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Guqin and Gardens
琴與花園 1
Playing qin in an imperial garden 2      
Playing the qin in nature is an ideal with a long history. However, playing in such an uncontrolled environment almost by definition precludes making such an event into a performance. On the other hand, a garden or botanical garden might also provide an appropriate environment both for communing with nature and for giving a performance. The present page concerns presenting a program in such a controlled environment.3 Unfortunately, in the modern urban environment it is difficult to find gardens that are quiet enough to make qin play into the transcendant experience it might otherwise be. On the other hand, there do exist botanical gardens that are quiet enough to serve well as a venue for qin play. And even in a concert hall the right music might be able to evoke the spirit of music in a Chinese garden.4

In a garden, or by using appropriate visuals in a gallery or concert hall, one can evoke the present theme with any melodies. However, some melodies may be more relevant than others. For example, many old Chinese gardens have grotto heavens, and these are the subject of several qin melodies. In addition, melodies with the theme of plants and flowers (particularly orchids) are particularly appropriate.

Relevant melodies include:

  1. Mei Shao Yue
    Two sections are set to the lyrics "How Plum Flowers Embarrass a Garden"
  2. He Wu Dongtian
    The "grotto heavens" of the title could be in nature or in a private garden
  3. Dongtian Chun Xiao
    See previous
  4. He Ming Jiugao
    Zhu Quan mentions raising cranes in his garden
  5. Gui Qu Lai Ci
    Tao Yuanming enjoys his garden as well as his farm
  6. Xing Tan
    Confucius teaches students in his courtyard
  7. Xiuxi Yin and Liu Shang
    The ceremony of floating wine-cups sometimes took place in a garden

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Guqin and Gardens 琴與花園
See also Guqin and Orchids.

2. Playing Qin in a Garden
This anonymous Qing dynasty painting from 紫禁城 the Forbidden City is called Hongli Warm Breeze Qin Sounds (弘曆熏風琴韻圖軸 Hongli Xunfeng Qinyun). Hongli was the 乾隆 Qianlong Emperor (r. 1735-1796). Note that directly over the image of the emperor playing the qin is a seal that says, "古希天子 Ancient Rarity (belonging to the) Son of Heaven"; this was a favorite seal on objects belonging to Qianlong. Here it is considered authentic, but people later often copied it on paintings to imply antique quality (example).

The present scroll was included in a traveling exhibition called "Imperial Palace Objects, Calligraphy and Painting Works" held in 1999 at the Art Museum of Macau. The website commentary on the part called "Palace Paintings In The Prime Years Of The Reign Periods Of Emperors Kangxi, Yongzheng And Qianlong Of The Qing Dynasty" gives a basic description of the painting.

3. Playing in a garden vs. playing in nature
The article The Qin and the Chinese Literati by James Watt seems to suggest that Qing dynasty images showing qin players in gardens are more artifice than substance.

4. Performance venue
To convey the music well to an audience of more than a handfull one generally needs a quiet hall with good acoustics and, if necessary, a superior sound system. Instead guqin performances too often take place in noisy halls or gardens, where the subtlety of the sounds, particularly when playing with silk strings, becomes lost.

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