Lesson 5: The Koreas

This week in music class we explore one nation that’s almost impossible to size up and another that moves so quickly it’s almost impossible to pin down.

North Korea is the world’s most militantly isolated nation. From the inflated cult of personality surrounding its self-procluamed “Supreme Leader” (Can Kim Jong-Il really control the weather? Read below.) to its government’s policy of imprisoning anyone, even foreign journalists, who dare question the omnipotence of its regime, North Korea is about as off-putting as any country could be. On the other hand, South Korea is one of the most wired, open and accessible nations in the world. In the years since splitting with the north it has raced to embrace all things that could connect it to global society, like cell phones, the internet, and shamelessly over-produced pop music. The sad fact is that for more than three thousand years, and until just about sixty years ago, these two divergent nations were one. Then came a brutal Japanese colonization culminating in a World War and a wholly unwelcome starring role in the military and ideological struggle between the Soviets, the Chinese and the United States. Since a vicious armed conflict in the early ’50s — Americans know it “the Korean War,” while Koreans refer to as their civil war — North has split from South with such vigor that there is literally a line between the countries that no one from either is allowed to cross. The chasm between the countries continues to widen; the civil war’s wounds are still raw.

HISTORY: “A house divided.” North and South Korea are now separate nations after thousands of years of togetherness.

MUSIC: The music the Koreas has most diverged since the nations split — diverged a lot.

LANGUAGE: Korean is a “language isolate,” so if you don’t speak it you won’t be able to cheat with any neighboring, similar language. All the more reason to start Korean lessons today.

GANGGANGSULLAE: A traditional “women only” full moon dance.

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