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Performance Themes 1 表演主題

Art Areas in
e.g. Henan
Areas out
e.g. Japan
Birds /
Buddhist Confucian Daoist Drink
Wine / Tea
esp. Ming
Evening Love
Mountains Novels
Seasons Women Other

My performances, which are almost all intended to be HIP,3 include purely music performances (where I may also sing) as well as illustrated or narrated performances and lecture/demonstrations that introduce the qin/guqin. They include qin music that could be divided chronologically into five groups:4

  1. Early (4th to 10th centuries) 5
    - Does this include any of these Five String Melodies?
  2. Song dynasty (mainly 13th century) 6
  3. Ming dynasty (and perhaps Yuan; 14th to 17th centuries) 7
  4. Qing dynasty and Republican period (17th c. to 1949)8
  5. Modern period9

By far the bulk of my repertoire is melodies I have reconstructed from Ming dynasty publications. Thus the music for most programs I have presented, or for my part of most other programs in which I have participated, could be categorized simply as Ming dynasty. Here, however, the focus is on themes (or sub-categories) within this repertoire. The chart above has links to some of these themes. Further themes are also mentioned below, beginning with such natural programs as:

  1. Qin with poetry and song or simply with poetry recitation10
    They enhance each other, especially with the best of both being open to individual interpretation.
  2. Qin with painting and/or calligraphy11
    Events at museums are special; so are gatherings where I play together with my own scrolls (see Art Illustrating Guqin Melodies).

Such events at best can evoke the legendary Elegant Gatherings of old. Thus, although the qin by tradition is largely a solo instrument, there are also many depictions in art and literature of duets between qin and other instruments. I have a great interest in exploring various ways of combining qin with other instruments, thus expanding the normal setting of qin play. However, such programs must be planned very carefully, especially with regard to balancing the sound of the various instruments.12

My programs combining the qin with other instruments and/or media have also so far included:

Other programs involving more than one performer could include:

Another interesting approach is to look for the rôle playing or listening to guqin can have in healing. Much has been written about guqin as an instrument for self-cultivation. This might be equated with mental healing, but what about physical healing?19

Once again, the traditional environments for playing qin were alone, for a friend, or at a gathering where participants would also appreciate (or do) calligraphy, painting or other activities popular amongst literati.20 Modern technology allows such multi-media events to be done as performances. At a basic level, a display of appropriate art work can enhance the environment for introducing the qin.

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1 Performance themes
Here I have tried to distinguish between the programs I have actually performaned and the ones I have only planned. There are many more possible themes not mentioned here.

3 HIP performances
Although inspired largely by HIP as developed for early Western music, there is also what might be called "HIP with Chinese characteristics". For example, much Western music comes with no explanatory titles or explanations. Part of the historical aspect of a qin performance is the extensive commentary trying to give cultural context to the music. Here obviously common but obviously incorrect explanations such as, "Composed by Confucius", need to be given further explanation.

4 Five chronological divisions
If a program were to focus on famous people associated with qin, then there could be divisions for each dynasty since the Shang. Here, however, the divisions are in accord with the sources of the available music. Since there is such little written music surviving from before 1425 CE, but strong evidence for pre-Ming and particularly Song origins of some of the music published in 1425 and later, two pre-Ming categories seems quite sufficient.

5 Early qin music (4th to 10th centuries)
"Early" here refers to the Six Dynasties (220 or 222–589), the Sui and Tang dynasties (581–618 and 618-907), and the Five Dynasties (907-960). This time frame naturally engenders the most speculation: nothing is known of actual qin music before the full-length melody
You Lan (ca. 600 CE), though this melody is such a long (over 10 minutes) and sophisticated one that it must represent the tip of a long and rich tradition. After this, and until the Song dynasty (960-1279), any dating of actual melodies must come from speculation based on later publications.

A program I have done on melodies with connections to the Six Dynasties (at a conference in 2003) included melodies (in addition to You Lan) connected to this period by stories as well as speculation about style. It thus included:

Physical copies of the latter three melodies actually begin to survive only from the earliest printed qin handbook (Shen Qi Mi Pu, 1425): its compiler wrote that Folio 1 of his handbook included melodies so old he couldn't find anyone still playing them. Other melodies in that handbook also have both early attributions and aspects of the tablature and music itself that seem early.

As for the Song dynasty, see further below.

6 Song dynasty (mainly the 13th century)
My program Music from the Time of Marco Polo
addresses the issue of Song dynasty qin melodies and the fact that actual surviving music from this period includes only a few short melodies and modal preludes dating perhaps from the 12th or early 13th c. In fact, one can make strong arguments that the first printed handbook (Shen Qi Mi Pu, mentioned above), contained considerable music from hand-copied Southern Song dynasty compilations that included (in addition to even earlier music such as that mentioned above) music as played by well-known qin masters centered in Hangzhou at the end of the dynasty. There have also been attempts to re-arrange for qin melodies of this period with no original qin tablature, such as songs by Jiang Kui.

7 Ming dynasty (14th-17th centuries)
Great Ming series divides the dynasty in three parts. Other programs deal with specific themes popular during that period.

8 Qing dynasty and Republican period
As my repertoire consists almost exclusively of melodies I have reconstructed from Ming sources, programs with Qing dynasty music usually involve other players: perhaps them playing a version of the melody has it has come up to the present, then I play the earliest known version.

9 Modern period
As yet I have done little that falls into this category (see, however, my
blues melodies).

10 Qin and poetry
Such events are best done with a second person to sing and/or recite the poetry. On several occasions I have played qin at poetry readings. The poetry could be Chinese, translations from Chinese, or unrelated to Chinese. When this is done in an art gallery it may evoke an old
scholar's gathering. This could also be combined with Qin in Poetry and Song.

11 Qin with Painting and Calligraphy
This could include playing qin while related long scrolls are viewed/projected. This includes:

  1. Wild Geese in Autumn (Scroll)
  2. 18 Songs of the Nomad Flute (Scroll)
  3. Song of the Fisherman (Fisherman scroll)
  4. Riverside Purification Ceremony (Lanting scroll)

There are also shorter image series, such as Songs of Chu as well as the innumerable individual paintings.

12 Qin with other instruments or media: problems of balance
The main difficulty in combining the qin with other media is that its very rich tone is so delicate that it can easily get lost. Efforts in China to overcome this problem begin with using nylon-metal strings instead of the traditional
silk, but this loses the traditional color of the music. I have spent considerable effort searching for ways to project the traditional silk string sound in large environments and in combination with other instruments and media.

12 Qin with other instruments or media: problems of balance
The main difficulty in combining the qin with other media is that its very rich tone is so delicate that it can easily get lost. Efforts in China to overcome this problem begin with using nylon-metal strings instead of the traditional
silk, but this loses the traditional color of the music. I have spent considerable effort searching for ways to project the traditional silk string sound in large environments and in combination with other instruments and media.

13 Qin and Film
Qin in film has an account of how qin has been treated by films in general. However, what this account mainly shows is that its musical potential for use in film has not properly been explored. In particular, the special color of silk strings (often difficult to bring out in live performances) has a unique musical quality that can really be spectacular when recorded and processed in a film studio. Alternatively, many of the ancient melodies could be readily adapted to other instruments and thus provide beautiful and well as uniquely appropriate musical context.

Thus, for example, properly historical music can be applied to films based on historical themes. Examples include:

  • 大明一統 Great Ming United (a sort of Ming national anthem)
  • 卿雲歌     Song of Auspicious Clouds (lyrics were used for China's first national anthem)
  • 酒狂         Wine Mad (an ancient drinking song)
  • 鳳求凰     A Phoenix Seeks his Mate (an ancient love song, in several versions)

    But in addition to directly using these ancient examples, by studying the style of this ancient music as preserved through the written sources of China's great national treasure, the guqin (and on the present website there are over 300 examples of such music), someone creating music for film should find much inspiration for providing very accessible music that is also uniquely appropriate.

    14 My film music (compare Qin and Film)
    My own work with film and video has included:

    15 Qin and Storytelling
    Regarding traditional Chinese story telling or tellers see an external site such as
    this one; and on the present site see pages such as Qin in popular culture. From this it seems that there has been no Chinese tradition of storytelling combined with qin play. Nevertheless, just as at elegant gatherings featuring the four arts qin melodies could provide instant inspiration for calligraphers and painters, the stories and ideas associated with qin melodies could today inspire modern storytellers, whether or not they are trying to capture the style of storytellers from the past.

    A particularly fertile source for stories that could be told with qin melodies would be operas whose stories overlap with those from the qin repertoire (see again Qin in popular culture. Examples include,

    1. 18 Songs of the Nomad Flute (Scroll)
    2. Farewell my Concubine (painting)
    3. A Phoenix Seeks his Mate
    4. Li Ling Thinks of Han
    5. Riverside Purification Ceremony (Lanting scroll)

    As the melodies that have associated scrolls suggest, such storytelling could well be accompanied by projected images such as can be found on this website.

    16 Qin in a duet with another Chinese instrument (including perhaps voice )
    Most Chinese traditional music involving more than one instrument is played
    heterophonically: two or more instruments/voices all perform the same melody but they each do their own version. Unison play is considered boring, the art being in making the varying renditions work together naturally. There is no specific information how qin duets were played in the past: only the melody for the qin part is written down. Today the accompanying instrument (most commonly xiao end-blown flute) or voice usually simply follows the qin, perhaps adjusting only for octave leaps. The most likely reasons for this are respect for the ancient qin tradition, and lack of experience with heterophonic play on the part of modern qin players. To my ears the main effect is mainly to cover the delicate colors of the qin music. Hence my idea of combining the qin with other instruments is to have them play alternately and/or, when together, use a form of "multiple-phonics". There is some further comment under Comparing Western and Chinese materials for re-creating early music.

    17 Qin and shakuhachi (古琴與日本尺八)
    Also see The Guqin in Japan. The qin was brought to Japan over 1,000 years ago, together with the 箏 zheng. However, whereas the zheng became localized as the koto, inheriting some characterisitics of qin aesthetic, the guqin itself remained foreign, played mostly by Sinophiles. As a result, and because of its association with meditation, some people say the shakuhachi end blown flute is the Japanese counterpart of the guqin. It could indeed be very fascinating to see what could be done about playing a guqin - shakuhachi duet. However, for the reasons given below it is far more likely that in a joint program the two would have more succcess playing separately.

    The relationship between the relative idioms of the guqin shakuhachi idiom is rather like the relationship between the Chinese and Japanese languages: from ancient times the Japanese tried to use Chinese characters to write Japanese, but this can never really work as the two are from structurally and linguistically unrelated language families. Likewise, the Japanese shakuhachi is physically similar to the Chinese tongxiao, which does sometimes accompany guqin). However, such a duet usually has the two playing in unison or perhaps heterophonically, while the longer (and generally much louder) long sustains prevalent on the shakuhachi would require special effort to meld the two sounds while remaining true to their natural idioms.

    In addition, the connection between Buddhism and shakuhachi is much stronger than it is between Buddhism and the Qin: the qin is more associated with Confucian and Daoist self-cultivation. Thus although many Buddhists play the qin (perhaps most famously Shin Etsu), there seem to be very few melodies with an distinctively Buddhist aesthetic.

    18 Qin and komungo (古琴與韓國玄琴)
    See The Guqin in Korea. In Korea the guqin was rarely played. Instead, according to tradition, in early days Koreans invented a new instrument in imitation of the qin, called it a "black crane zither" (shorted to "black zither", i.e., komungo), then created repertoire for it. Korean literati are said to have played this music, but never developed a method for writing it down, hence the early repertoire was lost. As a result the repertoire played by the Korean Confucian scholars apparently came to consist of solo komungo music extracted from the Korean court music repertoire.

    19 Guqin and healing
    Sometimes medical practitioners play music during healing sessions, whether it be surgery (where the music is usually for themselves) or during sessions such as for massage, acupuncture and so forth, where the music may be intended for the patients. Other times part of a prescribed healing process may include the patients themselves playing music. My prejudice, of course, says that guqin music should be ideal for this, but as yet I have not found anything directly about it in traditional Chinese sources. On the other hand, this is also not something I have particularly studied.

    In this context it is interesting to note that claims have been made for the antiquity ("history") of Chinese medicine much as has been done for the antiquity of the qin. For both of these Fuxi is sometimes given credit; other times credit may be assigned to the Yellow Emperor.

    For me, beginning a search for classical references that might connect music and traditional Chinese medicine begins with looking for references in the source that is at the front of much of my background research, the 中文大辭典. Thus with acupuncture I cannot say much more than the following:

    Acupuncture (many references, such as this brief history from the journal Rheumatology)
    As yet I haven't heard of historical references associating acupuncture with guqin, but (other than looking at some general Western soucres such as the above) I haven't myself gone beyond looking at such basic Chinese references as 41054.6 針灸 zhen jiu, which says it is "古治病之法,即鍼灸....") an ancient method of controlling disease; the earliest reference given is 南史(卷73),庾沙彌傳 (Wiki) the biography of Yu Shami in History of the South (i.e., the Southern Dynasties, 420-579), apparently compiled mid-7th c.

    There is also 41054.18 針藥 -> 41536.65 鍼藥 zhenyao: 謂以鍼刺及藥物治疾病也, apparently a broader term dating from the Song dynasty. Other terms used such as 針刺 (i.e. 鍼刺 zhen ci) don't seem to have references here. And the references I do find seem only to concern use of certain terms; these references do not give practical details of the actual practice.

    To find connections between qin and acupuncture I have, for example, done internet searches for "針灸" "琴" or "針灸" "古琴". The latter, in particular, yields sites that talk about how guqin and traditional Chinese medicine both originated from Chinese national culture and encompass the ancient Chinese philosophical thoughts: the unity of nature and man, and the balance of yin and yang. Guqin music uses sound to regulate the body and mind, while Chinese medicine uses acupuncture and decoctions to strengthen the body, prevent and treat diseases.

    However, so far I have not yet found such comparisons in classical sources, whether for acupuncture or other aspects of traditional Chinese medicine: details saying, for example, what particular melodies one should use to achieve what ends.

    20 The antithesis of playing for 知音 zhi yin: Playing qin for an ox
    對牛彈琴 dui niu tan qin, under Ideology.

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