NOTE: The photo above is clearly not of me.
On my final lesson in my second-last week here, my teacher asked if there was anything else I wanted to learn. I worked up the courage to say…
심봉사 눈뜨는 대목…
This is the climax of Shimcheongga, where old blind Mr. Shim finally comes face to face with his daughter after three years of believing her dead after she sacrificed herself in the Indang Sea in order to restore his sight. He tells his story, and then they sing about their disappointment that his eyes have not been opened… and then, suddenly they do.
This piece was deployed to devastating effect in Seopyeonjae, and is really quite difficult, being one of the best known pieces of repertoire, not because it is particularly challenging technically, but because of the emotional content.
Believability has never been my strong point, and my teacher, it seems, knows that.
She was at first reluctant, telling me how difficult it was, and that it is similar to another peice I have been working on which doesn’t feel like it is getting any better, no matter how long we spend on it. But then she told me that we could give it a go. At least, we could try the second section – the passage leading up to the opening of Mr. Shim’s eyes.
And so we launched into it straight away, me without any written lyrics, and her demanding that I rise to the challenge of listening and repeating.
To our surprise, I was able to keep up. True, I know this piece rather well, having seen it performed at least 50 times over the last month. Also, while she stopped the lesson to take a call from her kid’s kindergarten teacher, I asked her if I could take pictures of the pages with my iPad. So I sang the last 7 minutes of the lesson with the aid of a visual reference, but still – it felt good to have a go at learning something without having to get bogged down in technical details that 7 weeks ago would have completely ground the lesson to a halt.
So here is that 7 minutes. We have only got halfway through the last half of the piece, and this was our third and final stab at it for the day. My voice is hoarse from endless hours of practice (in the studio, under my breath on the subway, in my room when I think nobody is home), but I hope it gives a feel for the energy of what I am doing here.
Even if my skills haven’t improved, perhaps my capacity to learn has expanded.
After listening to him, she pulls the beaded, coral blind away,
Running to him without putting on shoes.
She hugs her father’s neck. “Oh, father!”
Mr. Sim is surprised. “Uh? Who is calling me father? Uh? You must be kidding.
I have neither a son nor a daughter.
My daughter, only child, was drown to death three years ago. Who is calling me father?”
“Oh, father! Haven’t you opened your eyes yet?
Sim Cheong, your bad daughter who died at the Indang Sea came back alive.
Father, please open your eyes and take a look at me.” “What? Are you Cheong?
Is this a dream or real?
Did I die and come to the sea palace?
Am I dreaming now?
My daughter, Cheong, died. How can she be here alive?
Oh, let me see my daughter.
Alas! I feel choked!
How can I see my daughter when I don’t have eyes? God, let me see my daughter!”
Mr. Sim’s eyes flutter open, blinking slowly and then more quickly until…
“Voila!” His eyes are open!
And here is is a video of Lee Gwankbok, one of the stars of Seopyeonjae singing the whole piece, including the song of celebration afterward. We are the same age, and he is a babe.
And to round it off, a clip of Park Aeri (who played the mother in Seopyeonjae) and Nam Seon Il performing it as a duet with an orchestra in a pretty conventional Changgeuk style. It is a slightly different arrangement, and the acting is over the top, but their voices are truly incredible.
Lord Mayor’s Young and Emerging Artists Fellowships are an initiative of Brisbane City Council. This project is supported by Asialink and Arts Queensland.
The image above is of Kim Geummi and Lee Kwangbok, rehearsing the finale of Seopyeonjae.