This is a site for the analysis of the performances of the Unhasu Orchestra. Information in these pages is by no means perfect. It has been obtained through observation of all of the published concerts, utilizing also other internet and printed sources on North Korean musical life, and aided sometimes by reasoned guesses.
Names of the orchestra in various languages:
은하수관현악단 Ŭnasu kwanyŏn aktan
Linnunrataorkesteri Vintergatans orkester
Literally Silver River (=Milky Way) wind and string music group
Milky Way is pronounced in Korean Ŭnasu, because while pronouncing, the letter ㄴ (n) in syllable 은 (ŭn) jumps to the next syllable 하 (ha), kicks with a speed of lightning the letter ㅎ (h) out, and sets itself on the place, turning the syllable into 나 (na). But this happens only while pronouncing; you do not change the way of writing, because that would make the word 은 (silver) unrecognizable. Notwithstanding, this disconcerting activity does not always take place. In the word 은하 (ŭnha), meaning galaxy, ㄴ stays peacefully on its place. Thus Unha-3 carrier rocket is pronounced the way it is Romanized.
Collecting the information for this site has been an evening hobby for more than a year, interrupted many times for long periods. I wanted to find out what kind of songs UO performed, how old their songs were, and who were the people involved. This would not have even started without Sam Yang, who introduced me to the orchestra, and whose help was indispensable in getting this project going. Mizuno Naoki has helped me with the Japanese song titles. Irina van der Vet with Russian names and general information.
Most of the information on songs and people’s names has been obtained from the videos themselves by reading what has been written on the videos. Part of that “information” consists also of logical guesses, such as comparing the location of a name in a list with the placing of singers in pitch order, which is the usual North Korean system, singers with higher pitches to the left and those with lower to the right.
Information relating to the creators of songs, conductors, lyricists and publishing years has been collected around the internet. All in all, information in Japan has generally been the best, it is easily accessible, and I can get along with the language. There are various internet sites dedicated to North Korean music. The best ones are 革命音楽館 and 朝鮮労働党万歳！, which provide all kinds of information for a large variety of songs. DPRK Wiki is also useful, but its activity has been winding down during the recent years. S.A.Studio’s part 조 선 음 악 contains similar information for pre-2005 music, but it has not been kept up since. Many of these places appear to have been created by young gentlemen, who over the years find something else to do. Arthur Yabe’s Twitter account contains lots of information on new developments in North Korean music.
There are also a number of Korean language sites, though they usually are not similarly comprehensive. Korean Central News Agency was one of the best sources, as long as its archive in Japan was reachable. In 2015 it became geoblocked, and has since been usable only within Japan. Rodong Sinmun is another source, but it has no similar archive. In the South Korean National Library you can occasionally find something on North Korean music. 북한지역정보넷 has information on various kinds of cultural issues, among them also on a number of composers and poets. There used to be also a useful site called jajuminbo.net, but it became empty during 2015. The address still exists, but there is nothing. There are also general North Korean sites such as uriminzokkiri.com and Naenara, which provide all kinds of news in various languages on a continuous flow, but as I usually do not have time to follow events continuously, they have not been of much value for me.
There exists also a multitude of miscellaneous sources. I have not found much in Chinese, English, Russian, or other European languages – excepting YouTube and Youku, but what can be found there tends to be rather unsystematic. Especially the systematic Japanese phenomenon of personal blogs and Twitter accounts on North Korean music seems to be exceptional. There may be something in China, but difficult and slow to access from outside of the country, and searchable only by Baidu and other Chinese search engines. Anyway, the sources I have used are not academic, may contain false information, or I may have made false interpretations. There certainly are mistakes in this site. How many, no one knows.
The transcription from Josŏngŭl to Roman letters has been done with a corrupted McCune-Reischeuer system. My aim is not perfect transliteration, but usable transcription, where words can be pronounced approximately, but not with absolute linguistic accuracy. This is not a Korean language learning site. I use j for ㅈ and ch for ㅊ. I do not use apostrophes for aspirated consonants, but add the letter h on them. I do not use diphthongs where there is only one vowel involved; the misuse of diphthongs in the RRK system is what makes it so horrible. I use breves in song names, but not in the case of human names; for instance the name of singer 서은향 would look with breves like this: Sŏ Ŭn-hyang, but as it is difficult to write, and Google provides lots of dead end links if you search with it, So Un-hyang is the system adopted here. Maybe everything is not systematic, but you are welcome to make things better in your own blogs.
I can be contacted, though not always fast, by writing something on the yForum box. (“Enter your comment here …”)
A map showing the locations of concert halls used by UO, as well as the Kindergarten and after school palace of presumably many of its artists.