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date: 14 November 2019


  • Robert C. Provine


Korean barrel drum, suspended in a wooden frame (chwa: ‘seat’; go: ‘drum’). Of medium size, it has two tacked heads of cowhide, and the depth of the wooden body is about half the diameter of the heads. The heads are decorated with a yin/yang symbol in the centre and a multicoloured pattern around the edge; the body is also brightly painted in several colours. The drum hangs (with the heads vertical) from three metal rings set in a wooden frame with two support posts and a cross-member. The player sits and strikes the drum on one head only, with a large soft-headed mallet. The sound is loud and deep with a comparatively long reverberation.

The chwago is not mentioned in the official history of the Koryǒ dynasty (918–1392), or in the standard treatise Akhak kwebǒm (1493), and it is therefore thought to be a fairly recent addition to Korean ensembles. It appears in an 18th-century painting depicting folkdancing, but its chief use in recent times has been in court music. At present it is used only in court and aristocratic music, especially in dance accompaniment; it is found in versions of the chamber ensemble suite ...

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