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Transformation of pansori

Transformation of pansori in 19th century, rise of female singers, and changes in performance practices and audience

As the esthetic form of pansori shifted to suit the tastes of the aristocratic class, the master singers’ social reputation rose, which can also be said to be the most important change in the 19th century.

Sorikkun, or singers, had different names according to their social status or their level of skill.

These were the names of the singers according to their different characteristics: jaedam-gwangdae, aniri-gwangdae, ttorang-gwangdae, myeongchang, eojeon(palace)-gwangdae and bigabi-gwangdae. Jaedam-gwangdae is a singer who is good at jaedam, or pun.

Aniri-gwangdae singers were best in performing aniri. Ttorang-gwangdae is a singer who is unskilled thus can only sing on small stages in etown.

By contrast, if someone is very skilled and sings very well, he was called a myeongchang.

At times, myeongchang were invited to the royal palace to perform, and, in these cases, the appellation eojeon-gwangdae was applied.

Originally pansori were performed only by males, but towards the mid-19th century, there also were female singers. According to Joseon changgeuksa, Jin Chaeseon describes the first recognized female pansori singer. Jin Chaeseon was born in Gochang, Jeollabukdo Province and she learned pansori from Sin Jaehyo. However, in Geumokchongbu written by Ahn Minyeong in the 19th century, there is a record of a gisaeng (female entertainer) named Geum Hyangseon who sang pansori.

Therfore, it can be assumed that women singers started to appear gradually during the mid-19th century. Based on the fact that women started to sing, we have to highlight two factors related to this change. First, gisaeng were the main audience of pansori, and among them there were gui-myeongchang, or audiences with a high level of skill who were able to judge if a performance was good or bad, thus they were selective listeners. It was natural for gisaeng to become gui-myeongchang since they had artistic talents. The second factor we should highlight is the change in performance context.

Pansori was normally performed outdoors, yet, as yangban became the main audience, pansori performances shifted to the indoors to accommodate yangban patrons. These changes indicate that, while at first yangban were attracted to the outdoor pansori, the yangban brought the singers into their homes. Because of the change of performance context, pansori itself also went through many changes. The seriousness and temperate beauty of pansori were intensified and this style became more musically fashionable. When singing indoors, it was possible, albeit necessary, for the singers to sing in a variety of ways without shouting out loud; singers thus were able to communicate a song’s sentiment in a less sonorous fashion. This feature also influenced the increase in the appearance of female singers, and even ones who were merely potential singers among gisaeng now began to surface as professional singers.

sourse: Kim Kee Hyung, “Chapter I. History of Pansori”, 『KOREAN MUSICOLOGY SERIES, 2 ‘Pansori’』 8p, National Gugak Center, 2008.
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