“When I started learning 'gochang nongak,' it was completely different from anything I had learned before," said Jeong Ha-rin, an amateur gochang nongak performer from Busan.
“Now, gochang nongak brings me so much joy. It became an escape from life's heaviness and seriousness,” Jeong added.
Gochang nongak is a type of traditional music developed by farmers in Gochang, North Jeolla Province.
“My father was a member of the Korean traditional art's community and I was able to watch traditional performances many times when I was young. I also played 'kkwaenggwari' as a member of a traditional percussion ensemble at high school,” Jeong said, referring to a small, flat gong used in Korean folk music.
Growing up in Busan, most of Jeong's exposure to traditional Korean culture revolved around the practices of North Gyeongsang Province and South Gyeongsang Province, located in the southeastern part of the peninsula. But she found her passions drifting towards the music from Gochang, North Jeolla Province, whose traditional culture is strikingly distinctive from that of North and South Gyeongsang Province.
It was her childhood friend who introduced her to the gochang nongak scene.
“A friend I knew since childhood began doing gochang nongak before me. When I met her for the first time in a while, she talked endlessly about the positive sides to nongak and the happiness she found in working with other nongak performers," Jeong said.
“When she showed me a video of gochang nongak master Lim Seong-jun performing, I got goosebumps," Jeong added with a smile.
After her introduction to gochang nongak, Jeong headed to Gochang, 220 kilometers away from Busan, and stayed there for seven weeks to learn the traditional performance art.
“I knew it would not be easy to learn as everything was so new to me, but I did not feel discouraged. I can say that it was a rather joyful and happy experience. I think back fondly of that time, when I performed with friends of diverse backgrounds, and how we looked at each other and laughed together.”
Jeong is not a professional player. In fact, she works as a photographer in Busan. But Jeong feels proud to say that gochang nongak is becoming an essential part of her life.
“I need to make the time to balance performing with my day job," Jeong said.
“My job does not allow for regular days off. It is also difficult to make time with other players to perform together, so every single performance is precious to me. I even treasure our spontaneous drinking sessions which sometimes come after one of our performances," Jeong added.
“I feel embarrassed when people tell me I am 'succeeding a tradition.' The reason I hope to continue doing this is because of the previous moments it brings, and the time it allows me to perform with friends. I think will be the thing that keeps me going," she said.
Photos by Im Se-jun
Written by Im Se-jun, Lim Jae-seong