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  • Kevin Shorner-Johnson

World Music Drumming and Invitations of Rhythmic Forms

Updated: Sep 10

I remember the magic, joy and vulnerability of my first time attending a World Music Drumming workshop. Like many teachers, I entered the space with the fear that “I might be found out” as lacking in basic skills of rhythm after all my years of teaching.


And yet, my experience of World Music Drumming as we approached the end of the week was one of pure joy. I reflected on the magic of experiencing music in a new way, fully immersed in sound to the absence of sheet music. I remember being more aware of the faces of my colleagues in a circle and I remember the feeling of being in the flow of rhythm. In this flow, the beauty of complex polyrhythms wash over and aliven me. I am constantly amazed, even all these years later, at how I hear each piece anew with repeated listenings and playings.


Our move to become interested in each other, is an increasingly important move in a world that feels fractured and without the capacity to fully care.

Invitations of Modular Forms


This week’s podcast explores Katherine In-Young Lee’s scholarship on the idea that modular forms might be invitations to participation. Similar to world music drumming, Lee looks at how Korean modular and cyclical forms invite participation from interested people around the world. Our rhythmic invitations are a longing for curiosity and a sense of home where we might be at ease in diverse communities.


Korean samul nori is a relatively "new" genre of music that was birthed in the 1970-80s out of agrarian drumming traditions known as p'ungmul or nongak. The name of this genre translates to mean "four things played," referencing a combination of 2 gongs and 2 drums within an ensemble expression of the complementary yin and yang. Embedded within this genre are rhythmic cycles, or karak, that repeat and combine with other karak to make up the structure of a composition. AS performers shift between metrical organizations and weights, Lee explores how this "modular genre" is described by Koreans as being "dynamic."


Rural Nongak or P'ungmul


Lee uncoverse an understanding that the cyclical repetition of karak is an accessible entry point for learners to become interested. In performing the music of diverse cultures, the act of playing moves deeper than consumption and exoticism to interactions that invite deeper forms of engagement.


As I sat with Lee's scholarship, I reflected on my own experiences with cyclical and modular forms and how these forms are also an invitation to deeper engagement.

A Journey to Move Deeper


Also in this newest podcast, we explore the difference between karak (Korean rhythmic cycles) and the text-based pinari. Pinari is a kind of prayer or blessing that demands Korean language and vocal skills that requires more nuanced skill than most initial drumming-musicians possess. However, this balance between an accessible entry point (karak) and a more nuanced expression (pinari) offers an invitation and a continuous call to move deeper.



I think about how the accessibility of Ensemble 1 draws me into a world of Afro-centric rhythms. And then how the journey to more complex ensembles and levels is a continuous call to know traditions with deeper integrity and finesse.


The Power of Interested Difference

This podcast has taught me a great deal about the idea of modular form as an invitation to curiosity and participation in diverse cultural traditions. Our move to become interested in each other, is an increasingly important move in a world that feels fractured and without the capacity to fully care. I hope this podcast might stimulate the thoughts of our World Music Drumming community about how our practice of rhythmic forms is a path and an invitation to enter into deeper engagements of curiosity and care.


I invite you to listen to this powerful episode that explores the magic of Lee's scholarship and what it might have to say to our ongoing practice of World Music Drumming.

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