Sijo chang: Chung-san-ri (시조창 청산리)

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Sijo is a traditional narrative song vocal genre in which indigenous fixed-form poetry is performed using a specific melodic mode. The title of a sijo piece usually derives from the first phrase of its text, and the musical and textual forms of sijo pieces are the same. Sijo comprises three sections: chojang (beginning section), jungjang (middle section), and jongjang (ending section), with restrictions for the overall form and the number of words allowed. Even though a particular sijo melody can employ diverse sijo poems for its text, today only a limited number of sijo poems are used. Unlike gagok (classical lyric song), sijo is a relatively informal music that is performed without any melodic instruments, but only with rhythmic accompaniment on the janggu (hourglass-shaped drum) or by hitting one’s lap.

Hwang Chin-i, believed to be the author of the poem, was a kisaeng, a high-level courtesan.  It was said that no man could resist her. She went by the name Myeongwol (Bright Moon). A Confucian scholar-official, whose title was a homophone for Jade Green Stream, bragged that he could resist her and could pass through her region without stopping.  She made up the song and when he heard it, he supposedly fell off his mule. This story frame thus makes the natural scenery a pun for the two humans, the man and woman, the official and the kisaeng, at the two opposite poles of traditional Korean society.  As happens over and over again in Korean folk literature, the cleverness of the vernacular makes the official, stuffy male seem a fool and topples him from his lofty, yet precarious perch. (source: Early Korean Literature by David McCann, Columbia University Press, 2000.)

The melodic structure of sijo is very simple in its form with the three pitches presented below. Within the pitch collection there is a combination of the two intervals: E-flat to A-flat (a perfect fourth) and A-flat to B-flat (a major second). The A-flat functions as the central pitch which is supported by the pitches below and above. The E-flat is characterized by intense upward vibrato, and B-flat is always performed with a slow downward vibrato gesture in which the intonation of the pitch is half way between B-flat and B half-flat. When a singer pushes the melody to the upper tessitura, the pitches in the upper octave are used namely E-flat and F, usually heard in a quick grace note gesture immediately resolving to the melodic center, the A-flat, from the B-flat downward vibrato.

Sijo mode

The rhythmic pattern of sijo has two forms, 5/4 meter and 8/4 meter, both performed in a very slow tempo. The beginning and middle sections are made are: 5/4, 8/4, 8/4, 5/4 and 8/4, while the ending section is constructed: 5/4, 8/4, 5/4 and 8/4.

Original Poem

청산리 벽계수야 수이감을 자랑마라
Jade Green Stream, don’t boast so proudly of your easy passing through these blue hills.
일도 창해하면 다시오기 어려오니
Once you have reached the broad sea, it will be difficult to return again.
명월이 만강산하니 쉬여간들 엇더리
While the bright moon fills these empty hills, why not pause? Then go on, if you will.