Ariana Kim’s piece for Korean zither highlights April music offerings

The Cornell Department of Music presents Ariana Kim, playing the Korean traditional zither (gayageum) and violin, and Young-Nam Kim, playing violin, on Saturday, April 16 at 7 pm in Anabel Taylor Chapel.

“Gayageum, Meet Violin” is a recital and discussion featuring a preview performance of a new composition “Apba Hagoo, Nah Hagoo” by Ariana Kim for gayageum and violin. The concert features an exploration into the sound worlds of Korean folk music, Western art music, and an introduction/discussion about the gayageum and its history.

On sabbatical last year, Ariana spent much of it in Korea studying traditional Korean music at the National Gugak Center in Seoul. She says she “felt particularly moved by the earthy, honest sound of the gayageum, and chose to take a deep dive into that world.” After coming across a traditional folk tune called “Apba Hagoo, Nah Hagoo,” which loosely translates to “Papa and Me,” Ariana learned it on both the gayageum and violin and began to compose a three-movement work based on the folk song, which will be previewed at this concert. The tune connected with Ariana’s close relationship with her own father, Young-Nam, who instilled a love for the culture and heritage of his native Korea in his children.

Ariana describes the gayageum as a 12-stringed zither-style instrument, played seated on the floor with the right hand plucking and the left hand managing 12 moveable bridges and applying vibrato or pitch manipulation. Though tunings can be changed, it’s most often in a pentatonic scale, with varying traditions asking for vibrato, pitch bends, and punctuations that mimic the human voice and sounds of the natural world, such as birds, raindrops, or footsteps.

Though the notation, clefs, and technique of performing on gayageum are completely different than the violin, Ariana found a common thread in the instruments’ ability to project a large range of emotional experiences through the vibrations of the wooden hollow-bodied instruments. She notes that “when a gayageum is made, after the tree is cut into its rough shape, it spends five years outdoors exposed to all the elements, and for me one can hear this in the sound – earth, sand, rain, snow, dirt, sunshine, and wind are all inside the sonic world of the instrument.”

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