“The geomungo was a ‘hip’ instrument and the most popular among noblemen 500 to 600 years ago. And such appreciation is returning today,” said Shin Ji-hee, a 29-year-old player of the geomungo, a six-string instrument with the widest pitch among Korea’s traditional string instruments -- of three octaves.
The origin of the instrument dates back to around 1,500 years ago during the period in which three kingdoms reigned on the Korean Peninsula: the Goguryeo, Baekje and Silla.
According to legend, the instrument was created by Wang San-ak, a prime minister of Goguryeo (B.C 37 – A.D 668), and when he played the instrument, black cranes danced in the air.
According to Shin, the geomungo is gaining increasing recognition following the instrument being featured in some media and receiving global appreciation.
Black Pink member Jisoo played the geomungo in the beginning of the K-pop girl group’s music video, "Pink Venom," released in August, which was nearing 600 million hits on YouTube as of April, according to Shin.
In metal band Kardi’s music video, “City of Wonder,” the geomungo sounds throughout the song for Busan’s bid to host the 2030 World Expo have played millions of times on the online video sharing platform.
Some compare the geomungo to the bass guitar for its heavy and soft sound, which comes out when its strings bounce. But the geomungo also has a feature typical of percussion instruments, as the player will hit the strings with a bamboo stick called a suldae to make tapping sounds during a performance.
“The geomungo's versatility could be the power that has made it survive more than a thousand years,” said Shin.
“Such power is amply attested to,” she added.
The world will appreciate the all-around features of the geomungo, expanding its use to various music genres, Shin said with certainty.
Photos by Park Hae-mook
Written by Park Hae-mook, Lim Jae-seong