When I was in Korea visiting my best friend from high school in June of 2015, I purchased a hymnal from a small kiosk in a street market near the Dongdaemun Gate in Seoul, one of many that sold Christian books (bibles, hymnals, and others). The vendor was an older Korean man who jumped up when we walked in and showed genuine surprise when I (with my friend as translator) inquired about purchasing a hymnal. He produced a small green book with gold letters on the front that read “한영 새찬송가전집 / New Korean-English Hymnal”. I flipped through and actually recognized some of the tunes, albeit with unfamiliar words and somewhat different harmonizations. The vendor cut me a deal for ₩20,000 (about $18) and I left.
Fast forward to last week. When I was brainstorming topics for this paper, the idea of examining Korean church music came up, as Christianity (Catholicism and Protestantism combined) represent the largest religious group in Korea (“non-religious” excluded). A quick search on Catalyst ([Korea* AND church music]) led me to an article discussing the newest version of the Korean hymnbook, called the New Korean Hymnal. Unlike hymnals in the US, it is used across many of the protestant denominations in Korea. Its release in 2006 was part of an emerging effort to “Koreanize” the music of the church in Korea, as up to that point, the great majority of the music had been western in origin. From there, I found more articles about how imperialism and colonialism over the last 100 years or so impacted the development of religion in Korea and how, in the last two decades, Korean Christian organizations have made conscious efforts to incorporate traditional music into their worship, adding many hymns based on traditional or newly-composed Korean tunes. After reading this, I discovered that the hymnal I had purchased was indeed a Korean-English bilingual version of this new book. I then decided that I want to explore this return to tradition and how it correlates with reformation ideas of the use of vernacular, traditional and popular/secular tunes, and other forms of adaptation to create more unique and culturally valuable worship.
I am finding that locating print sources that are not too general is difficult, as so far I have only found ones that relate to my topic tangentially. However, I have found several articles and dissertations from which I will likely be able to pull material and find more sources.