Years ago, while in Jindo Island just off the south coast of Korea, I was privileged to experience a performance of the Jindo ssitkimgut ritual, one that left a lasting impression. This ceremony for the deceased lasts the course of an evening, as a shaman sings, chants and dances in order to prepare the spirit of the dead for departure. The night of music culminates in a portion of the ritual unique to Jindo: gildakeum (길닦음). Literally translated as “clearing the path”, gildakeum is a particularly poetic and visual section of the ritual in which a long white cloth is unfurled and stretched out, acting as a bridge between this world and the next. The shaman then moves a vessel containing the soul of the dead back and forth along its length, sending the spirit on its way.
My piece was inspired by this ceremony, making reference to it directly and indirectly. The gayageum’s long, sweeping gestures that open the piece allude to the idea of clearing a path, and these same gestures return throughout the piece. The daegeum enters with melodies from the opening of gildakeum, played in slow, long tones, and continues to refer to melodies from the ceremony as the piece continues. Even with these allusions, though, the piece is more about the experience of the ritual than it is a depiction of it. From slow, lamenting chants to ecstatic and intense rhythms and melodies, the music seeks to bring about the highs and lows of this powerful ceremony, one whose theme of transcendence after death is both heartbreaking and reassuring.
This piece is dedicated to Jung Gil-sun (정길선), a performer who has worked tirelessly to expand the repertoire for her instrument.