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My Guqin Work, Short Version
Cheung Chau Fisherman's Song
Photo by Lincoln Potter
Since 1974 I have been playing the qin (or guqin -- old qin), a Chinese long zither with seven strings, still the most revered of all Chinese music instruments. Besides aiding navigation, the
Guqin Table of Contents gives an idea of the scope of this work.

From 1974 to 1976 I studied the guqin in Taiwan with Sun Yuqin. Then in 1976 I moved to Hong Kong and began reconstructing (dapu), transcribing and recording qin music from early Chinese tablature. Not being in academia, there was no pressure for me to publish, and I began doing so rather tentatively. I have played the qin largely for my own pleasure: the pleasure of music I enjoy; the pleasure of solving old riddles; the pleasure -- or pleasurable illusion -- of communing with antiquity.

In Hong Kong I worked from 1980 to 1998 with the Festival of Asian Arts. As Artistic Consultant I travelled to many places in Asia to see performances, but I also had time to continue by qin work.

Gradually I built up a repertoire of many melodies (now over 200), exclusively from 15th and 16th century tablature. Then in February 1996 I obtained a grant from the Hong Kong Arts Development Council, and completed my own first CD, Music Beyond Sound.

For that recording I began referring to the qin as "the Chinese Silk-String Zither". Although a qin revival had already begun, with over 90 CDs having been released (including qins with metal strings and silk strings) since the mid 1980s, until October 1996 (see the recording by Lau Chor-wah) all except those which were re-issues of pre-Cultural Revolution recordings used instruments with metal strings.

My recording Music Beyond Sound features an 800-year old instrument with silk strings. In October 1998 I published under the same title a book of transcriptions of this music. Most of the commentary can be found on this website.

Music Beyond Sound has my reconstructions from Zheyin Shizi Qinpu (<1491 AD), the Handbook of the Beyond-Sounds Immortal. All the melodies have lyrics, though evidence seems to indicate they were added to instrumental melodies without the aim of being sung.

This was a slight detour from my major project, reconstucting music fromthe first major surviving collection of qin music, the Handbook of Spiritual and Marvelous Mysteries, Shen Qi Mi Pu, originally published in 1425 CE by the "Emaciated Immortal", Zhu Quan. These reconstructions are currently available as a set of 6 CDs; and my transcriptions of the music into staff notation, with the original tablature included underneath, are available in three ring-bound photocopied volumes.

Most of my introductory comments plus annotated translations of the Emaciated Immortal's original text accompanying the tablature can be found through links on this site. This site also has much of the material from which the CD sleeve notes were prepared. However, I have not been able to include online versions of many of the charts I have made, such as those tracing all the early qin melodies as they occur in later handbooks.

In addition I have reconstructed the 38 pieces in the earliest surviving collection of qin songs, Taigu Yiyin (1511/1515), recorded about half of them, and have recorded my reconstructions of over 90 melodies from the mid-Ming handbooks Faming Qinpu (1531), Xilutang Qintong (1525) and Fengxuan Xuanpin (1539). From the late Ming dynasty I have learned another 20 or so melodies, including the four (one Buddhist, two Confucian and one Daoist) from the Sanjiao Tongsheng (1592), and three from Songxianguan Qinpu (1614). My early Qing dynasty reconstructions include over 10 from Hewen Zhuyin Qinpu, apparently melodies taken from China to Japan after the fall of the Ming.

Although I spend most of my time trying very carefully to reconstruct ancient music, explain it on my website, then perform and record it,1 I have also experimented with some new music that I consider compatible with this ancient music.2

In 2001 I married Suzanne Smith and we moved to the New York City area. Here I have joined the New York Qin Society and continue with my various qin projects.

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. My own reconstructions of early qin music
In addition to My Publications see Listen to Qin Music for links to my online mp3 recordings.

2. My original qin music
This music has been largely of three types:

  1. Film music (see also My film music; compare Guqin in film)
    My main effort at this has been the 90-minute Cantonese feature film House of the Lute (慾火焚琴, 1979), for which I did most of the music
  2. Blues
    I have taken traditional qin melodies and motifs and put them into a form of blues structure. Examples include the blues melodies under New Qin Melodies.
  3. East-West music in an early music style
    These are the East-West pieces I created or modified for use in the program Music from the Time of Marco Polo.

Return to my publications or to the Guqin ToC