Recomposed: Korean Music for Orchestra

Written by Chris

June 2014

Korean traditional music is quite dynamic and provides a wonderful peek at classic Korean culture. Some of the most famous include Pansori (판소리), musical storytelling through use of a drummer and vocalist, and Samulori (사물노리), traditional percussion music including a small gong, large gong, hourglass-shaped drum (played on both sides), and a bass drum.


Some less common genres include Sinawi, Buddhist Dance, Sanjo, and Bukcheong Lion Dance:

  • Sinawi includes improvisational music with flutes and the percussion instruments from the Samulori.
  • Buddhist dance showcases ritual, folk dances with drums and dancers.
  • Sanjo displays “scattered melodies” from an instrumental solo and drumming accompaniment on the hourglass-shaped drum.
  • Bukcheong sajanoreum involves dancing with a lion mask in order to turn away evil and bring peace.


The National Orchestra of Korea recently commissioned four foreign composers from Belgium, the U.S., Japan, and Taiwan to compose orchestral pieces that show how traditional Korean music is interpreted given their unique cultural background. The four themes above were chosen, and the pieces were debuted at the National Theater of Korea recently. The music was quite dissonant showing the vocal style at the time with a very articulated percussive feel. Overall, each piece was quite interesting and expressive. Korean traditional music was reborn through a different lens and global imagination, transformed into a new contemporary masterpiece. More details and pictures can be found here.


(Images borrowed from National Theater of Korea)