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Samulnori Ttamtti celebrates 20 year musical journey with concert

May 24, 2024 - 12:32 By Hwang Dong-hee
Samulnori Ttamtti (Samulnori Ttamtti)

Samulnori Ttamtti, a Korean traditional music quartet composed of four individuals with disabilities, is celebrating its 20th anniversary with a concert titled "Ttamtti's 20-Year Journey to Fly High."

The group was formed in 2003 as part of a music therapy program for disabled individuals, bringing together Ko Tae-woog, who has a developmental disorder; Park Jun-ho, who has autism; Lee Seok-hyun, who has a brain disorder; and Cho Hyeong-gon, who has Down syndrome. All four members are in their 30s.

Due to physical limitations, the quartet started out learning and playing samulnori, a genre of traditional Korean percussion music, rather than wind or keyboard instruments that require more precise movements.

The 20th-anniversary concert will feature Samulnori Ttamtti's own creative pieces based on traditional Korean music. The members will play instruments not typically used in such performances, including the recorder, xylophone, guitar and melodica.

From left, director Seo Hyung-won, members of Samulnori Ttamtti and music director Song Kyong-keun pose for a group photo after a rehearsal at the National Theater of Korea, on May 9. (Yonhap)

"In the beginning, we couldn't read music sheets. Our teachers played the pieces for us, and we would memorize them. I think it took us about five times longer to master the pieces compared to the non-disabled," Lee said at a press interview last Thursday following a rehearsal at the National Theater's Haneul Round Theater.

Despite the slow learning pace, the members of Samulnori Ttamtti persevered, taking their time to achieve a series of achievements. In particular, Ttamtti won the grand prize at the National Disabled Traditional Music Competition in 2004.

Each member has now mastered over 10 different instruments. The group has also expanded its repertoire to include various traditional dances.

"To prepare for our first competition, we practiced intensively in a container building during the summer, which gave everyone heat rash. That's how we came up with the name 'Ttamtti' (heat rash)," Lee recalled. "What started as music therapy transformed into a proper samulnori group within a year," Lee said.

In 2012, with support from the Korea Arts Council, Ttamtti reached a new milestone by releasing an album featuring five original compositions.

"After releasing our album, we broadened our musical scope beyond traditional Korean music by incorporating different instruments. We are creating our unique genre by adding Korean rhythms to different instruments."

Samulnori Ttamtti (Samulnori Ttamtti)

The four members have regular jobs and meet for practice in their spare time. Unlike other music groups that practice regularly, Ttamtti members believe that their individual autonomy has been key to sustaining the group for two decades.

"We respect each other's work schedules, characteristics and personal lives. But we adhere strictly to our performance and practice times. Integrating Ttamtti activities into our lives while respecting each other's individual circumstances has been the secret to our persistence," Lee said.

Looking ahead to their 30th and 40th anniversaries, the members of Samulnori Ttamtti aim to continue making music that brings them joy.

"We are happiest when we play music. Our main goal is simply to create joyful music," Lee said.

Samulnori Ttamtti's 20th-anniversary concert will take place at the National Theater of Korea from May 31 to June 2.