Arirang is a culture of sharing, revealing that we are one.
What is Arirang? Well, you can easily say it’s a cultural treasure, a national symbol for Korea. Or you can say it is a simple and traditional folk song that people sang long ago as they worked in the fields. Or perhaps it is this song that you simply learn informally at home that your parents and grandparents hum or sing to themselves when they are emotional, and you learned to do the same.
Arirang can be everything then I guess. It’s a soothing sound to comfort, something to occupy your mind as you work, or an anthem of pride in who you are.
Bonjo Arirang, from Seoul
The Members of Seo-Do Traditional Songs Institute with the Korean National Classical Orchestra
September 25, 2007, KBS Music Hall, Seoul, Korea
New York University’s Department of East Asian Studies hosted this wonderful workshop - New York Arirang: A Song of the People - to show us more about Arirang.
Soo Jin Kim led the group and showed us that not only is Arirang all of these things, but it is a perfect vessel for our unique identity. Part of its purpose is to be flexible so you can add your own lyrics or style to the song, then repeat the chorus to reconnect your version to the whole. As she taught us the chorus of Jindo Arirang:
we all thought about our personal ideas that we could incorporate into the song, which we then presented to the group and sung together. We thought about family, and learning, and being your true self.
In fact, every region of Korea has their own distinct version of the song. Some are played fast or slow, with lilting notes or strong, sharp sounds. Each shows the unique character of the people or countryside from there. We learned some of the differences between Jindo (진도), Miryang (밀양), and Jeongseon (정선) Arirang. Such different feelings and emotions come through each version. I think I like to hear Jindo when I am proud, but then I feel I need Bonjo when I am a bit sad.
We have started to sing arirang at home, sometimes out loud, sometimes just in our minds. It does make us feel connected to Korea, to our family there, and to grandparents who have passed. They surely sang arirang in the same ways. So even if we are far from Korea here in NYC, we really never are.