The inaugural World Pansori Festival, organized by the World Pansori Association, took place Tuesday and Wednesday, celebrating the 20th anniversary of UNESCO's recognition of "pansori," at the Seoul Namsan Gukakdang in Jung-gu, central Seoul.
Pansori is a traditional genre of musical storytelling performed by a vocalist accompanied by a drummer. It is characterized by the deliverance of an epic tale by a single singer, who weaves together folktales using an expressive form of singing, stylized speech and theatrical gestures.
Pansori was included in UNESCO's Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity on Nov. 7, 2003.
Chae Soo-jung, the chairman of the WPA, said pansori holds a special place in the hearts of Koreans.
"We dedicate this stage to our ancestors, who paved the way for the celebration of pansori today, and to the teachers who preserved pansori despite challenging circumstances,” said Chae during her opening remark on Tuesday.
“It's a great pleasure to commemorate the 20th anniversary of UNESCO's recognition of Korean pansori -- as a cultural treasure deserving of preservation and protection.”
A series of congratulatory remarks addressed the need to refine and develop pansori, ensuring it remains a living, breathing art form that resonates with a wider, global and more contemporary audience.
The festival began with the "20-hour Pansori Relay Project," which was the highlight of the event. Over the course of two days, the relay featured 60 pansori singers, including seven gayageum byeongchang performers -- singers who sing pansori and play the gayageum simultaneously. The event was streamed live on YouTube.
Participants of all ages, genders and nationalities took the stage, each showcasing their talents for 20 to 30 minutes in a relay format. Both master singers and enthusiastic novices took part in the cultural celebration -- the youngest participant was just 10 years old, and the oldest, 90. Five foreign nationals also took part in the event.
The first performer in the relay was led by master singer Yoo Yeong-ae, accompanied by drummer Park Geun-yeong.
Yoo sang a part of "Simcheong-ga," in which Simcheong, after returning to the human world from the underwater and becoming a queen, writes a letter as she thinks of her blind father. Yoo delivered an emotional and rhythmic performance, captivating the audience and eliciting enthusiastic responses.
On Tuesday afternoon, one of the festival's workshops catered specifically to an international audience. Pansori singer Min Hye-sung, who has been teaching pansori at Korean Cultural Centers across Europe since 2007, led the workshop, along with her student, Anna Yates-Lu from Germany.
During the two-hour workshop, Min covered the essentials of pansori and a part of "Heungbo-ga,” where the character Heungbo opens a gourd to find a hidden treasure inside. Min gave instructions on rhythm, vocalization and fan gestures, among other aspects. Some 25 participants attended the class.
“I had so much fun,” said Karina Kim, 24, from Ukraine. “It was my first time actually learning how to sing pansori, and I loved every moment of it.”
Kim was at the festival on a friend's recommendation.
Another participant, Kristina Ghevondyan from Armenia, has been studying Korean folklore and learning pansori for over a year.
“When I first came across pansori, I was going through a very stressful time. Then after starting to learn pansori, it was a ‘healing’ moment for me. I was able to channel my emotions through singing,” said Ghevondyan in fluent Korean.
She performed a part of “Simcheong-ga” on Wednesday -- her favorite scene where Sim, the blind father, finally opens his eyes.
Min emphasized the significance of audience engagement in pansori.
“The audience completes the pansori,” said Min. “That is why I’m interested in education as well.”
In August, Min traveled to Paris for a two-week pansori workshop. Within just two to three days of opening registrations, the course was fully booked.
"People from overseas come with a clean slate when it comes to pansori. They don't have any 'prejudice,'" said Min. "They come with open minds and eagerly soaking up the teaching. It's a rewarding experience for me."
She said that even in Korea, there are many Koreans and foreign nationals who have never had the opportunity to experience pansori so up close in a one-on-one setting.
"I hope that the World Pansori Festival will continue for a long time and see more people participating in the workshops. Pansori is an art form that everyone can relish and engage with."