original group. The spotlights created a comedic scene of back and forth battling between two different groups of musicians.

SamulNori’s performance was intriguing with the precision and beauty of their music, lights and overall atmosphere. The experimentation with color, light and tempo created for a whole new concert experience. The musicians played off one another to create an elaborately rehearsed show.

The ribbon dance involved six group members wearing hats with swinging sticks attached that could revolve around a pivot. Attached to the end of each stick were white ribbons that, when wielded correctly, created wonderful illusions that brought the music to life and punctuated every drum beat with a ripple in the ribbon. The entire ribbon show was fabricated through the movement of performers’ heads alone.

Two hours could not have been spent in any other way than watching these astounding acrobats. The SamulNori performance ended with the performers walking off stage and leading a loud processional up to the Fine Arts Center lobby, leaving the crowd eager for a continuation of the night’s festivities.

Vincenza Parella can be reached at [email protected].