The Flower Time Has Come

In class this season we sing “Hah Hoa,” a song about the harvesting the flowers of Vietnam, as we harvest our very own children. Get your own flowery children ready for picking and sing along with me:  “My friend my friend the flower time has come, You have to pick the flowers pick them one by one, Pick them one by one, ’til flower time is done, A ring ting ting ting ting, a ring ting ting ting ting.”

Tran Quang Hai’s Coin Clappers

“Hai Hoa” is Vietnamese farming song, sung about the flower harvest.

When we sing the song in our classes we “pick” our children as flowers, putting colored scarves over their heads, clapping and singing and harvesting all. Colorful flowers — brilliant yellow, orange and red blossoms — are an essential symbol of renewal and good luck during Vietnamese Lunar New Year celebration of Tet. Flower farms in Vietnam prepare all year for the December harvest in advance of the February holiday. While we’re not singing this Vietnamese farming song ourselves we can enjoy the heck out of this video of Tran Quang Hai’s exciting version, performed on the coin clappers.

We can’t get enough of Nha Nhac

Which form of imperial Vietnamese court music is your favorite?

If I had to bet on it, I’d put my money on Nhã nhạc. The term “Nhã nhạc” refers to music performed from the days of the Trần dynasty to the last Nguyễn dynasty of Vietnam. Vietnamese music particularly thrived in the 19th century when music in the imperial court also featured royal dances, many of which had the goal of encouraging the king’s long life and supporting the country’s wealth. Feel free to dance royally while you’re enjoying this video’s performance of Nhã nhạc.

We Visit Vietnam

All Around This World maps of Southeast Asia featuring Vietnam

This week in our online class we visited Vietnam — and all two thousand miles of its coastline. Since the formation of the first Vietnamese state over two millennia ago Vietnam has fought for the right to determine its own fate. Since way back in 111 B.C.,Vietnam has been under the rule of the Chinese, the French, the Japanese and, for all intents and purposes, the United States. The Vietnamese know that every time a power invaded, no matter how long they stuck around (the Chinese ruled for a thousand years), Vietnamese independence movements successfully sent them packing. Today Vietnam is officially Communist but is economically a free-market state. The economy has boomed, surviving setbacks such as the 1997 Asian economic crisis and the 2008 global recession. The Vietnamese government has a spotty human rights record and maintains control over most media and social policy, but it has also normalized diplomatic and trade relations with most nations, including the U.S., enabling today’s Vietnamese to become an increasingly globally-connected lot. This week we’ll enjoy Vietnamese music and culture, both homegrown and intertwined with the world.

Everyone Sings Arirang

What is the “Korean national anthem?” There is only one answer.

“Arirang” is, in essence, because of its ubiquity on the Korean peninsula, “the Korean national anthem.” There are literally thousands of different versions of the song and everyone–everyone!–sings it, both on festive and somber occasions. “Arirang, arirang, arariyo, Arirang, crossing over the hill, My dear who has abandoned and left me, Has not even traveled ten miles before having feet pains” The song is of mysterious origin, age and literal meaning. Is the song two hundred years old? Two thousand? Whatever the song’s story, those protesting the 1910-1945 Japanese occupations of Korea claimed it as a resistance anthem, and since then the song has become synonymous with the pride of Koreans in surviving despite struggles. And who can Koreans be more proud of than their K-Pop superheros, BTS? Watch their sleek performance of Arirang in this video.

Under the Chuseok Moon

Chuseok is the Korean holiday of thanksgiving. Let us be grateful for that. The festival takes place around the 15th day of the 8th month of the Korean lunar calendar, which is some time around the start of autumn. While modern Koreans first and foremost view the holiday as a moment to focus on their families, traditionally Koreans have also played folk games throughout Chuseok, like tug-of-war or ssireum wrestling. As you’ll see in this video, Korean women along the southwest coast also perform the ancient Ganggangsullae dance forming a circle under a full moon and dancing for hours, long into the night, replying a liberating “Ganggangsullae!” as the song leader sings about both the struggles and joys of life. In class we enjoy womens’ dance from Korea by pretending to be turtles and mice.

Bang a Gong with Korean Farmers

Inspired by this video, you will grab a gong and join Kiorean farmers in their Nongak.

Korean musicologists generally acknowledge four types of traditional music from Korea — courtly, aristocratic, scholarly, and religious —  and three kinds of Korean court music — aak (Chinese/Confucian ritual music), hyangak (purely Korean), and tangak (a combination of Chinese and Korean court music). There are also many  folk styles, such as:

sanjo: a completely instrumental music, performed with shifting rhythms and melodies on instruments such as the gayageum.
pansori: a theatrical form of music performed by one singer and one drummer. The singer tells one of five different stories but individualizes the telling with jokes and social commentar,y, and
nongak (“farmers’ dance”): a public form of percussion performed by twenty to thirty performers, most often in a rural setting.



One Korea Two Koreas

All Around This World map of east and southeast Asia featuring souch Korea

This week in our online class we tried to understand two complicated Koreas. North Korea is the world’s most militantly isolated nation. From the inflated cult of personality surrounding its self-procluamed “Supreme Leader” 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 as 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.