Pansori is one of the art forms that represent Korean vocal music. Pansori is a musical drama in which a solo singer, holding a fan in one hand, delivers a long story bythe means of sori (song), aniri (narration), and ballim (mimetic gestures). In a pansori performance the singer is accompanied only by a gosu.
A full-length pansori performance generally lasts three to nine hours, with the singer depicting all the roles of the characters in the story. A gosu accompanies the singer on a barrel-shaped drum and enlivens the mood of the performance through sounds and words of encouragement, known as chuimsae, including “eolssu”, “eu-iee”, or “eolssigu”, or by replying to the singer as if s/he was a character of the story, making the performance more exciting. The idiom “first gosu, second mastersinger”emphasizes the importance of a gosu. Of course, it
does not mean that the gosu is more important than the singer. Rather, it highlights that the gosu is integral to the overall pansori performance.
In the past, a type of folk art known as pannoreum, comprised of singing and a variety of entertainments, including tight-rope walking, dancing, and story-telling, was performed by itinerant performers. In time, the singing and story-telling portions became separated from the rest, creating an independent art form called pansori.
Originally, pansori was performed primarily in the most southern province of Korea among commoners, though it eventually came to be enjoyed by a wide range of audiences, including the middle class, noblemen and even the king.
Although pansori is rooted in the music enjoyed by the commoners, it later found its major audiencesamong the nobility and wealthy middle class people.
By the end of the Joseon period (1392-1910), even the king enjoyed pansori at his palace. With the gamut of the audience being so wide, the professional singers had to cater to the whims of their diverse audience and perform in various places, including private homes and open public spaces.
Even though pansori has been passed down orally by highly trained professional singers, considering the unique methods of pansori performance, the audiences also made contributions to its development.
This stands in stark contrast to foreign musical dramas performed in theaters. In pansori, audiences are not just spectators.
Rather, they, on a same footing with the singer, affect and participate in the performances, along with the gosu through their chuimsae responses.
Empathy with the audience is a very important factor in a pansori performance, because their tastes and reactions affect the lyrics, aniri and even the mood of the singer during the performance. As such, pansori has developed into a form of folk art that reflects the sorrows and joys of the general public through satire and humor as well as teaches moral lessons at the same time.
Pansori, a unique form of performance art, encompasses literature, music and drama and isdistinguished from Western operas, Jing Ju (Chinese opera) and Noh, Kabuki and Bunraku of Japan. Lately, pansori is becoming more widely known to the international community, attracting peoples attention in famous European carnivals and being selected as a Masterpiece of Oral Tradition and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.
Meaning of Pansori
Until the end of the 19th century, pansori was referred to by various names such as sori, chang,jabga, or taryeong. After 1940 when Jeong Nosik, a music connoisseur and historian, designated the art form as pansoriin his book Joseonchanggeuksa (History of Singing-drama of Joseon), that appellation became the most common.
The term pansori is composed of two Korean words pan and sori.
Pan refers to
① venues of performance or where things happen;
② the demonstration of a performers expertise in front of a large audience; or
③ the entire process of entertaining acts or activities.
Sori, in a narrow sense means song. However, considering that the definition of music, including pansori, originally encompassed all sounds of nature, sori cannot be limited to only signify a song. Additionally, there is also a view that the term sori derives from moksori, meaning vocal sound, or voice.
As stated above, pan and sori have multiple meanings, but from each of these, it can be inferred that pansori means the songs sung in venues for enjoyment where many people gather.
However, the important fact is that pansori is a form of performing art and that it is a vocal genre. In sum, all the various meanings of both pan and sori clearly show the nature of pansori as a form of musical art, and it explains why the term pansori is now generally used.