Sunday, June 16, 2013

Jongmyo Daeje Royal Ancestral Rite - an Expat's Reflection

Observing the rites and ceremonies happening at both the Yeongnyeongjeon and Jeongjeon halls at Jongmyo Shrine was a mixture of fascination, confusion, and frustration. The highly prescribed rituals were very strict and solemn. I was happy to see the young dancers and musicians of various ages who were eager to learn the music, dance, and songs in order to preserve this national treasure and tradition. Some of the traditional instruments used in the ceremony were unique and those I had not seen before. Elaborately carved and painted, form and function were equally important. With the large expansive courtyard separating the viewers from the main action taking place under the sheltered chamber area, it was difficult or next to impossible to really see what was going on.

 The cameramen with their massive equipment went back and forth, documenting the ceremony but also obscuring any view of spectators. Some wore a blue uniform making them slightly less distracting, but many others wore jeans - marring any photographic shot of the events. Announcements were made throughout the ceremony, but everything was in Korean, so foreigners were even more clueless as to the events and their meanings. To the untrained ears and eyes, things could look and sound rather repetitive and monotonous. The singing was more like chanting and the rhythms and melodies of music very different than that of Western music. This definitely was no farmer or folk masked dance. Still, I understand that the ceremony is not about nor is it for the spectators. This is a deeply traditional cultural ritual with a very solemn tone that needs to be respected and preserved. 

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