Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Korean Youth Enjoying the Music of their Grandparents

Immigrants are faced with the same problem missioners face when going to another country: learning a new language and culture.  Our generation of missioners--unlike the older missioners who depended more on a trusted companion for help--had an easier time finding the tools for study, though becoming  comfortable with the language and culture was not so easy. We were blessed with better books and schooling and more opportunities to maneuver freely within the new country. The internet has also made it easier.

Though always remaining a problem, getting to know the culture and the language lessens misunderstandings but some will inevitably crop up. One particularly annoying misunderstanding results when trying to understand imported foreign words, often used by the media. My experience with the word "teuroteu,"which was used to describe a vocalist, illustrates the difficulty.

I could not find the word in several dictionaries, but because the word sounded like throat, I thought it might refer to a vocalist with a throaty voice. Asking aound and  doing some sleuthing, I was told (confirming it later) that it comes from the syllable "trot" of foxtrot, the name of the popular upbeat dance music, the kind I have been hearing on our parish bus trips and never gave it a thought. 

The problem I had with the word disappeared when I looked into the history of the foxtrot and remembered that  Korea was under Japanese domination from 1910 to 1945. Up until  1930 the interchange of music  between Japan and Korea was on a large scale. The Koreans would  take Japanese songs and translate them into Korean and vice versa. It was natural that the melodies would be similar, but in 1930 when the Japanese attempted  to do away with the Korean language there was a  concerted effort to assimilate all Korean music into Japanese music.

Japanese music was called Enka and this is what we now call by the name "trot" in Korean.  It was music the older generation grew accustomed to, and grandmothers and grandfathers loved to sing, probably because they were mostly about the trials and sadness of life.

For a long time, the younger generation cared little for this kind of music; it did not meet their emotional needs, but this has changed. Being simple and easy to learn and not  subtle in what they have to say, the songs are appealing to many, even the young. Whether the music is traditionally Korean or an off-shoot of Japanese Enka is unimportant. Music, an international language, is available to all. By adapting it to suit our needs we make it our own.

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