32 years of single path as a daegeum player resonates the beauty of Korean sounds to the world

안정희 기자l승인2019.08.29

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▲ Na Gui Nam Daegeum Research Center / Director Na Gui-nam

Daegeum is a large bamboo transverse flute used in traditional Korean music. Na Gui-nam, the director of the Na Gui Nam Daegeum Research Center, has 32 years of blowing daegeum and is a master daegeum performer and serving as a board member of the Naju Traditional Music Promotion Association. 

Na was born in Naju City, South Jeolla Province, where numerous master signers and artists were born. “I was drawn to the sound of the pipe my village brother was blowing one day so I decided to do music since then. I learned mask dance, double reed wind and daegeum when in high school but the daegeum part completely changed my life because the sound for me was like a haven of then my troubled school days” remembers back Na. 

In 1987, he learned a skill of daegeum from Lee Saeng-kang, the most famous daegeum master in Korea, and widened the styles under the instruction of Seo Yong-suk and his pupil professor Kim Gwang-bok when in university. After graduating, Na joined the South Jeolla Provincial Korea Music Orchestra and has played various instruments for 27 years. 

Daegeum is known to be the most difficult Korean musical instrument to play. It was first appeared in the 1900s and the advent of ‘sanjo style – free style’ fostered a large number of daegeum players. Daegeum is made of a 3 year old warped bamboo and most of them are handmade. 

“The important thing about playing daegeum for me is to deliver myself as who I am without any pretension or such which is not me. This way, I can be truthful to myself and touch my audience. This is the secret of my blowing from which I’ve had standing ovations a number of times home and abroad.”

Na respects the most Seo Yong-suk, Lee Saeng-kang and Kim Gwang-bok as the three great daegeum masters. What he learned from them and what he developed his own styles, he passes down to his pupil with emphasis on “Enjoying is better than trying to do better.” 

Na is digesting about 20 performances a month alongside song writing. Also as a man with a warm heart, he is actively engaged in volunteer activities especially for senior citizens. 

“Traditional Korean music is the root of Korean music no matter how new the music today is. It is the foundation of our music and the potential is limitless. There is a saying that the most Korean-like is the most global-like. In other words, if we work hard to keep finding and developing traditional Korean music, we can get something new and great. So the future of traditional Korean music is but only bright.”

When asked about future plan, Na said “I will keep pouring my passion in fostering talented young daegeum players. But at the same time, it is my wish to be a Korea’s cultural asset one day so that my styles and performances can be used as reference for my juniors in the coming years.”


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