The Music Exam in Dong yi Episode 5

In episode 5 DY is working at the Academy of Music helping the musicians get ready for their music exam. It’s an important exam and everyone is nervous. It took me back to taking piano exams and feeling apprehensive especially because I knew I hadn’t really practised enough. From what I remember, after playing the required scales and set pieces I’d practised at home, I’d be given a sight reading test, have to clap out a rhythm the examiner played on the piano, and then sing the notes the examiner played. It was pretty nerve-wracking. One time I froze in the middle of a piece – my mind went blank and it took several goes to finish it. So I felt for the students in their music exam in this episode. This episode was interesting in many ways including how the court music is related to bad omens. But I will write about that next time. For now I want to look at what the court musician students had to do in their music exam.

聽音 청음 (chong-um) listen + sound. Dong Yi, ep. 5

The students gather outside in the courtyard and the first part of the test is revealed on a scroll. The students must listen to a group of musicians playing a piece of music. They have to write down the melody each musician plays.

Music exam listening test part 1, Dong Yi episode 5 MBC

Korean instruments from left

gayageum, (가야금; 伽倻琴) has 12 strings  made of silk and each string rests on a moveable bridge carved in the shape of a crane’s foot.

daegeum (대금; 大琴) a bamboo flute. It has six finger holes spread wide apart and has a range of over 2 octaves.

geumungo (거문고; 玄琴) has 6 strings and is plucked with a bamboo stick.

Here is some more information on Korean musical instruments and Korean traditional music.

students take the court musicians’ exam, Dong Yi, ep. 5.

The music begins, the students pick up their brushes and dip them in the ink and begin to write. We get a close up of what they are writing. In retrospect I have to ask myself why on earth in a Korean drama set in the 17th century I was expecting to see them write modern western style music scores – ie. 5 lined staves with treble clefs and bass clefs and the musicians furiously writing crochets and quavers and semibreves. Something like this perhaps…

picture source: wikipedia

It didn’t dawn on me in that moment that the stave and music notation as I know it was developed in Europe for European music. It was not a universal music language that everyone around the world has automatically always used. Duh!

close ups of  music students’ music notation exam papers, Dong Yi, ep. 5

This form of music notation is called chongganbo and was developed by King Sejong in the 15th century. According to the information I found here each square represents 1 beat and each column represents one rhythmic cycle. (the length of a beat is not as rigid in Korean traditional music as in Western music) The music is written from top to bottom and right to left. The hanja ( Chinese characters) represent pitch. In the examples above there are three hanja:

hwang ( 황 黃  meaning: yellow) represents approximately E flat.

chung ( 중, 仲  meaning: middle) represents approximately A flat.

rim ( 림, 林 meaning: forest – the hanja is made up of two trees) There is one example of this in the picture and it represents B flat.

I don’t know which instrument these music notations represent. I’m guessing the students have to write out the notations for one instrument and then go on to the next block of squares to the left of the paper to write for another of the three instruments.

An official reveals the second part of the test on a scroll – 청주  chong-ju (top) listen + perform. So the musicians listen and then play what they hear.

But they must listen to birds! They listen to the birds singing and play what they hear.

The final test is to play a piece of music by sight reading. 합주 合奏 (hapju)

The students are given a piece of music and have to play together in groups. I think it’s interesting that they are examined playing together and never individually. Even though they are playing different instruments. The examiners stand at the front taking notes. I think if I were a student I’d be a nervous wreck…

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Filed under Dong Yi, Korean Culture through Drama

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