Oral Histories Project: Dong-Won Kim

Photo by Paul Watkins

Dong-Won Kim is a Korean percussionist, pedagogue, vocalist, composer, and improviser. Since 1984, he has studied various forms of traditional music, ranging from farmers’ drumming and dance, shaman music, and Pansori accompaniment, as well as music theory from the great Korean music masters. Recognized internationally as a master of his form, he has performed at the United Nations General Assembly Hall as a member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silkroad Ensemble Project. While Dong-Won plays a range of percussive instruments, his primary instrument is the jang-go: an hourglass-shaped drum with two leather heads that are struck with mallets. One side of the drum has a higher pitch than the other. The instrument is used in samul nori traditional folk music, which was popularized by Korean farmers. Samul nori music typically features four different percussion instruments, each of which represents a force in nature. The jang-go symbolizes water or rain.

Dong-Won is celebrated for his participation in a range of intercultural projects. Last year he dazzled Guelph Jazz Festival (2013) audiences with his receptive and energetic playing in various contexts, particularly as part of the World Percussion Summit that opened last year’s Guelph Jazz festival. Dong-Won is also known for his pedagogy, as he has taught at various institutions including Harvard University and the Musik Akademie Basel, Switzerland. He currently teaches music as a professor of Wonkwang Digital University. In addition, he has written several fairy tales for children and was featured in a music documentary film, Intangible Asset Number 82 (2009). In September 2014, Dong-Won will step into the role of IICSI’s Improviser-in-Residence. In this role, Dong-Won will initiate new community impact workshops alongside musical performances in order to promote and advocate community building and diversity through improvisatory practices.

This month’s Oral History focuses on an interview with Dong-Won Kim conducted by Joshua D. Pilzer as part of the Improvising Eye Colloquium that was held on December 17th, 2010 in Guelph. Pilzer is an Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology in the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto. His first book, Hearts of Pine, about singing in the lives of Korean survivors of the Japanese “comfort women” system, was published in 2012 by Oxford University Press. In the interview, Pilzer and Dong-Won Kim discuss a range of topics, including rhythmic structure, Korean music, the spirit, pitch,
certainty and uncertainty in harmony, and musical inspiration.

The full transcript of the interview is available, here.

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