P’ansori, the traditional oral narrative of Korea, is sung by a highly trained soloist to the accompaniment of complex drumming. The singer both narrates the story and dramatizes all the characters, male and female. Performances require as long as six hours and make extraordinary vocal demands. In the first book-length treatment in English of this remarkable art form, Pihl traces the history of p’ansori from its roots in shamanism and folktales through its nineteenth-century heyday under highly acclaimed masters and discusses its evolution in the twentieth century. After examining the place of p’ansori in popular entertainment and its textual tradition, he analyzes the nature of texts in the repertoire and explains the vocal and rhythmic techniques required to perform them.
Pihl’s superb translation of the alternately touching and comic “Song of Shim Ch’ong”—the first annotated English translation of a full p’ansori performance text—illustrates the emotional range, narrative variety, and technical complexity of p’ansori literature. The Korean Singer of Tales will interest not only Korean specialists, but also students of comparative literature, folklore, anthropology, and music.