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Silk Zither Dreams
A Musical Tour of Old China
|"Playing qin" : holding it while contemplating nature 2|
This poetic approach is epitomized by the melody below called Water Immortal's Melody. The title is here associated with a place where Boya supposedly created it (Penglai or Mount Tai, both in Shandong) or a place where he is said to have played it (Wuhan/Hanyang in Hubei). More importantly, though, it conveys his learning to express himself on the qin by listening to the sounds of nature, then blending the silk strings of the guqin with all the other natural elements.4
The following is a representative program (Shanghai, 24 February 2013). It has about 60 minutes of music (not including gaps between pieces; no intermission):5
There are a sufficient number of melodies that one could do a series of programs focusing on certain regions individually.6
Alternatively, by taking out some melodies or including other relevant melodies one can easily change the length of this single program. Likewise one could also make either a one hour single CD or a two hour double CD of this title.7
Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)
Silk string zither dreams: A Musical Tour of Old China (夢迴絲桐，縵遊神州
Menghui Sitong, Manyou Shenzhou)
The Chinese title here can be broken down as follows:
Thus although the main title and subtitle of the Chinese and English are not literal translations, the combined translation conveys the same idea.
Photo taken by Lau Shing-Hon on Cheung Chau, Hong Kong, December 2010. I lived on Cheung Chau 1976 to 2001, beginning and completing a large amount of my reconstruction there.
The following footnote has a related comment.
Evoking the world of the Chinese literati
The evocation can be purely musical or it can be accompanied by projected film or images. Links here to suggested melodies show that related images and commentary can include photographs, paintings, poetry, calligraphy and more.
It will be noted that some pieces can refer to more than one place
(Canon of Form and Emptiness is particularly appropriate to anywhere there is a statue of Guanyin) or to a place the actual location of which is disputed
(Discussing the Dao at Kongtong Mountain).
"Playing qin" in nature
Once when I was playing for some older guqin players I asked for advice on what I could do to improve my technique. One of them said simply, "Visit famous beauty spots in China". I cannot recall whether he added "relevant to guqin", but I do recall that others nodded their heads in apparent agreement.
Note that he did not say that I should actually play my guqin at these places. And although a common motif in Chinese literati art shows people out in nature with a qin, rarely are they shown actually playing it. Aspects of this attitude can also be seen in the story about qin in nature told in the Qin Shi biography of Boya, as well as the attitude expressed under Qin Ideology in the inscription to the fan painting of a scholar in the countryside with his stringless qin: taking the qin into nature may facilitate the absorption of natural sounds, by the qin as well as the player. These can then come out when one returns home and plays in a quiet environment.
Modern players who say that one of the advantages of nylon metal strings is that they can be taken outdoors more easily may miss this point, that the music was thought of as part of the environment, not part of an effort to overcome it. The silk string sound can only blend with its environment; metal, by its nature, seems intended to overcome it.
In addition to gaining inspiration directly from nature, in the quiet studio one can also be inspired by looking at relevant paintings. In this regard it might be noted that traditional Chinese artists are not known to have done their paintings while actually out in nature.
Traveling to places connected to qin, and finding art that relates to qin melodies, can lead to interesting experiences. One example of this is related with the melody Mid Autumn Moon, which I once had occasion to play on a peak of the Huangshan Mountain range during Mid-Autumn evening. Some time later I found what seemed to me a relevant painting; looking at it helps me relive the experience.
My personal reaction in this type of experience has, so far, been that in such an environment my playing tends to become slower and more contemplative, with each note sufficient unto itself (being recorded often seems to have the opposite effect). However, I have also had this experience when simply playing on a good instrument in a very quiet studio, with no other sensory input. The resulting sound may seem even more abstract to the uninitiated listener (meaning just about everyone, since so few people actually know the ancient melodies), but to the 知音者 zhiyinzhe (one who knows music) the melody is in fact just as clearly there.
The melodies here are arranged first by tuning, so that to change tuning during the program strings are only loosened, not tightened. Then within standard tuning they are arranged by mode.
Performing this theme as a series
As suggested by the list below, there is a sufficient number of old melodies that one could do a series with each program focusing on a different region of China.
Note that some areas are noticeably missing, such as Hebei province (including Beijing) and the south provinces of Guangdong, Guizhou and Yunnan. Other areas
Other melodies to consider
Many other melodies could be included instead, or in addition - perhaps tailoring the program to a performance location, or doing a series of programs each focused on a different region (see above. Some possible melodies include:
Return to my performances or to the Guqin ToC.