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Sijo’s evolution

Sijo's evolution, regional styles, singing practices, and rhythmic patterns in Korea.

The place where sijo was learned and sung was called a sijo-bang, a meeting place among amateur sijo enthusiasts.

Sijo bang were commonly found in any normal village. and sijochang singing was part was of daily life up until the 1970s. It is known that the population of sijo singers nationwide during the 1970s was more than 100,000. Since sijochang was a nation-wide phenomenon, regional style of sijo appeared. These regional styles in sijo are called hyangje sijo to distinguish them from the sijo of the central Seoul and Gyeonggi style, called gyeong sijo. Hyangje sijo includes Jeolla region’s wanje(完制), Gyeongsang region’s yeongje(嶺制), and Chungcheong region’s naepoje(內浦制). Certain regional styles are often equated to the stereotypical personalities of people in a certain region. For example, naeopje from Chungcheong Province is said to reflect a certain slowness and gentleness without strong emotional expressiveness. The style carries little ornamentation and sounds more similar to recitation of letters than singing. Mostly hyangje sijo are generally less embellished and simpler than the Seoul-based style and are comprised of regular and narrative sijo. In the early 20th century, sijo types diversified including pyeong sijo, saseol sijo, jungheori sijo and more. Various sijo types were introduced by writers of compilations of sijo poetry and musicologists, and the appellations and categories also vary according to the field of literature and music.

The text phrasing of sijo is simple, with three verses of singing stanzas. But one strict rule is, as mentioned earlier, the three syllables of jongjang in the end all should be omitted in sijochang singing. When the syllables are extended, jangan is also extended, and mostly jungjang is extended. If a longer text is used like in hwimori sijo, semachi jangdan is inserted in jungjang. This sounds similar to japga, folk professional song, which is also called sujapga. In a typical three-verse structure, sijochang includes two rhythmic patterns of 5 bak and 8 bak rhythmic cycles; chojang 5.8.8.5.8, jungjang 5.8.8.5.8 and jongjang 5.8.5.8 beats.

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<Figure 1> 5 bak jangdan and 8 bak jangdan in Sijochang

Most sijo employ a five-note scale, hwangjong (Eb)- taeju (F)- jungnyeo (Ab)- imjong (Bb)- namnyeo (C), but among these, three notes hwangjong (Eb)- jungnyeo (Ab)- imjong (Bb) are skeletal notes while others are used as embellishments.

sourse: Hee-sun Kim, “Literature and Music of Gagok and Sijo”, 『KOREAN MUSICOLOGY SERIES, 9 ‘Gagok, Gasa, Sijo(Classical Vocal Music of Korea)’』 65~66p, National Gugak Center, 2018.
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