Songs and poems about one’s old home is one strong thread in Korean literature and music. There are countless songs about one’s homeplace and the family and friends there in the art song genre alone, of which these two are prime examples. Homeplace (고향) is out of the ordinary in its brooding, pensive mood arising from an alienation one feels on returning to one’s home. Song of The Old Home (고향의 노래) is one that is exuberant and joyous, as typical of songs remembering the good old days at one’s home. While they may be different in character, both are breathtaking and soul cleansing in their wholesome, unadulterated beauty.
Song of The Old Home
Homeplace is based on the poet Chung Ji Yong (정지용, 1902-1950)’s 1935 poem. Chung is one of the major poets of the Japanese occupation era. some of whose works are loved widely enough to be listed on high school textbooks. In Homeplace, he expresses a deep disappointment from finding the home he has returned to not quite what he was expecting. It appears the home itself has not changed much since, as can be surmised from the absence of any mention of concrete changes, but the narrator himself seems to be under the weight of certain unspecified emotional burden. His feelings of restlessness and alienation are beautifully expressed through his activities and what he encounters in nature, all the while looking inward for answers. The wildflower warmly smiling at him and the lofty old blue sky that he feels is the only thing faithfully by him all paint a vivid and heartfelt picture of a heavyhearted man groping around to rediscover the old rapport with the home he grew up in.
Chae Dong Sun (채동선)’s familiarly beautiful melody elevates the listening experience to make it one of the distinguished works in sad ruminant mood. Many professional classical singers sang it, but the internationally renowned performer Sumi Jo’s impassioned rendition is one excellent choice.
Song of The Old Home has a refreshing and soaringly upbeat mood. It is one of those sparkly, crystal clear beauty that seems to cleanse your soul when you listen to it. It extols the splendor of the frost covered winter world, asking you to try standing in the quiet empty field, admonishing you to take in the omnipresent life giving force all around you. And the floral lamps must be burning along the snow covered trails back home. The lyrics are inspiring, and the melody is enchantingly soaring. It is one of the outstanding art song gems.
Both songs are about one’s old home. It seems like there are endless supply of songs about one’s home in Korea. The proliferation of such songs, about one’s old folks who used to or now live at one’s place of origin, is nothing surprising. Family ties are generally stronger in Asian countries, and might even be yet stronger in Korea among the Asian countries. It is partly because of the long tradition of farming life of the Koreans. Until the industrialization in the 20th century, an average Korean was a farmer who is born in the village of his ancestors, spends all her life tilling the land, and eventually returns to it by being buried in it. Generations after generations of such earth bound life made the relationship with the earth and among the family much stronger than in Europe for example, where there have been rampant migrations and disruptions throughout history. Many Koreans have had to live away from their homes one way or another to be sure for diverse reasons, for one’s study or employment at prominent centrally located institutions for example. During these periods away from home, they get to be so homesick that myriads of works of art come about that depict and laud such sentiments. All this led to the concept of the old home (고향), the originating place or homeplace of a person, which is quite strongly established going well beyond the simple notion of birthplace. Everyone has this old home associated with him as an important part of his identity. It is another thing peculiar to Korea’s tradition that manifests itself in many forms including the works of art.