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Voices from the Straw Mat

Voices from the Straw Mat: Toward an Ethnography of Korean Story Singing

Chan E. Park
Copyright Date: 2003
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  • Book Info
    Voices from the Straw Mat
    Book Description:

    From its humble "straw mat" origins to its paradoxical status as a national treasure, p'ansori has survived centuries of change and remains the primary source of Korean narrative and poetic consciousness. In this innovative work, Chan Park celebrates her subject not as a static phenomenon but a living, organic tradition adapting to an ever-shifting context. Drawing on her extensive literary and performance backgrounds, Park provides insights into the relationship between language and music, singing and speaking, and traditional and modern reception. Her "performance-centered" approach to p'ansori informs the discussion of a wide range of topics, including the amalgamation of the dramatic, the narrative, and the poetic; the invocation of traditional narrative in contemporary politics; the vocal construction of gender; and the politics of preservation.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6550-4
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature, Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE Chŏngshim chŏngŭm (Correct mind, correct sound)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. 1-22)

    Storytelling takes place in a fundamentally amorphous physical setting, requiring only a teller and a listener. The realm of the story is located within the voice of the teller. A far cry from being behind the “fourth wall,”¹ p’ansori contains intriguing layers of “telling.” The locus of the story is in themes, values, characters, and situations, yet the “telling” manifests itself in multiple levels of complex interactions between singing and speaking, language and its vocalization, and meaning and style, as well as between the vocal and the percussive.

    Let me start with the classic introduction, the etymology of the term...

  5. PART ONE: From Straw Mat to Proscenium and Back

      (pp. 25-26)

      If art is a reflection of society, it evolves as society changes. Insofar as the society is “a world in becoming, not a world in being,”¹ artistic expression as human social metaphor would at its best be in transformative modes. “Meaning” in narrative art is a function of the relationship between the fictional world created by the author and the real, “apprehendable” world, and understanding a narrative is finding a satisfactory relationship between the two worlds.² In every developmental stage before “archetypal” preservation,p’ansorihas shown its genius at adaptation. Emerging originally from the fusion of ritual, narrative, and lyrical...

      (pp. 27-55)

      A recent folkloric debate concerns the performative relationship between ritual and entertainment. A particularly engaging issue is how, in the emergence of performance genres from ritual traditions, the concept of performance shifts. No written documents have been cited regarding the origins of the narrative art later namedp’ansori,¹ although there is a widely accepted notion that it emerged as an independent entertainment art on the periphery ofkut, native shaman ritual performance. The early singers—Ha Handam (Ha Ǔndam), U Ch’undae, and Ch’oe Sôndal are considered the three earliest—were mostlykwangdaewhose major performative functions included musical accompaniment for...

      (pp. 56-84)

      P’ansorideveloped in the nineteenth century to become a favored form of entertainment among royal and aristocratic patrons and audiences. Still outcast, it strove to naturalize its own contradictory existence. The language ofp’ansorireveals a unique sociolinguistic construction, “keyed” to entertain social superiors.¹ A blend of provincial orality and bookish literacy, the language is strikingly contradictory yet oddly harmonious when sung. In examining the strategies adopted in the evolution of the language ofpansori, this chapter departs from a conventional literary perspective to construct the primacy of singers and singing in the revision process.

      It was in the mid–...

      (pp. 85-113)

      Modern Korean drama is often viewed as disconnected from the past. At the inception of modernity, traditionalkwangdaeaccommodated experiments toward the modern. Critical in the shaping of modern Korean drama, they later became excluded in the violent departure toward Westernization. The turn of the twentieth century marks an important divergence: the birth ofch’anggŭk(lit., “singing theater”), a musical/operatic performance by multiple singers singing, playing, and acting their respective roles on the modern stage. There have been heated debates on its genesis, between innovation and plagiarism, originality and fusion, the old world and the new world, native inventiveness and...

      (pp. 114-152)

      P’ansori’sthematic concerns are often oversimplified as a dichotomy between the folk and the Neo-Confucian. Underneath the dyadic simplicity lies a complex network of themes, ideologies, and applications. From the canonized five narratives to the newly composed texts,p’ansoriconsistently narrates faith, resistance, and healing in a changing context. This chapter discusses the thematic continuity across old and new texts as made manifest in performance.

      The conventional wisdom is that the “fivep’ansorinarratives” (p’ansori obat’ang) evolved as a set of oral texts preaching Confucian morality. The situation is much more complicated. Lying beneath the surface is a different set...

  6. PART TWO: Ethnography of a Voice

      (pp. 155-156)

      In an artistic text, “the language is more than the neutral bearer of meaning. It is part of the meaning. Hence the information of a particular belletristic work can be conveyed only via that particular ordering of language.”¹ For an artistic text to be appreciated optimally and “to be suitable for the storage and transmission of information, it must be a system.”² Needless to say, the ordering, storing, and transmitting of an oral text takes place through utterance, that is, through oral performance. In oral performance, the voice is more than the abstract bearer of the message but the text...

      (pp. 157-201)

      There are three modes of narrativity inp’ansori: sori, the singing;aniri, the speaking; andch’angcho, the recitative in between singing and speaking. This ethnography ofp’ansorisinging focuses on the point where narrative lyricism converges with the musical poetics of thesori. This chapter explores the essence and aesthetics ofsori, the details of the process of acquisition, the developmental schemes of the schools and styles of singing, and the grammar ofsoriand its tonal application in singing.

      A singing voice is the culmination of many things: inherent vocal and tonal presence, stylistic “authenticity,” musical deftness, strength, and...

      (pp. 202-213)

      What doesp’ansorisinging look like from the interior, from the perspective of the singer, the audience, and the learner? Inp’ansori, the physicality of singing is inevitably related to the mentality of the person maneuvering the voice. Beyond the culture of training, the voice reveals the person and his or her inherent poetic justice.P’ansoriis the aesthetics of narrative truth. Its singing is not just vocal but mental and ethical, not merely acquisition of oral tradition but transformation of self.

      Acquisition ofsori, like any art or craft, requires sensitivity to the “physical” balance between the whole and...

      (pp. 214-232)

      What little discussion there has been of gender inp’ansorihas been more or less limited to psychosociological analyses of females in Confucian narratives. Although women have been narrating these stories for over a century, rarely is anything heard about them besides basic biographical data. Apparently because of the distance between scholarship and singing, gender variation inp’ansoriperformance has either been ignored or taken for granted. This chapter explores women singers’ negotiation of vocal, narrative, and social gender in performance: in timbre and inflection of the voice, in characterization, in the shaping of the narrative persona, and in balancing...

      (pp. 233-244)

      In labor and in leisure,p’anconceptualizes an imagined frame of participation, where “performance” is sublimated as a ritual process. An art of storytelling is not only developed via “telling” but also tuned in “listening.” In modern Korea,p’ansorisinging and listening have shared the same fate:P’ansorisinging has lost its productive existence, and it has also lost its listeners. Whenp’ansorisinging was authenticated as a national treasure, a ritual ofp’ansorilistening was reconstructed. What was once a storytellingp’anwhere singers and audiences engaged each other intertextually is now an arena where both make tradition retrospectively....

      (pp. 245-272)

      Dance and instrumental arts, with their nonverbal modes of communication, freely cross regional and national boundaries. Verbal art for its language-dependency is less able to cross to another shore. In transnational performance, communication between a verbal artist and the audience faces an immanent challenge. Insofar asp’ansoriis narrative entertainment built on the communal spirit ofp’an, performance ethics dictate that a singer of bilingual capacity go beyond the conventional routine to interpret his or her act. In the process, tradition may encounter novel innovation; between the poles lies the range of emergent text structures to be found in empirical...

    (pp. 273-276)

    A traditional “voice” departs its native land and migrates to a new soil. There, it adapts to a new climate, culture, audience, and language to emerge with a new identity. Its journey invokes the minority discourse of displacement, alienation, and assimilation in America. Eventually it enjoys rediscovery among people of the homeland. In readmitting the voice, they also create a discourse, of a transnational journey of their own ethnicity. The weekly TV documentaryHanminjok(Korean)Reportproduced by the Korean Broadcasting System features Koreans outside Korea known to be making a difference on their respective paths, and I was featured...

  8. NOTES
    (pp. 277-300)
    (pp. 301-312)
    (pp. 313-328)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 329-338)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 339-339)