Learning Gayageum

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Harry Pogorzelski-Ponichtera
December 26, 2023

When I came to Korea I wanted to learn how to play the gayageum, a traditional Korean instrument that I have been interested in for a while. As a zither, it is a lot more unique from Western instruments and I have always been interested in learning unique skills. 

I don’t speak Korean, and I didn’t go to Korea with a lot of knowledge or involvement with the Traditional music scene. Through a bit of online research I found the “National Gugak Center”, which did an English gayageum class. I emailed the guy who ran it and after about two weeks he got back to me saying that the class had been discontinued. With my lack of Korean language skills I was struggling to find another way to learn. I didn’t know who to reach out to or what to do. It seemed as though my gayageum related dreams were dead.

Just a block away from the National Gugak Center was a studio called “Record Factory” that ran an English production class. Seeing as a couldn't learn gayageum I decided to take the class figuring it would be a chance to learn a useful skill for getting a job in the music industry.

The class was taught by a Korean producer named Demicat and the studio it was at contained the largest Dolby Atmos Studio in Asia. Dolby Atmos is the means of spatial mixing as opposed to stereo mixing. At the beginning of the class Demicat asked everybody “What is the key to making good music?” Most people in the class answered pretty simple answers like talent, hard work, or music theory knowledge. But the answer Demicat had was “listening to a lot of music.” His pedagogy revolved around the idea that those who listen to a lot of music can develop the skills to create good music.

As We learned a lot of basic production skills like synths, compressors, and beatmaking, I followed the rules of listening to as much music as possible. Whether it was on youtube, apple music, or live. Since I was in Korea I explored mostly Korean music.

Periodically I would look for gayageum lessons to try and revive my dream of playing gayageum. The semester was just two weeks from ending and I had never even plucked a string on a gayageum, but I had found in my youtube recommended, a video of a woman playing gayageum at Lincoln Center in New York City. Being a New Jersey resident I had been to jazz at Lincoln Center many times so I looked into the performer. I found out that she taught gayageum in the New York metropolitan area so I sent her an email.

One day after I returned home from study abroad I drove an hour to her house from my first gayageum lesson. It is a really fun instrument to play and even though it was a long journey to get to play it, I am so glad to be finally doing it. 

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Harry Pogorzelski-Ponichtera

My name is Harry Pogorzelski-Ponichtera and I am currently a music composition major at Ithaca College. I have been playing guitar since I was 7 years old. In my spare time I enjoy making music and gaming with friends!

2023 Fall
Home University:
Ithaca College
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