Maryland Traditions Folklife Area
Sebastian Wang & Sanghyuk Park
Kensington, Maryland, and Laurel, Maryland
Maryland Traditions Apprenticeship Program Team
photo credit: Edwin Remsberg Photographs
Rooted in musical forms originally practiced in rural areas by farmers and shamans, samulnori is a centuries-old Korean percussion tradition that today serves as a beacon of Korean culture. The word samulnori roughly translates as “the art of playing four instruments,” a reference to the tradition’s four signature percussion instruments: the changoo (hourglass-shaped drum), the buk (barrel drum), the jing (large gong), and the kweanggarri (small gong). Characterized by thunderous rhythms and quick tempos, samulnori is an energetic form of expression that reaches back to Korea’s agricultural heritage to connect Koreans worldwide.
Master percussionist Sebastian Wang is a keeper of the samulnori tradition in and around Maryland and the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. Through Washington Samulnori, the teaching and performance organization of which he is founding director, Sebastian has made it his work to keep Korean Americans connected to their heritage while also introducing the art form to performers from other cultures. The ensemble is known for playing a contemporary style of traditional samulnori. “It gives us a sense of identity,” Sebastian says of the power of samulnori for the Korean communities surrounding Washington, D.C.
Apprentice Sanghyuk Park has spent the last year working with Sebastian on improving his skills with all four samulnori instruments. Inspired to connect with his Korean heritage by his experiences at an international festival in high school, Sanghyuk now devotes much of his free time to samulnori. “I mostly play the changoo now, but I want to expand my skill to other instruments,” Sanghyuk says.