Students learn traditional Korean music

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professional Korean performer plays for Supply students

By Kathryn Jacewicz, Staff writer

On a typical Friday afternoon, students are anxious for the school bell to ring, ending the school day and starting the weekend. But at Supply Elementary School, a certain group of students wait for the bell to ring so they can head to the Asian Club and continue the learning process.

Supply teacher Nancy Bryant formed the Asian Club last summer.

“I just thought it would be a good thing to do with the students and expose them to different cultures,” she said.

The clubs’ members meet every Friday from 3-5 p.m. and “learn anything and everything they can” about the Asian culture, Bryant said. So far, the students have visited a Buddhist temple, learned kung fu and Japanese martial arts and have done independent research.

Last Thursday, the club was exposed to traditional Korean music and instruments. Sang Mi Kang, a professional performer, brought several instruments and played different music for the club. Bryant met Kang at a conference last summer and asked her to come play for the students.

Kang, originally from South Korea, has a B.A. degree in music and a M.A. degree in music education. A trained professional performer, Kang was a high school music teacher in South Korea before moving to the United States nearly four years ago with her husband, who is pursuing a Ph.D. at Duke University.

Kang played a 12-string and an 18-string gayageum for the students, zither-like instruments that have been played in Korea for more than 1,000 years. She also played a jan gu, an hourglass shaped drum played on both ends. The right side is the higher pitch and is covered in cow skin, and the left side is the lower pitch and is covered in horse skin. Two beating sticks are used to play the jang gu.

Kang played several instrumental pieces for the students, as well as playing “Arirang,” the most popular Korean folk song. “Arirang,” means “my beloved one,” as well as is the name of a large hill.

Kang also taught the students the words to “Arirang,” and taught them how to properly sing the song. As opposed to elegant singing as done in America, Koreans sing in a fuller, richer sound that more resembles the natural speaking voice.

“You don’t have to make your voice beautiful,” she explained. “Just make your voice as [if] you say something.”

Kang said she enjoyed teaching the Asian Club about Korean music, and said students need to accept different cultures in today’s multicultural society.

“My dream was to connect Western music and Korea,” she said. “It’s my pleasure to share [with the students].”

Fifth-grader Tristan Murphy said he liked Kang’s entire presentation and enjoyed learning the traditional Korean music.

“My favorite instrument was the 18-stringed one,” he said.

Murphy also said he enjoyed learning “Arirang.”

“I picked it up on the second try,” he said.

Bryant said the Asian Club is gaining interest among other students, and has applied for a grant to help fund the club in the future.