‘Swiss fork song’

Today is our 10th wedding anniversary. Our wedding was held in a major church in Seoul. Everything was said in Korean and English (my father, sisters and brothers-in-law and all but one niece and nephew travelled and there was a sprinkling of colleagues and people from the English-language congregation of the church). The Korean priest speaks English passably, but the English part of the service was read by a Canadian deacon, who was in Korea as an English teacher. He read the new testament reading in English then Korean, and a friend of my wife read the old testament reading in Korean and English (delightfully mixing up ‘there was everything [viz ‘evening’], and there was morning – the sixth day’). We sang one hymn and said the Lord’s prayer together in both languages.

Afterwards, there was a buffet dinner in the church’s dining room, at which I welcomed people in Korean then English, then about 50 people attended a quieter, more informal reception at a small reception centre near Namsan. I also welcomed people and made a short speech in Korean there, and my wife and I sang a song in Korean.

There was a karaoke machine, which was kept busy. One song listed was Eidelweiss, a ‘Swiss fork song’. This is wrong three times: it’s not a fork song, it’s not even a folk song,* and it’s not Swiss. In the world of the musical/movie, it’s an Austrian song of unexplained origin. At the concert (at least in the movie – I’ve never seen it on stage), Captain von Trapp introduces it as ‘a love song’, and expects the audience to know it and join in. In real life, it was written by the Americans Oscar Hammerstein II and Richard Rodgers. So it’s really an American Broadway musical song.

(*I could write more about the English letters l and r and the Korean letter ㄹ, but I won’t.)

(PS A Swiss fork song might be sung while eating fondue.)

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gugak and gagaku

Many years ago, possibly before I went to Korean the first time, I came across a reference to gugak, or Korean traditional music. In the Korea the first time, I saw and heard various performances of traditional music, but did not encounter the word. In Korea the second time, I wandered around the regional city I was living in on various occasions. One day, I saw a museum of traditional arts and crafts. I had always thought that gugak was gu+gak, but the hangeul at the museum read 국악 or gukak. (One advantage of hangeul is that it tells you where the syllables are.) Guk by itself means (among other things) nation (most often found in words like 대한민국 (dae-han-min-guk, the official name of the Republic of Korea), 한국 (han-guk, the short name) and 외국 (oi-guk [way-guk], any foreign country). Ak by itself is related to 음악 (eum-ak, the general word for music) (which I incorporated into my Korean name, which I rarely use). So gugak is literally “national music” (국가 음악).

Last night I came across a reference to gagaku, or the classical music of Japan. Are the words gugak and gagaku related? Possibly, but after some research this morning, it’s impossible to be sure, working across Chinese characters, Japanese kanji, hangeul, pronunciation, transliteration and translation of all three language into English, and dictionary and encyclopedia entries. Gagaku is 雅楽, literally “elegant music”. The syllabification seems to be ga+gaku, because there is a related word bugaku, or “dance music”. Gugak includes court music, folk music, poetic songs, and religious music used in shamanistic and Buddhist traditions. Gagaku is primarily court music and dances, but also Shinto religious music and folk songs and dance. Continue reading

1004 angels

Driving home from my sister’s house this afternoon, my wife suddenly said “Angel”. I said “What?”. She said “That house”. I said “What about that house?”. She said “Cheon-sa” (which I know is the Korean word for angel. I said “What about it?”. She said “That house has the number 1004. Cheon-sa.” Okay, okay, I’ll get Korean puns eventually.

Some Korean (actually Sino-Korean) numbers are pronounced the same as real words, or parts of real words. Il (one) can also be day or work, i (two) can also be this or the surname Lee. (There is nothing unusual about this – English one can also be won, and two can be to or too). With no context, it is impossible to know whether cheon-sa is 1004 or angel.

Even in context, it might be ambiguous. In the “Catalogue Aria” of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Leporello lists the Don’s sexual encounters, ending “In Spain, one thousand and three ”. So he can presumably say to the next one “You are my cheon-sa”. If he knew Korean and if he wasn’t dead by the end of the opera.

Gogol Bordello

Maybe I shouldn’t look too closely at tattoos on people on trains.

Last night, just before my train got to my station, I moved towards the door, along with several others. The man in front of me had a large number of large tattoos. Looking in the general direction of the floor, I noticed that the one on one calf said ‘GOGOL BORDELLO’. I just couldn’t put those two words together. I know who Gogol was, and what a bordello is, but the two words together just didn’t make sense. Continue reading

Singing in Korean

Sometime about the beginning of November, my wife arranged with the conductor of her church choir that I could join them to sing in a cantata on Christmas Day. (My church choir is singing at a very early service, and I just can’t get there in time.) I have been attending Sunday afternoon rehearsals for about six weeks, and learning the words by myself on the train. The music is straightforward enough, but the words are entirely in Korean. I’ve sung (actually performed) in other languages before; lots of Latin, some German and French, a sprinkling of Italian, Spanish and Welsh, one movement of Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms in Hebrew and all of Rachmaninoff’s Vespers in Russian. As far as I can remember, the words for the Bernstein were given in transliteration, but the words for the Rachmaninoff were in Cyrillic and transliteration. (Hebrew is written right-to-left, and would not naturally fit into in a musical score. I have seen a hymn in Arabic for Arabic-speaking Christians, and the whole score is reversed.)

Continue reading

memo-risation

Yesterday someone asked me for a piece of information which I might have stored in the memo app of my mobile phone. I checked and it wasn’t there, but I was able to find it otherwise. Scrolling through the memos, I spotted three which I thought would make a good blog post. (Among a lot of perfectly useless stuff which I can’t remember why I memo-rised.)

Roasting consists of a balance of right handed TIMING and intuition. NOW. LIKE. FREE. ADDICTION.
&up cafe size up, taste up & feel up
Dq vv our Is lay all i have sos hh hny i do mmm / ggg chiq winner as good as new super does yr mother thank you mm

The first two are obviously from coffee shops in Korea (the first was the university campus branch of a major chain; I can’t remember where the the second was, but the date means that it was either in my regional city, possibly the bus terminal, or at Incheon airport), but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what the third was/is. I looked at it again in the train on my commute home, but it wasn’t until I typed it into my blog drafts document that I realised what it was. I’ll let you ponder that before you click ‘read more’. (The only clue is that it’s got nothing to do with the first two.)

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In my dreams

I sometimes dream about music, but I more often dream about not-music – about preparing for rehearsals or performances, getting to the venue (which is most often somewhere other than real life), getting books or sheet music (very often the print is too small or the light too dim), robes or concert clothes (I can’t find them, I struggle to put them on, they don’t fit, they don’t match everyone else’s), all with a lurking feeling that I haven’t practiced enough.

Last night I had a long and involved dream that I was about to play piano and/or organ in a concert with someone I knew from university who is now a Facebook friend. (We didn’t study together – I’d already finished by the time I met him. My major was piano but I also play organ, his was organ but he also plays piano.) There were phone calls and messages back and forward about what each person was going to play, and car trips in different directions to get to the venue.

Then I woke up without actually having played any music.