Playing Qin in Nature  
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Playing Qin in Nature
Musing on a well-known concept 2
對自然彈琴 1
By the Withlacoochee Nature Trail, Florida (expand) 3   

Subtle Beauty

Recently, on a nature trail in central Florida, as my brother Dan and I turned down a side trail to a creek, we met a couple coming out. I asked: "What is it like?" The guy said, "It’s OK." "Just OK?" I said. He responded, "We are from the Pacific Northwest". My brother, who lives in Florida, said, "You should learn to appreciate Florida’s subtle beauty". We went on to the creek, and it indeed was imbued with a marvelous but subtle beauty.

As we stood at the creek admiring the flat wetlands I could not help but compare the beauty of the landscape with the beauty of the sounds that should come from the music instrument I play, the Chinese silk string guqin zither. The sun was shining through the trees and reflecting off the water; the near silence was broken only by the occasional sound of a bird. We also were silent, occasionally whispering; nothing else was needed. This is the way I feel about guqin music at its essence.

Knowing of the tradition of playing guqin in nature, my brother said, "A perfect place to play guqin." But with such natural beauty, no music could improve it. So listeners should instinctively wish to be quiet because they are experiencing nature, or because they are listening to a personal communication with nature rather than being entertained by a musician. As for me, I felt quite as happy just appreciating the beauty of nature, then letting this inspire me the next time I went to my quiet studio at home.

Guqin music is the sound of nature. So it has been written, "Wind in the pines and a babbling brook are nature's melody. A qin was brought along, but there is no need to play it."

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1 Playing qin in nature)
One can have a similar experience when viewing more dramatic scenery. Such scenery might elicit more dramatic music, or it could also be expressed through quiet contemplation of the beauty. Of course, if the sounds of nature are loud, such as by a waterfall, this even more calls for expressing this at home. The qin was not designed to drown out nature.

This attitude might also be reflected in public performance. By tradition the qin is an instrument of self-cultivation, not of performance. The modern tendency is to develop the qin as a performance instrument: conservatories teach players not just to perform but to show they are performing through stylized movements they consider "artistic". This relates to the "modern" attitude described here by James Watt: showing something rather than simply being it. In a performance venue, for the audience to experience the player expressing the traditional inward aesthetic requires creating an environment where the players can imagine themselves in their ideal environment. Here the aural is more important than the visual: it is better for the imagination if the audience has to close their eyes and imagine the environment but can open their ears to truly hear the music, than it is if they can open their eyes but have to close their ears and imagine the music.

The above is not a criticism against modern performance, only a suggestion that there is more than one way to carry it out.

2 Musing
This sort of musing connects to my attempts at
historically informed qin performance. It is only one approach - only one of my own approaches. The worlds of qin are not limited to just this or just that.

3 Wetlands in Withlacoochee; photo by JT
January 2019; Withlacoochee River Nature Trail (美國,佛羅里達州,威斯拉庫奇河). Regarding wetlands in China the WWF website briefly discusses the issues under
Wetland Conservation and Restoration; the last two of the "Top 10 Most Beautiful Wetlands in China" might be the most similar ones to the one in the picture. The issue, however, is where you can go to find natural areas that are (or seem) as as remote as they would have seemed before modern times. What makes the beauty so subtle is also what makes it so rare: its majic can be so easily dissolved by any human sound, even a whisper.

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