For many young people of Korea, traditional three-verse Korean poems called sijo can be quite unfamiliar. For foreigners, it is likely something they never heard of in their entire lives.
The Ewha Sijo Festival with Professor McCann of Harvard University which will be held on June 10 by the Korea Culture Research Institute (KCRI) intends to promote the globalization of Korean sijo and the expansion of Korean culture as well.
Sijo are traditional Korean poems that are composed in three lines and with an average of 14 to 16 syllables. Unlike some other East Asian poetic forms, sijo frequently employs metaphors, symbols, puns, allusions and similar word play.
McCann is a professor of Harvard University who has great passion for Korean culture, especially for Korean literature. He has written several books introducing Korean poems in the United States. He is also a poet, writing poems of his own both in English and Korean.
“Professor McCann makes concerted efforts to bring the poetry and music alive to his students, colleagues, friends and acquaintances,” said Professor Heather Willoughby (International Studies), who is also a renowned devotee of Korean culture, especially pansori, a type of Korean traditional narrative singing.
“This is accomplished through sharing his profound knowledge of existing poems, writing his own new poems in the style of sijo, and but performing publically as well.”
Willoughby will also be attending the Sijo Festival. She will be performing a danga called Mangokangsan.
During the Festival McCann will present his Korean and English sijo to the public. According to the KCRI, he will also sing a sijochang to the accompaniment of a jazz musician.
Along with his presentation, there will be a special lecture by Professor Park Mi-young (Baekseok University) and Korean traditional performances including a sijochang performance by Intangible Cultural Heritage, Kim Young-gi, the pansori performance by Willoughby and a traditional dance performance choreographed by Professor Kim Myung-sook (Dance).
“We are expecting not only special guests from the American Embassy of Korea and Harvard University, but also professors and students of both Ewha and Harvard,” said Woo Hyun-ju, a researcher at the KCRI.
McCann came across sijo through translating Korean books, according to the October edition of the 2008 Monthly Literature and Thought, a monthly publication issued by Munhak Sasang. His interest in Korean sijo grew bigger as he heard a recorded sijochang, a Korean traditional narrative song with the lyrics of various sijo.
“Professor McCann is likely the foremost expert on sijo outside of Korea, and maybe even including Korea,” said. Willoughby
These days, students are more accustomed to learning sijo or pansori through a textbook in class. There are not many opportunities for them to listen to the music being performed.
“The first thing I would hope that the audience will gain through this event is a greater appreciation for Korea's traditional art forms,” said Willoughby
“In order to understand that these genres are living - which they most certainly are - we must see them as performed arts; a live performance therefore is the perfect opportunity to see and hear what is happening with traditional music today.”
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