Jongmyo Jeryeak (Royal Ancestral Shrine Ritual Music and Dance of Korea)
Welcome to the eighth episode of <Gugak Wednesdays: Online Korean Music Concerts>.
We would like to conclude the <Gugak Wednesdays: Online Korean Music Concerts> by presenting “Jongmyo Jeryeak.” “Jongmyo Jeryeak” was the first performing arts to be designated as an Important Intangible Cultural Heritage of Korea in 1964 by the Korean government. It was designated as the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2001.
“Jongmyo Jeryeak,” a work played for rituals dedicated to kings, queens, or high officials with distinguished service to the country in the Joseon dynasty, is regarded as the utmost masterpiece of Korean court music that includes not only instrumental music and song, but also dance. It has been performed regularly since the 15th century. For more than 500 years, “Jongmyo Jeryeak” has conveyed its unique dignity and splendor of Korean traditional arts.
The revered “Jongmyo Jeryeak” refers to the ritual music performed at the Jongmyo Shrine, where memorial tablets for the kings and queens of the Joseon dynasty (1392-1910) are enshrined.
Initially, King Sejong (1418-1459) created this music wishing for a peaceful reign, but during the reign of King Sejo (1455-1468), it was modified and adapted to what we now know as “Jongmyo Jeryeak.”
“Jongmyo Jeryeak” is divided into deungga (“Courtyard Ensemble,” signifying Heaven, reflecting the sun orbiting in the sky, and the yang element) and heonga (“Terrace Ensemble,” signifying the earth, depicting the direction of the “handle” of the Big Dipper pointing down to the earth).
In “Jongmyo Jeryeak,” the music consists of botaepyeong (literally “Maintaining the Great Peace”) and jeongdaeup (“Founding a Great Dynasty”) pieces. Botaepyeong is a musical suite consisting of 11 pieces in the peaceful mode (pyeongjo) representing the civil achievements of the ancestors, and jeongdaeup is a musical suite consisting of 11 pieces in the gyemyeon mode representing the military achievements of the ancestors. With ritual ideophones including pyeonjong (ritual bell chimes), pyeongyeong (ritual stone chimes), and banghyang (metal chime), playing major roles, string and wind instruments add melodies while singers present ritual songs with lyrics praising previous kings.
In “Jongmyo Jeryeak,” there are also dances, specifically, line dances called ilmu. A total of 64 dancers participate in the dance (8 standing in 8 rows). It comprises quiet and gentle munmu (civil dance) and strong and vital mumu (martial dance). Munmu is a ritual line dance to praise kings’ civil virtues and mumu is to praise kings’ military contributions. For munmu, the jeok (notched vertical flute) is held in the right hand and the yak (another vertical flute) in the left; for mumu, some hold a wooden sword, while others hold a wooden spear.
The sound of the music, which has a soft, warm, tranquil resonance that lingers for a long time, and the simple and restrained movements of the dances create an overall grave and weighty feeling for the ceremony.
Thank you for tuning in for the past 8 episodes of the <Gugak Wednesdays: Online Korean Music Concerts>.
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*This content was produced based on the original performance video of the National Gugak Center and a description of the work.
Venue: Jongmyo Shrine, Seoul, Korea
Source: National Gugak Center