Piling Nongak Village Korea Report – May 2017

Hello My Friends,

On my way to the Korean Playshop from China, I stopped off in Seoul, Korean’s major metropolis. It was nice to be in such a big city and still be able to breath clean air and see the mountains in the distance.

I was in Seoul to do a 100-person drum circle for the National Organization of Korean Music Therapists conference, NAKMT. It is their 10th anniversary. Like everything I do in Korea, this event was setup by Song from KDRS (Korean Drum Circle Research Society) and supported by REMO and its distributor Cosmos Music.

Although there was a majority of women at the event, the few men who were participating held their own quite well when we did gender sculpt and switch. The men/women rhythm switch had a great difference in volume, sensibility and musical dynamics. It really was one of my best experiences of a musical representation of what an all-female ensemble and an all-male ensemble sounds like.

Song Myeon-hoon has been involved in the Music Therapist organization since its inception and is well known in the community, so I had him deliver the keynote presentation in the middle window of communication, during the event.

Towards the end of the program, I used the participants voices and intermingled those voices with shaker and wood. Then while I kept the volume down, I added one at a time without hurrying, the bells, small drums, hand drums and finally the bass drums. The combination of low volume and angelic voices made for a great emotional and musical contextual closing.

I am now in the heart of South Korea at the Pilbong Nongak Cultural Village. Nonagak is a type of Korean traditional folk music. This village is situated in the foothills near the southern city of Jeonju. We are in the heart of the Korean peninsula. This is where we did our 3-day Playshop last year and I am so glad that we are doing it here again this year.

This also was the second time that we have held the Korean Playshop in a venue that fed, housed, and supported the Playshop participants, all in one place, like we do in Japan, Scotland, Hawaii, and the East Coast of USA .

The advantage is obvious. We eliminate any city commute, eat dinner together, get more sleep and have a lot more time together for networking and hanging out with each other. This all-inclusive 3-day group process creates a more productive community learning environment than a “commute to training venue” situation that we have usually done in Seoul.

The Jeonju area is famous for it’s traditional Korean style house design called a ‘Hanok.’ You can find many Hanok villages still functioning all over this area. The Hanok village compound where we are staying is full of the old curved tiled roof homes with delicately carved and carpentered wooden doors and windows.

Our Playshop group stays in a newly constructed student living area that looks a lot like the old classic Hanok houses below us on the hill, except our houses are ‘New Old.’ In the middle of the new housing compound, they are building a seating arena facing a newly constructed low stage. The beautiful hills on the other side of the valley are the stage’s background. On the hill you can see an old Hanok village where they hire the elderly people to perform as the village presents and background players in their folk plays. When the old ladies from the village are on stage weaving in the background of the action, they are not pretending. They are actually weaving.

Korean Classic Music Academy

The Pilbong Nongak Village has been designated as a UNESCO Cultural Heritage site. The site is a well preserved traditional cultural village that houses a music academy with an apprentice training system. That music school is focused on traditional Korean folk music, song and dance. The village contains the ‘Korean Classic Music Academy’ in which our Playshop is officially included.

In Korea, you have a choice to attend different types of high-schools according to what you want to do in the future. There are ‘Traditional Music High Schools’ that are called ‘bridge schools’ that channel students to schools like the Korean Classic Music Academy. The high school kids can come for a weekend, or a 30-day music training apprentice stay. Also many students from the Traditional Music High School bridge system are at the academy for summer music camp. There are also many college students attending here, preparing themselves for a professional music career.

There are lots of practice rooms, dance hall, indoor and outdoor performance spaces scattered around the village. It is wonderful to peek into the rooms and halls to see lots of people practicing traditional drumming and dance.

The rooms are full of many types of drums and gongs that support the different styles of traditional songs and dances of Korea. Most prominently used here, are the family of four instruments called the Samulnori. Traditionally these instruments were used in spring planting, fall harvesting and community festival celebrations of the Nongak people. The players in a Samulnori ensemble can play in ‘sit down concert style’ or carry the instruments in a community festival parade, or out in the fields during planting or harvesting.

Last year, we were treated with a number of folk dance music and theater performances by the students and teachers. But this year, we came to the venue ‘out of season’ so there were no public performances. That gave us more time for experiential Playshop jump time. We also had a Talent show and a nice long ‘Late Night’ session.

The instruments in a Samulnori ensemble are:


The Jang Gu (sometimes pronounced by Americans as Chango) looks like a massive talking drum with two very different sounds. The sounds are partly the result of Cow Hide skin on one side of the drum and a Horse Hide on the other side. Played with two different sticks on both heads, (a long bamboo chopstick like stick and a heavier mallet with a wooden head). The drum has a very special sound that cannot be mistaken for any other type of drum that I have heard on my travels around the globe. Thanks to KDRS’s ‘Korean Drum Circle Research Society’ gift to me at last years Playshop, I now have a very nice Jang Gu in my studio, which I play once a week when I’m home.

Chon-He is a teacher and master Jang Gu player here at the academy and is very supportive of the drum circle movement. Chon-He is also an apprentice to the head master teacher, Jin-sung Yang, who has been officially designated by the Korean government as an ‘Intangible Cultural Asset.’ There are only about 17 people in Korea who are representing different aspects of Korean culture, whom the government has designated Intangible Cultural Assets. We invited four of Chon-He’s students to participate in our Playshop this year. Their rhythmical expertise has been a supportive blessing during this particular program.

Using all the instruments pictured here, they gave us an amazing Samulnori ensemble performance at our evening talent show just before the Saturday night Late-Night.

These young men are also studying Sang-mo, with the elder teacher, LEE Jong-Hee. Sang-mo is the folk dance with a special hat that has a VERY long ribbon or string attached to it, that they spin around with their head as they dance. These young men are also majoring in traditional music at different universities around the country.


The Buk is the shortest, stubbiest double-headed Jun-Jun sounding ‘like’ instrument that I have ever seen. The drum is rope strung from head to head for tuning with what looks, at first, like a Mali weave. They have a very deep sound for such small heads and bodies (about 14 inches in diameter and 10 inches in height). The Buk is played with a stick on one side and a hand on the other, and is small enough to be held up in the air by one hand and played with the other, or carried and played while walking.


The Kkwaeng-gwali, sometimes call the Gwali, is a small, but VERY- VERY LOUD hand-held gong, hit with a hard Bamboo mallet. The gong is held in such a way that you can control the length of the note with the fingers of the holding hand that are in the inside ridge of the gong. The person playing the Kkwaeng-gwali is the conductor of the ensemble.

The KDRS (Korean Drum Circle Research Society) gave me a Kkwaeng-gwali gong at the end of one of our Playshops a few years ago. I have to wear ear plugs to practice it. The cringe on my face in the picture is because I am not wearing ear plugs as I was playing this particular Gwali gong.

The JING Gong

The Jing is the larger gong of this four-instrument ensemble. But it is not large compared to Indonesian Gongs. It is 13 inches in diameter at the most. It is hit with a soft fat mallet and is hung with a rope from a small bamboo stand for stage performances. It has a deep sound for such a small gong, and when it is hit hard enough, it has a bending gong sound effect. GOOoongiiing!

The Jing gong is small enough to be carried, as is the rest of the Samulnori instrumental ensemble, when the band moves, while playing in the festival parades.

‘Nonage’ folk cultural music has been recently added to UNESCO cultural heritage list.

To see some of the people of the Pilbong Cultural Preservation Troupe perform (from our village), go to   http://youtu.be/5A6HSDj7uYY.

This Playshop is representative of the Training-The-Trainers program (TTT), that we are now initiating around the world. I will be visiting each of the 13 countries where a Playshop is being held on this tour, and I will be doing a One-on-One training with each of the TTT candidates as we co-facilitate (co-train) that Playshop.

Mr. Song and I shared the teaching at the Korean Playshop about 50/50. Song did all the introduction pieces, selected his challenge people to do the ‘Drum Call’ at the beginning of day two and ‘Run The Map’ at the beginning of day three. He did the critique of these Challenge tasked people, and also delivered the important ‘future pacing’ messages embedded in his critique delivery, that sets the stage for the next set of exercises.

These opening sessions of the Playshop, for each day, have a lot of cognitive theory and facilitation concepts built into them. By Song delivering these sessions instead of me, there was no translation required, thus saving us more time for more experiential Jump Time exercises later. We even had time for a Talent show and a Late-night. Very rare for a 3-day Playshop.

Song and I also shared in facilitating the progressive exercises. Song played the lead trainer and I played the role of  ‘Color’ man and ‘cognitive delivery backup’ when needed. All of this has taught me much more on how to run the Train-The-Trainer programs that await me as I go on to do the same with all the other Playshops on this tour. Then all of the TTTers will meet in Scotland in the fall at the end of this training tour and move the Village Music Circles training system from just one trainer in the world (me), to 16 trainers all over the world.

Watch This Space!

At our closing Playshop ceremonies, Song and KDRS gave me a set of ‘Bara’ gongs, two very thin, 14 inch symbol-like gongs that are crashed together in various ways to make different brilliant sounds. They are traditionally used at the beginning of a festival parade or music ceremony to invite the good spirits to come and join us.

The closing drum circle was full of music and gusto. Many of the traditional music village students have been listening to us and peeking into our windows during the 3-day Playshop. So it was no surprise that they showed up to the event with their own personal Jang Gu and Buk drums. We even had a Jing gong in our ensemble. Traditional Korean folk drumming meets contemporary recreational in-the-moment drumming. Instead of a clash of cultures, it was a beautiful rhythmical wedding celebration.

Mr. Song has put us all in the middle of percussionist’s dream heaven. With the Korean Playshop being held in a traditional cultural village that houses a school focused on traditional Korean percussion folk music, this semi-retired musicologist was in heaven, along with all the rest of the Playshop participants. Thank you once again Song!

And also a big thank you goes to Jay Won, my translator, whom I have worked with for 7 years.

Now on to JAPAN…

Life is a dance-when your sharing your spirit…  Arthur