Design and Art in Korean Traditional Music – Experience from Gayeon Yun

Tell me a little bit about the design of your instrument. Why you were inspired to play? How is this instrument different from others?

My instrument is of Korean traditional music, the Piri. The Piri is a Korean double-reed wind instrument.

It is made of green bamboo, and has eight holes on the body. Seven finger holes are on the front and the other one hole is on the backside for the thumb. The whole length is only 30 to 35 cm. It is not long, but it creates strong and loud sounds compared to other Korea instruments! The Piri usually plays the main melody in an ensemble.

An important consideration of Piri is the musical intervals. The Piri is easily adjustable, and the reed being held in the mouth or the tongue. Although the instrument does not have an extensive range of pitches, there is full use of wide vibrato and sliding between pitches to create expression. In addition, volume adjustment is easy, and can easily play in harmony with other instruments.

In past days, I wanted to play another instrument. However, when I heard the Piri’s sound first, I knew I had found the instrument I loved. The sound was delightful. The instrument was very interesting for me, so I picked up the Piri for my major. Even now, when I am playing the Piri, I am excited. I am just falling into my own world!

I cherish my instrument and I want to spread its beauty and influence!


The Piri, pictures provided by Gayeon Yun.


Tell me about the experience of first entering the stage in front of an audience.

Facing the big stage was frightening. I could not relax my mind, as the atmosphere was too daunting. Then I remembered this stage was my dream stage since I was young! Therefore, I made an effort to adjust so that I could actually play my instrument. At the backstage, I drank some hot water and tea consistently.

Finally, the concert time had come. When out in front of the audience, I imagined to myself: “Now, I am alone. And there is no one; there is only my practice room.”

At that moment, my heart was peaceful. I was not so nervous; I was just looking forward to a successful stage performance. Fortunately, the performance was successful! This is an unforgettable moment; I had just never felt emotion such as this before. I was very proud to do this for my major.

On stage, playing the Piri. Picture provided by Gayeon Yun.

As I have seen from your photos, the concerts can be very large. How is the orchestra / group organized on stage? Why is this design / organization of the group important?

The concert location is The National Center for Korean Traditional Performing Arts (NCKTPA). This is the largest stage in Korean traditional performance. Many people who are Korean traditional musicians want to have a chance to perform on this stage. I feel it is a blessing to have this opportunity.

The concert in this image is Korean Traditional Music University Festival. My university has participated in the festival as a competitor against other schools. In this concert, we needed a player concerto for the orchestra. I had an audition for the position, the result was successful, and I could play. (If I did not have an audition, maybe I was one of the behind black clothes students.) All the orchestra students are my friends! For three months, we had to practice for three hours every day.

The instrument position is very important to players. Players have to see a center conductor, so they must sit in semicircle formation. The string instrument players can sit around the edge, and the wind instrument players and percussion players can sit at the backside. This player-placed formation is relatively the same with other countries.

I noticed the design of your clothes for the concerts. Can you give us a little background on what types of traditional clothing you wear for such events?

Traditional Korean costume, the Hanbok, is one of the most beautiful clothes in the world. The beauty of the Hanbok is in the soft line, natural colors and colorful design. Many people of Korea love the costume; and is easy to find. Hanbok is a hand-made material. Therefore, the Hanbok takes a long time to make.


Gayeon Yun’s personal Hanbok, custom-made for theater performances. Picture provided by Gayeon Yun.


Today, there are two types of Hanbok. One is traditional Hanbok wear on special days such as wedding or big holidays, and the other one is the modern Hanbok wear on daily days in our lives.

The Hanbok I wore on the stage was a Fushion Hanbok. Recently, many Korean fashion designers have made the more colorful designed Hanbok. The design is more beautiful and gorgeous than those of the past. Look at the picture! I wore a white top and red skirt. The top name is ‘Jeogori’. The white Jeogori has a gold flower embroidery. If I want the costume more gorgeous, I can order from the designer and add the embroidery.

Gayeon Yun displaying her Piri, posing in an alternative Hanbok. Picture provided by Gayeon Yun.

What is a good sample of Korean music for non-Korean people to get involved in such an art?

I want to recommend this music for you and non-Korean people:


Sujecheon is representative wind ensembles in Korean traditional court music repertoires. The title of Sujecheon may translate as “Long Life, Immeasurable as the Heavens.” This is a great meaning! An ensemble composed primarily of wind instruments, including the Piri and Daegeum, performs. However, another string instrument together such as Haegeum, Ajaeng, can also perform. Sujecheon originally had a vocal part, but today performs only instrumentally.

They have a unique linkage in the music, called ‘yeoneum’, at which the main melody is carried by the Piri and then accompanied by other instruments from the end of the phrase. This is a unique feature, so Sujecheon remains my favorite song.

You can listen to Sujecheon on YouTube! Here is one of my favorites uploaded by Artes Escenicas de Asia/Asian Performing Arts


Interviewed by Adam Lewis LaValley

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