Xiaoyao You 逍遙遊
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130. Carefree Roaming
仲呂調 Zhonglü mode:2 standard tuning 5 6 1 2 3 5 6
逍遙遊 1
Xiaoyao You
  Calligraphy by Sun Yuqin 3      
The music here was inspired by ideas and stories (outlined below) in the first chapter of the Book of Zhuangzi.4 The title of that chapter, Xiaoyao You (or Xiao Yao You), is also the title of the main melody here. And just as translations of this famous book are numerous, so too are translations of the chapter's title. Other translations are listed in this footnote,5 while this one mentions a similar phrase from the Li Sao (a famous poem that is the subject of another qin melody).

Here the title "Xiaoyao You" actually brings together a set of three pieces. Such trilogies are quite a common occurrence in the Xilutang Qintong (further comment).

The fact that Xiaoyao You does not appear as a title anywhere else in the surviving guqin repertoire, nor does it appear on any ancient melody lists, could mean that the three pieces connected here were all recent or new creations. However, while the fact that none of these seems ever to have been published elsewhere indicates they never received wide circulation, it does not preclude the possibility that the main melody, or even all three melodies, could have been copied here from an old manuscript now lost. In fact, errors within the written score suggest the main melody may have been copied out by someone who did not him- or her-self play the piece.

The music for Xiaoyao You, published in 1525 CE, as with all surviving pre-modern guqin music, was written out using the standard guqin tablature that describes finger positions and stroke techniques but does not specify note values (rhythms). Thus, a basic issue of music interpretation involves looking for music structures. To start out, one must determine whether the creator of the piece tried to convey Zhuangzi's sense of "carefree roaming" through playing around with sound in a quite ethereal manner, with recognizable melody not being an important component (a common opinion about qin music in general espoused here by Van Gulik but criticized here by James Watt); or whether this was done by creating descriptive and identifiable, though perhaps also exotic-sounding, melodies. My own understanding has it closer to the latter, with much of the music calm but also with some passages that are quite forceful and dramatic. Explaining this requires some discussion of musical structures, and perhaps also of the roles they play in creating a melody.6

Story and structure
Xiaoyao You, the first chapter of the Zhuangzi, begins with the story of a large fish (kun) that becomes a mammoth birth (peng). After telling of the kun turning into the peng the Zhuangzi barely mentions the kun again. Instead it tells of this bird of unimaginable size being able to soar to the greatest heights and travel vast distances. Most of the sections of the present melody relate to this story.
  Big vs small: it is all relative7   
Xiaoyao You the melody has nine sections; all have titles connected to this opening story, and my understanding of the basic musical structure of the piece starts with interpreting the melody in relation to these titles. The first seven or eight titles are concerned with the peng: having transformed from being underwater as a kun fish, to rising to the skies as a peng bird and grandly soaring as high as the "azure limits of heaven" and as far as the southern oceans. The mention of "flitting about" in the title of the last section seems to be a reference to Zhuangzi's suggestion that small animals in their own way fulfill equally worthwhile goals in their own world (see the graphic novel illustration at right).

The music of the nine sections can thus be grouped as follows (refer here not just to the section titles but also to their references):

A detailed analysis will try to show how "understanding" a melody comes though a detailed examinination of musical structures within that melody.8 In general, music "moves" by providing familiar patterns, then changing them in unexpected but logical ways. Here one can see the music moving along based on repeated and varied melodic motifs combined with modal characteristics that provide interest as the tonal centers alternate between do so and la mi. Non-pentatonic notes are generally unexpected, so if possible their appearance gets highlighted. Overall, this is done in a way that uses the silk strings to produce the many variations in tonal color.

The original and most detailed story in this chapter, as related above, is the kun-peng story that is the focus of this melody. Then later on the chapter has episodes that tell other stories, some of which are related through other guqin melodies. These include,

  1. Dun Shi Cao (Withdrawing from Society; Xu You enjoys his reclusion)
  2. Liezi Yu Feng (Liezi Rides the Wind; he could do so because he had no need to rely on things)
  3. Jie Yu Ge (Song of Jie Yu; for 9 string qin!)

A significant part of these stories from the first chapter of the Zhuangzi concerns things that are contrary to expectation. Thus the opening story, after giving an account of the grandness of the peng bird, then gives examples of small birds that consider such a grand size useless. The chapter goes on to say that people marvel at the ability to travel great distances, but it then adds that Liezi could fly to wherever he wanted precisely because he did not concern himself with such desires. Similarly Xu You was happy because he loved his home and didn't have a desire for wealth and power. And Jie Yu was happy because he was unconcerned, hence uncorrupted, by having to mingle with the myriad affairs of the world.

my own, several other people have done reconstructions of this melody, though apparently not of the preludes. Recordings include ones by:

All are played with silk. The first two seem quite similar in interpretation. The strings of the third are pitched lower and the playing is quite a bit slower. As of August 2021 the third seemed no longer to be online.

Original afterword10
This afterword's mention of the Lacquer Garden and the Book of Zhuangzi are explained here.

Zhuangzi, enlightened by the Dao, was of a mind to slough off the dust and dreck like so much cicada-skin and be carefree above and beyond the common world. So he used the (story of the) kun fish to peng bird transformation as an allegory for his intention. Behold how (the peng) can expand and transform as it floats at will in the natural world. Except for those without soiled bindings within their chests, none can reach such heights. Applying all this the qin, (the music) becomes just as immortal as the Book of Zhuangzi itself. Or so one might say.

Music 11
The set of three pieces is as follows (one transcription, two recordings)

  1. 仲呂調曲譜 Zhonglü modal prelude   (transcription, p.1; timings follow this mp3 of my recording 聽錄音)
    The modal prelude includes its own introduction, given in its footnote

    00.00 Music begins
    00.34 Closing harmonics begin
    00.57 Melody ends

  2. 逍遙吟 Xiaoyao Yin   (transcription, pp 2-4)
    No separate commentary; 3 sections.

    1. 01.00 (directly follows the modal prelude; continue the mp3 recording)
    2. 01.51
    3. 02.33
      03.18 Closing harmonics begin
      03.36 Melody ends (the main melody is on a separate mp3, linked below)

  3. 逍遙遊 Xiaoyao You12   Carefree Roaming (transcription, pp. 5-12; timings follow my recording [listen 聽錄音])
    Original commentary above.

    1. 00.00 鯤化為鵬   Kun the fish turns into Peng the bird
    2. 00.57 翼若垂雲   Wings the size of hanging clouds
    3. 01.33 將徙天池   About to proceed towards the Lake of Heaven
    4. 02.07 上乾靑霄   Surging up to the azure limits of heaven
    5. 02.43 扶搖萬里   Rising on a whirlwind so as to travel a vast distance
    6. 03.30 御風冷然   Coolly riding the wind (like Liezi)
    7. 04.30 氣適南溟   With vapors headed for the south seas (i.e. 南冥: deep seas)
    8. 05.38 磅礡萬物   Mingling together with myriad things (and becoming one with them)
    9. 06.07 翱翔廣漢   Flitting about the the broad countryside (as though soaring in the broad firmament?}
      06.57 泛音           Closing harmonics
      07.24 曲終           Melody ends

    See further comments on these section titles

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Carefree Roaming (逍遙遊 Xiaoyao You; QQJC III/225)
According to the Zha Guide 22/194/-- this melody survives only here. Compare this pdf of original 1525 tablature with the transcriptions linked here.

ZWDCD references include:

Other online reference sources include:

Other "roaming/wandering" pieces are listed here.

2. 仲呂意 Zhonglü Yi (Explanation of Zhonglü, i.e., of 仲呂調 Zhonglü mode)
The original text of the introduction can be found at the beginning of this pdf of original 1525 tablature. According to the Zha Guide 22/--/-- (which did not include the text introducing the prelude) this modal prelude survives only here. Its text in standard characters is as follows:


Not fully translated. Parts of the original text are unclear and it was unpunctuated. It does say the third string is gong and, as as result, stopping the third string in the 11th position provides the same sound as that of the open fifth string. It then adds that it is (in some way) the same as Linzhong mode, which comes on the next page. This seems to be a somewhat strange comment, as Linzhong mode uses only five strings. Perhaps this is connected to the fact that Linzhong is tuned 5 6 1 2 3 and not 1 2 3 5 6: if zhonglü were tuned 1 2 3 5 6 1 2 then stopping the first string in the 11th position would correspond to the sound of the open third string.

As for the term "zhonglü" itself, it can be a source of confusion beginning with the fact that there is a "中呂" as well as this "仲呂". Here are some examples.

For specifics of the modal characteristics of this prelude and its two accompanying melodies see below. Got more on modes in general see Modality in Early Ming Qin Tablature.

3. Image: Calligraphy of 逍遙遊 Xiao Yao You
My teacher Sun Yuqin gave the original of this calligraphy to 袁中平 Yuan Jung Ping, who was also his student.

For more images also see big vs. small, below.

4. Chapters of the Zhuangzi
The (Book of) Zhuangzi originally appeared in a variety for forms and lengths, but the first seven chapters have been considered the original or most authentic ones. Xiaoyao You is the first of these seven "inner chapters".

5. Translations of the title of the Zhuangzi, Chapter One
Here is a partial list:

There are many more (Careless Wandering, Freely Wandering, Leisurely Strolling, etc.). Regarding Graham's translation, he also wrote that "遊 you" is "rather like the 'trip' of psychedelic slang in the 1960s" (Hackett, Chapter 2, Spontaneity).

6. Creating a melody: coherent structures or random sounds? (see below for the structures)
The page entitled "Qin music: composed or created?" discusses whether qin melodies were more likely to have resulted from someone sitting down and planning out how the music would be structured (a common Western image), or whether it was more like improvisation, with the tablature mostly just transcribing what the musician had created, perhaps through a combination of improvisation and trial and error. In the latter case the structures were not so much planned as they were part of a shared music vocabulary. Also in the latter case, a conscious understanding of structure is more important in re-creating a piece than it was in creating it in the first place, where the structures would have been instinctive.

As for listeners, their appreciation of qin play often seems to be based on hearing someone's interpretation of a familiar melody. One is thus at a disadvantage when hearing a melody for this first time. Sometimes I have trouble appreciating a performance because I cannot sense the structure. If I then play the melody myself, even though with a different sense of structure, I may have a better chance of appreciating this other performance because I can relate what I hear to my own sense of the structure.
  peng   (kun?)        
7. Big vs Small
The image above is from page 7 of a graphic novel by 蔡志忠 Tsai Chih Chung, The Sayings of Zhuangzi (details). For a story from the Chinese edition (which is apparently more complete than the English) see under Song of Jie Yu

Because of their prominence at the beginning, I have spent time looking for traditional images of 鯤 kun and 鵬 peng. The results were slim:

Looking for images or adapting them? Just a concept            
For imagining Zhuangzi's transformation of a kun fish "幾千里 thousands of li" in size into a peng bird of similar size it is perhaps most natural to think of the kun in terms of length and the peng in terms of wing span. The "glossy fish" is indeed long. However, since most images of peng, such as these here, do not show it with wings spread, instead giving it a large body with small wings, the above modern image has instead been adapted to show it soaring. In fact, though, the aim should not be to find out what the kun and peng "really" would have looked like, as if they were real. And although it would be interesting to see how they might have been imagined or depicted by the ancients, unfortunately most of what is available online looks like modern pretention - to my mind over-emphasizing the ferocious and/or heroic. And in any case, the kun and peng represent concepts more than they do realities. Thus, with the melody Xiaoyao You it may seem that the kun becoming a peng in part represents going from darkness to light, as at right. But the words of Zhuangzi suggest that the grandeur of the peng does not make it any better than a small bird flitting up to a low branch for safety as well as to look for its next meal.

As for the yin / yang concept, there is not much about this in Zhuangzi: for appropriate references search here in ctext.

8. Musical structure in Xiaoyao You (further comment above)
For music that is familiar, a basic understanding is usually instinctive. To speak your own language you don't need to be able to explain its grammar. Learning a foreign language includes learning its grammar. Of course, this also can be done through usage, not just through study of the grammar itself.

Recognizing musical motifs helps one sense cohesion in music. A recurring musical motif of particular note in Xiaoyao You is one that first occurs near the beginning. It actually occurs twice in Section 1; in my transcription see mm. 15-17, which lists its later occurrences in the melody. This is also a phrase that can be played in several different ways, both here and in the versions that appear in both the modal prelude and the melodic prelude (see my tentative transcription, pp. 1 and 2). These variations raise a number of questions: from the way the phrases are written it is not clear whether the differences are deliberate or whether the transcriber was simply a bit casual about how to write it down or players were free about how they played thhat motif. The seemingly same motif can also be found in some other pieces, as can be seen in the following transcriptions,

The recurrences with variations within suggests there may have been a basic pattern to the motif, but individual players might interpret it differently, or the same player might not always play it the same. And the rhythms could change, but they remained recoginzable as variations of an original, not as something completely different.

More of these could be listed to show more fully the variety available in pairing the left hand slides with the right hand strokes.

Another interesting structural issue can be seen in the first note of Section 4. At first glance it sounds as though it should actually be the last note of Section 3. This sort of passage has also occurred elsewhere, and to me it suggests that this is a connecting note and the transcriber, unable to decide which section to put it but unwilling to give it a section by itself, wrote in in a somewhat ambivalent manner. (For another example see the note on "柴 chai" in measure 22 of my transcription of the melody Zhao Yin, and look at the commentary here and here.)

10. Introduction
Thanks to Stephen Walker and Lau Shing Hon for their help on this translation.

This afterword refers to Zhuangzi by mentioning the Lacquer Garden ( 漆園 Qi Yuan), where he is said to have worked as a minor official. And it refers to the book of Zhuangzi as 南華之篇 the Nanhua Chronicle, short for its alternative title, 南華真經 Nanhua Zhenjing, rendered variously as the Pure Classic of Nanhua, or The True Scripture of Southern Florescence, and so forth.

The calligraphic style of the original [see copy] makes reading it very challenging in places. In addition, it indicates one character [塵] was misplaced. Fortunately Section 9 of the Zha Guide has it copied out in standard characters. The Guide also has the characters in the correct order, but for some reason it left out one character [信, apparently, between 游 and 非]; online standard character copies all seem simply to follow Zha or each other. This copy marks both of these problems in red

11. Music
The three melodies here seem quite unique. Some aspects of the tablature style are unusual, such as consistently but not always writing the finger position 7.6 as "八上 above 8" (today this is written 七六 but until the late Ming dynasty it was commonly written "七八" meaning "between 7 and 8".

Here are some modal characteristics of the three melodies here:

  1. 仲呂 Zhonglü modal prelude
    This modal prelude has some phrases in common with the two melodies it introduces, but its modal structure is in fact somewhat different. First, unlike the other twp melodies, it is purely pentatonic (1 2 3 4 6, i.le., do re mi sol la). The short opening phrase is 1-5 (do-so). This is followed by two phrases ending strongly with 3 (mi) going down to 6 *la), but then there is one that makes a pretense at ending on la but instead continues on to end strongly on do. The prelude then ends with a do-so harmonic coda.

    Although the other two melodies also shift back and forth from tonal centers on la-mi and on do-so, they are in fact modally much more complex, especially in the use of non-pentatonic notes.

  2. 逍遙吟 Carefree Intonation
    La - mi phrases are much less common here. Instead there seems to be quite a bit of shifting between do - sol and sol - re. There are quite a few non-pentatonic notes. The writing style indicated above sometimes makes it difficult to discern the intended note, but there do seem to be some rules. For example, perhaps the most distinctive non-pentatonic note is a flatted mi; this seems most likely to appear where the mode is do - sol. On the other hand, 7 (ti) seems most likely to appear in phrases that are sol - re, perhaps functioning there as a third above sol, as though the collection of notes has changed.

  3. 逍遙遊 Carefree Roaming
    Futher comments pending.

Analysis incomplete.

12. Section titles
Most section titles are connected to phrases is Zhuangzi's chapter Xiaoyao You, as follows (number refers to the section in ctext).

  1. 鯤化為鵬 (鯤之大,不知其幾千里也。化而為鳥,其名為鵬。1)
  2. 翼若垂雲 (翼若垂天之雲。1)
  3. 將徙天池 (海運則將徙於南冥。南冥者,天池也。1)
  4. 上乾靑霄 (?)
  5. 扶搖萬里 (扶搖而上者九萬里,1)
  6. 御風冷然 (列子御風而行,泠然善也,2)
  7. 氣適南溟 (絕雲氣,負青天,然後圖南,且適南冥也。 2)
  8. 磅礡萬物 (旁礡萬物,5)
  9. 翱翔廣漢 (翱翔蓬蒿之間 2;河漢 5;廣漢、廣寒 xx)

Further comments:


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