I have none; Mona has her art, Brad has his music, even Rebbecca has her cello.
What do I have? Nothing.
Let me rectify; I have a talent for swimming in shit and stirring it.
I’ve made such a mess of things, and every day I sink more in-depth in my shit.
" 판소리” [Pansori], I read in the leaflet the girl gave to me with a packet of tissues.
“Jane, throw it away; it’s probably some sect or something,” Mona said, but before she could carry on complaining, the leaflet was folded and in my bag.
I don’t know why I kept it nor why I’m standing in this room full of middle-aged women, aka ahjummas, for my first lesson of Pansori.
Impulsivity has struck again. I sing like a strangled cat, but here stands the talentless me, ready to stir a little more shit.
The person giving the lesson explains some aspects of the singing and the 12 originals madangs [tales], which people told initially. She tells us how she will teach us the basics, but we must find our voice within her teachings.
판소리는 무엇인가부터 개가 차근 오늘 설명을 해 드릴개요.
[I’ll start today by explaining the detail of what Pansori is].
먼처 판소리는 판과 소리의 합성어인데요.
[First off, Pansori is a combination of pan (a place where people gather) and sori (sound).]
한 사람의 소리꾼, 창자가 고소 이 박 가단에 맞추어서 아추 긴 이야기를.
[One singer called soriggun or jangja tells a long story following the beats of the drum.]
This explanation is for me since I’m the only foreigner in the room.
소리꾼 한 명이 여서 명이 됐다가, 모노도라마천럼.
The singer alone becomes several people like a monodrama.
She carries on explaining the types:
그중에 아니리라는 젓은 장단 없이 이야기를 한는 젓을 아니리라고 합니다.
Among these, the one called Aniri is played without a drum beat. We call it Aniri. So the soriggun tells the story of people’s actions in the parts where the drum beats are absent. He or she will say someone did this or that. Pansori was very popular from the 14th till the early 20th century.”
I have to admit she has managed to captivate me.
She starts to explain the gestures.
“A true Pansori singer has their style, every region of Korea as their on flow, some are fast and seem chopped up, some are slow, but a talented Pansori singer has their unique voice. Search for your voice.”
My real voice, I wonder how my soul sounds.
Never would I have imagined doing something like this, but I need distractions these days to avoid thinking about the accident, Tae Won, and everything else.
Something tells me if I stay locked up in my room, I end up doing another stupid thing. Coming here is ridiculous too, but it seems like a safe dumb action as far as those go.
Min Su shows us how to cheer the Seopyeonje (female pansori singer) while she tells the Madang.
“Eolssu, u-iee, eolssigu, are chumisae, the drummer says them, but the crowd is also invited to cheer.”
Cheering is something I can do.
After the explanations, we start the warm-up, consisting of taking in a lot of air and letting out an ah sound. Though I want to leave, I remain stiff in place; everyone lets out beautiful sounds. Mine is stuck; nothing comes out; I feel as though I’m choking.
Min Su approaches, “let yourself go, gather all those things that are weighing down into the same space and throw them out.”
It’s easier said than done, and that day nothing comes out of me.
Despite my failure to let out a sound, I find myself a couple of days standing in front of the door of Min Su’s classroom.
“Aren’t you going inside?”
Almost choking on my words, I ask, “you speak English?”
“Who doesn’t nowadays.”
Min Su is a pretty Korean woman; no, she’s elegant. Thin with a long neck, which makes her even more graceful. She doesn’t fit the image I had of a Pansori singer.
“So, aren’t you going inside?”
My eyes dart and my feet start to shuffle, “eh, I don’t think.”
A small pressure on my arm makes me stop fidgeting. I look at Min Su; her eyes seem to bore into mine, “Jane, I think you have something to say. Let your inner voice speak.”
One sentence, and here I am, sitting in a circle like for an AA meeting.
We start with the same exercises, and then Min Su tells the story of the famous Madang Chunhyang. It’s a beautiful tale of the daughter of a kisaeng Chunhyang Sung a Korean courtesan, and her encounter with Mongryong Yi, son of a magistrate who falls in love with her. After obtaining permission from Chunhyang’s mother, the lovers wed. Unfortunately, Mongryong Yi has to follow his father to Seoul; even though the story is long, I listen, and then comes the dreaded part of the exercises.
As expected, nothing, but the next day I’m there again, why, I don’t know. Perhaps deep down, I want to hear my sound, whether it’s a howl or a note. I desire to listen to it.
Tonight we’re singing Simcheongga; it’s one of the five surviving stories of the Korean storytelling tradition.
It’s sad, gloomy and, tailored for me.
We begin, like everyone I repeat the words, we sing in one cord, the walls shake as our voices rise, I sing without stopping. I fix my gaze in front of me, and I don’t even notice the raw silence that fills the room. Suddenly I feel a pat, then another.
“You’re doing well.”
There I realize, I’m the only one singing, and all these women are cheering for me. Min Su wipes the tears streaming down my cheeks with her bare hands, “let it out, Jane.”
Though the tears are there and all these people observe me, I carry on singing until my voice breaks, and the shattered pieces of my heart burst into dust.
Jagged, clogged, and dry, I heave.
“I knew you were talented, your cry is beautiful, that’s enough emotion for tonight everyone, see you next week,” Min Su says as she winks in my direction.
“Thank you,” I whisper.
Min Su closes her eyes, inclines her head as though she heard, and tacitly accepts my gratitude.
My soul has a voice, and it isn’t as ugly as I thought.