Sunday, April 8, 2012

Arirang: exhibition focuses on 'Arirang'

It is safe to say that there isn't one person on the Korean Peninsula who doesn't know the folk song "Arirang." It's in our cultural DNA to know the tune from childhood.

So an exhibition themed around the unofficial national anthem of the country could be summed up not just as a showcase of relevant objects but ultimately, an amusing opportunity to look back at our own history.

The National Folk Museum is presenting the "Arirang Exhibition" until May 21, featuring books, recordings, match boxes, magazines and other items that are associated with or named after the song. The museum is housed within the grounds of Gyeongbok Palace in central Seoul.

Since April 4, the exhibition has been showing 2,000 Arirang-themed items.

"As we prepared for this event for the past year, we realized that the song could not be separated from the lives of our people," curator Lee Geon-wook said during a press conference Tuesday. "We sang the song during sad and happy times, and the song was with us through movies, novels, operas as well as products we use in everyday life."

The exhibition focuses on the history of the song, starting from the early 1900s to the present.

The first cigarette to ever be produced here was named after the song in 1958 and became a representative premium cigarette brand.

U.S. jazz musician Oscar Pettiford (1922-1960) first heard the song during his concert here during the Korean war (1950-1953) and wrote “Ah Dee Dong Blues,” inspired by "Arirang."

The term “Arirang” has been a popular name for products since the 1940s, including radios, crayons, matches, and much more.

The exhibition also shows 200 copies of “Arirang” records, sung by different artists throughout the nation’s history.

Symbol of inter-Korean unity

As the song has been around for more than 600 years, it is in the heart of not just South Koreans but for those in the north half of the Korean Peninsula as well.

Visitors to the exhibition can also see how “Arirang” is performed in North Korea.

Not many know that one of the most moving orchestral renditions of Arirang was arranged by a North Korean composer.

The 8-minute piece, a variation on the original melody of Arirang, was completed by the North Korean composer Choi Sung-hwan in 1976 and was premiered in Japan in 1978 by a South Korean conductor Kim Yong-jae and the Tokyo Philharmonic.

This orchestral version of Arirang was performed as an encore after two recent landmark peace concerts for the two Koreas ― the 2008 New York Philharmonic concert in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang and the Chung Myung-whun led joint concert in March by the Orchestre Philharmonique Radio France and the Unhasu Orchestra, founded by the late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, in Paris.

For more information, call (02) 3704-3114 or visit

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