In the heart of Wolhyang-dong, Moranbong District, the capital city of Pyongyang, resides Jo Pong Sam, a master craftsman renowned for creating traditional musical instruments in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Jo Pong Sam, with a deep appreciation for musical arts, frequently attends performances at the National Symphony Orchestra, where a particular orchestral piece, “A Bumper Harvest in the Chongsan Plain,” holds a special place in his heart. This composition, premiered over 50 years ago, stirred profound emotions within Jo Jung Ho, the father of Jo Pong Sam and a dedicated artisan at the Pyongyang Musical Instruments Factory.

In a theatre filled with applause, Jo Jung Ho, unmoved from his seat, wept tears of joy. He had played a key role in refining and advancing the folk instruments used in the performance, particularly the jotae (fife) and tanso (bamboo flute). His craftsmanship reached a zenith when a tanso he meticulously created earned acclaim at the Seventh Pyongyang Musical Instrument Exhibition in 2013, earning him the affectionate title of “jotae grandpa” among musicians and enthusiasts alike.

Jo Pong Sam, inspired by his father’s dedication, embarked on a journey to master the art of crafting and playing folk instruments. Despite being an engineer by profession, he recognized that true mastery required an intimate understanding of the instruments. Learning to play the jotae posed challenges for him, but he persevered, reaching professional levels and eventually standardizing the designs of the instruments his father had passionately developed over decades.

Following in his father’s footsteps, Jo Pong Sam now produces jotae for musicians at the National Symphony Orchestra and various art troupes, catering to both professionals and amateurs. His instruments have garnered favor for their quality and craftsmanship, not only domestically but also internationally.

The legacy continues as Jo Pong Sam’s son, guided by family tradition, crafts folk woodwind instruments at the Musical Instruments Manufacturing Institute of Pyongyang Kim Won Gyun University of Music and Dance. Jo Pong Sam sees this as more than a vocation; it is a commitment to preserving the nation’s musical heritage. His hope is to create superior instruments that elevate the enchanting melodies of their excellent folk music, ensuring it resonates for generations to come.

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