Sunday, June 2, 2019

Parting At Yang Guan Gate Comparison of the playing of 4 qin masters


Parting at Yangguan Gate is a beautiful and popular ancient qin melody, which is often used as a training piece for beginners. Almost every qin players has learned or knows about this piece. Because of its popularity and its moderate length, I think it is good to take this piece and look into a little bit more detail on different master's playing.  I have listened 7 qin masters playing of Parting at Yangguan Gate, and here I would like to take 4 to discuss and see how the same piece can be interpreted differently with different players and hope we can all learned something from each of them.

So I will first give a brief highlight of each player's life background and then I will show some sound recordings on two short sections against music notations, and discuss a little bit from that. Then the conclusion.

Two qin players were trained in a Conservatory of Music, while two qin players were trained by so called literati qin players. Three have passed away. WP is still very active currently. Three are/were located in southern China, while one is in northern China.

Sound or Video Recordings

Cheng Gong-liang (https://youtu.be/frvF-1aqzMQ)

Notation on the two sections I picked from each recording

This is the beginning part of this piece. I use WZJ’s notation as the foundation and use red color to highlight the differences in each qin player’s part.

WP used 38 seconds on these three phrases which is the longest time.

Start from the first bar here, CGD made the 5th note a pressing note with vibrato, while the others played open string.

The 3rd phrase ... WP and CGL's playing are similar, but WP's vibratos are more noticeable...

The sense of rhythm of each master has slight differences.


This is from the 2nd to 4th phrases of the 3rd section of YG3D. We can see CGL and WP’s playing has more variations than WZJ and CGD.

CGL and WP created more notes while CGD bends notes to create more flat notes.

Conclusion

There is still more that can be discussed. Such as the dynamics and each qin master’s life philosophy to their qin playing, and the evolution of the tablature of this piece.  I believe that will help more clearly define each qin player’s playing style.
Today’s brief discussion reveals that a piece of melody can be played in many different ways, based on the player’s sense of rhythm and the nuances in vibratos or nicely creating an extra harmonised note, to enrich the sound and make the music very fruitful. Yet the melody can be still recognized as its original creation.
To conclude my feelings about each player’s

WZJ- 真體內充, 清微淡遠 - Calm and lofty with authentic rich energy.
CGL - 與古為新, 微婉細膩 - Innovation with Inheriting tradition; exquisite & beautiful.
CGD - 含蓄儒雅, 灑脫自適 - Implicit, free-spirited.
WP - 行健存雄, 縝細豪邁 - Vigorous and elaborate.g

Sunday, April 7, 2019

留白 Liu Bai

Sunrise by Claude Monet (1840-1926) 

Xiao Xiang Eight Scenery 瀟湘八景(partial 局部) by Yuang dynasty Zhang Yuan 張遠

我用以上兩圖來對比西洋古典音樂與中國古琴音樂的哲美學概念, 
上圖畫面飽滿, 下圖給予多處留白. 均為上品. 
古琴音樂乃道家思維, 大音希聲, 
絲弦, 走手音, 吟猱綽注, 少息, 大息, 等等元素產生留白, 
是氣, 是韻, 而不是聽不見就表示音死. 反是生, 是生命的氣韻的象徵.
是彈琴者與琴的天人合一, 
"人", 也就是創作者, 彈琴者, 的心, 氣, 與音的合一. 

在感官的感受外,還有心的感知. 
聲音並非一定要叮叮噹噹一直產生出來填補空間才表有生命力. 
當留白產生, 聽之以心. 則天人合一, 
超然, 雄渾, 於內心產生. 
然留白與有物之間是漸層的融合, 
此須先有一定的"技"為基礎. 

I used the above two paintings to compare the concept of philosophical aesthetic view between Western classical music and Chinese guqin music. The painting above is full, while the painting below has a lot of blank space.  Both paintings are top grade. Guqin music involves Daoist philosophy -- such as "the greatest sound is almost no sound," and the using of silk strings, the sliding techniques, vibratos, pauses, long pauses, etc,. which are the elements to create space (Liu Bai, reserve white), which symbolized the "qi" (energy), and *"yun" (a leftover sound). If one cannot hear the leftover sound, do not think it is a dying sound. On the contrary, it is still alive. It is the heaven and human as oneness. "Human" is the composer, the player, whose heart and qi combined with the nature (heaven).

In addition to the basic senses, there is the cognition of the mind. It is not necessary that to show a  lively music, one must create rich notes to  fully fill a given space. When there is "Liu Bai", the listener listens with his or her mind, to become one with heaven, and a transcendental or a powerful elegant feeling is developed. However, there is a gradual fusion between the actual objects and the Liu Bai. To achieve that gradual fusion, one must be able to achieve certain techniques first.

--------------------
Thanks to Shuengit's comment:
Shuengit Chow: "reserve white", white is an opaque physical piment (color) - shouldnt Liu Bai be more like leaving "empty spaces", "un touched", and not a white color (in English that is) in Chinese bai, means not only white, but "un-touched"

------------------------

*Yun 韻, relates to the sense of rhythm as well.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Stories of Qin Players in Ancient China - I

On 3/24/2019 the 3rd International On-line Guqin Yaji, Peiyou gave a brief talk of three stories of qin players in the Spring Autumn period.

Before the first dynasty of Imperial China, Qin, there were many feudal states, like small countries, and they constantly fought among those countries. In Chinese history, these unpeaceful periods were called the Spring Autumn period and the Warring States period. They were called the Spring Autumn period, for two reasons:

First,  according to the date of the year, and the order of the four seasons, the historical officials of the Lu State (where Confucius was from)  recorded the major events of the countries in the Spring and Autumn Period. Second, the ancient events occurred frequently in the spring and autumn seasons. Therefore, people generally call the chronicle "Spring and Autumn."

Here I have two maps to show some geographic concepts between China now and back then during the Spring Autumn Period. You can see the major two big rivers, the Yellow river in the north and the Yangzi River in the south, and those feudal states were located in the lower reaches of both rivers during the Spring Autumn period.

There is the Wu state, which is the yellow green color on the right side of the map, and that area was and still is the most rich land in China. The lineage of the qin school we are following, which is the "Wumen" (Gate of Wu) qin school, came from this Wu area. On the north side of the Wu state is the Lu state where Confucius and Shi Xiang, one of the qin players I will talk about, were from. On the left of the map is the Qin state which later became the Qin empire, after the First Emperor of Qin unified all the states.  Next to the Qin state is the Jin state, where another qin player I will talk about, Shi Kuang, was from.  And the qin player, Zhong Yi was from the Chu state.

The first qin player I will talk about is Zhong Yi who was a hereditary court musician from the Chu state, majoring in zither.  The Chu state was known for its distinct music and shamanistic rituals. In 1977, China unearthed a very important archaeological site, the Tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng and found many musical instruments including the magnificent bronze bells. The location of the Tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng is in a village called Sui which was in the Chu State. This find, gives us a sense that the Chu state music could have been developed to a high level.

The story about Zhong Yi is that back in his time, the Chu state was friendly to the Zheng State. The Jin State was not happy about that and caught the Duke Cheng of Zheng while the duke was visiting Jin. Jin then had their troops attack Zheng. The Zheng state sent a messenger for peace along with the Chu court musician Zhong Yi. The messenger was killed by Jin and Zhong Yi was kept as a prisoner. One day the Duke of Jin patrolled the military jail and saw Zhong Yi, and asked the warden: The tied prisoner wearing a southern hat, who is he? The warden answered: Chu prisoner dedicated by Zheng. The Duke of Jin requested the warden to untie Zhong Yi and let him come to the Duke’s office. When Zhong Yi was in the Duke’s office, he knelt down and bowed to the Duke a couple times. The Duke then asked Zhong Yi about his family, Zhong Yi answered that his family are musicians. Duke Jin asked: Can you perform music? Zhong Yi answered: Playing music is the mission from my ancestors, I dare not to do any other job. Duke Jin had someone bring Zhong Yi a zither and asked him to play. Zhong Yi played a southern melody. Duke Jin asked him more questions about the leader of Chu and Zhong Yi’s answers were praised by one of Duke Jin’s military leaders Fan Wenzi. Fan commended that Zhong Yi is a gentleman who respects his own leader and is loyal to his origins, is trustworthy, and suggested Duke Jin to let Zhong Yi go back to Chu to maintain a good relationship between Jin and Chu. Duke Jin released Zhong Yi. A couple years later, Chu and Jin formed an alliance.

The next qin player I will talk about is Shi Kuang, who was a blind court musician, active around 572-532 BC from the Jin State, He was good at Qin and Se playing, and so sensitive to music that he could recognize which bronze bell was not tuned correctly while the bell was being made. There is a story about a Chinese proverb, "light up a candle to brighten the way"... Duke Ping of Jin one day asked Shi Kuang: I am 70 years old now, and want to study new knowledge, am I too late? Shi Kuang answered: Why not light up the candle? Duke Ping said: Is there an official making a joke with his king? Shi Kuang said: How dare a blind official like me make fun of his king? I heard that when a young man likes to learn, that is like the light is shining from the morning sun; When a middle aged man likes to learn, that is like the sun light from the midday; When an aged man likes to learn, that is like lighting up a candle to shine his way, isn't that stronger than walking in the dark?" Duke Ping then said: Well said.

The story of Confucius learning the qin piece "Praise the King Wen of Zhou" came from the book, Family Sayings of Confucius 孔子家語 from the 3rd century. This story is actually to praise Confucius. The story is: When 10 days after Confucius learned the piece “Praise the King Wen of Zhou” from Shi Xiang, Shi Xiang suggested that he move on to learn a new piece. But Confucius said that he felt that he hadn’t mastered the playing technique and rhythm yet.  After a period of time, Shi Xiang said to Confucius that he thought Confucius had achieved the playing techniques and rhythm and that he could move on to a new piece. Confucius then said that he had not got the meaning of the piece yet. After a period of time, Shi Xiang said to Confucius that now he had learned the meaning of the piece, he could move on to a new piece. Confucius said that he still had not been able to picture the spirit of King Wen from the playing yet. After a period of time, Shi Xiang heard Confucius’ playing of Wen Wang Cao and said to him:
“your playing has qualities of respectful and solemnity with deep thought; pleasant with lofty prospects.”
Confucius then said: “ I have gained the characters of King Wen who is slender and tall, dark; broad as looking at the ocean; truly a king of four states. If he is not the King Wen, who could be qualified?”
Shi Xiang was very impressed and stood up to bow to Confucius, then said:  “you are really talking about the Wen Wang Cao here."

A wise man playing the qin not only with good skill but also knowing the meaning behind it. Shi Xiang’s learning of the guqin was only to know the melody. Confucius was really far more talented than Shi Xiang. The old way of teaching qin playing was to teach the melody first without teaching the meaning behind the melody, and to let the learners figure out the meaning themselves. This way the learner would understand more deeply and be able to achieve success.

The Laufer Expedition and the Chinese Wax Cylinders - Presented by Ralph Knag on 3/24/2019

The Earliest Chinese Music Recordings - 1901-4
  • While researching shadow puppets I learned that Indiana University had digitized the early wax cylinders 圓筒留聲機 collected by the Laufer Expedition
  • Recently they have announced funding to curate the collection and get it online
  • Here’s the earlier description of the collection and it’s digitization
  • The project is to be completed in two years, but I’ve been told that the digitized recordings will be online earlier…
  • There’s an number of different genres represented – it’s not clear if there is guqin.
Berthold Laufer
  • The first American sinologist – he was a an anthropologist who worked at the Museum of Natural History and the Field Museum in Chicago.
  • He went to China several times to collect material for the museums (1901-1923.)
  • Over 6,500 objects in the Museum of Natural History and another 19,000 at the Field Museum.
The Laufer Chinese Collections Online Museum of Natural History
You need to select Laufer, Bertold (Donor/Collector), then Asia (Collection Area) and China (Countries) to see the collection. From the 1901-4 expeditions

Field Museum: Laufer music From the 1908 and 1923 expeditions

Laufer the man
  • He worked under Franz Boas at the Museum of Natural History, both early anthropologists. I just read all of Boas work on NW Indians. 
  • Wrote on many things – he was famous for his work on Jade and ceramics, but also liked curiosities: The Swing in China, Insect Musicians of China (Crickets), tree climbing fish and more
  • "I have come to love the land and the people," he once wrote. "I feel myself to be better and healthier as a Chinese than as a European.“ This at a time soon after the Chinese exclusion act (1882) 
  • One of the few scholars of his time fluent in Chinese and other languages

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Bronze Bells of Marquis Yi of Zeng



https://www.bilibili.com/video/av28627418/

This video can hear the sound of the set of bronze bells from the tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng, unearthed in 1977 at Leigudun, Suizhou, Hubei province.  This recording was recorded in March 29, 1986.

Set of bronze bells:

- Since it is so costly to make, that only the wealthiest aristocrats could afford to own a set. 

- It is a fully melodic instrument, supplying all 12 notes of the chromatic scale, over a range of three octaves (a less dense scale continues for two more octaves). 

- Each bell with almond-shaped cross section (not including the middle bell at the bottom which was a gift from King of Chu) can produce two different fundamentals, depending on where the player strikes it. The center axis (front or back), or near the side (which the same pitch will be heard if the bell is struck at any of four symmetrically located points). 

- The two pitches are either major or minor third apart.

- Each bell's strike points have the names of the two pitches labeled with solmization syllables 唱名 (such as western's do or re, but in Chinese Gong or Shang 宮, 商 etc,. )  which is not the absolute pitches. 

- Longer and more extraordinary inscriptions on the other side of each bell relate its pitches to a series of named absolute pitches.


- The method of making set of bronze bells with accurate and required pitches is still unknown.
" 姑洗之下" 後面還有一個"角"字 This picture might
explain the picture below about this particular bells'
tone definition. 
Left: [正](1)   Right: [正](3)














Reference and photos: Music in the Age of Confucius, published in 2000 by the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.)











Thanks to Juni L Yeung who commented: 
the inscriptions indicate multiple things. 1: the common names of pitches in multiple states: Zeng, Chu, and Zhou, Jin and Qi, and what that particular tone would act as in the case of different modes. It shows both absolute and relative pitch positions - across multiple systems.

What is particularly important in these names is the use of a previously unknown system known as the Zeng/Pu system, which accounts for not just the thirds of the sanfen sunyi system, but also just intonations of fifths.

Peiyou: Zeng/pu should be Zeng/fu

See 曾侯乙編鍾的音律體系

Thursday, March 14, 2019

文王操 Wen Wang Cao (Praise the King Wen of Zhou)

舟中聽大人彈琴 by Su Shi 蘇軾

彈琴江浦夜漏水,斂衽竊聽獨激昂。風松瀑布已清絕,更愛玉佩聲琅璫。自従鄭衛亂雅樂,古器殘缺世已忘。千家寥落獨琴在,有如老仙不死閱興亡。世人不容獨反古,強以新曲求鏗鏘。微音淡弄忽變轉,數聲浮脆如笙簧。無情枯木今尚爾,何況古意墮渺茫。江空月出人響絕,夜闌更請彈文王。

Su Shi wrote this poem about listening a gentleman's qin playing on a boat, and asking the player to play Wen Wang Cao. Sushi lamented that people forgot the ancient melody because they all attracted by excited aroused modern music. (Isn't that also happening nowadays !?)

One of my favorite qin Master, Master Cheng Gongliang (1940-2015) playing Wen Wang Cao (Praise the King Wen of Zhou).



The story of Confucius learning the qin piece "Praise the King Wen of Zhou"
came from the book, Family Sayings of Confucius 孔子家語 from the 3rd
century. This story is actually to praise Confucius.

When 10 days after Confucius learned the piece “Praise the King Wen of Zhou”
from Shi Xiang (the court musician of Lu State), Shi Xiang suggested that he
move on to learn a new piece. But Confucius said that he felt that he hadn’t
mastered the playing technique and rhythm yet.  After a period of time, Shi Xiang
said to Confucius that he thought Confucius had achieved the playing techniques
and rhythm that he could move on to a new piece. Confucius then said that he
had not got the meaning of the piece yet. After a period of time, Shi Xiang said to
Confucius that now he had learned the meaning of the piece, he could move on to
a new piece. Confucius said that he still had not been able to picture the spirit of
King Wen from the playing yet. After a period of time, Shi Xiang heard Confucius’
playing of Wen Wang Cao and said to him:
“your playing has qualities of respectful and solemnity with deep thought;
pleasant with lofty prospects.”
Confucius then said: “ I have gained the characters of King Wen who is slender
and tall, dark; broad as looking at the ocean; truly a king of four states. If he is
not the King Wen, who could be qualified?”
Shi Xiang was very impressed and stood up to bow to Confucius, then said:  
“you are really talking about the Wen Wang Cao here."

A wise man playing the qin not only with good skill but also knowing the
meaning behind it. Shi Xiang’s learning of the guqin was only to know the
melody. Confucius was really far more talented than Shi Xiang. The old way of
teaching qin playing was to teach the melody first without teaching the meaning
behind the melody, and to let the learners figure out the meaning themselves.
This way the learner would understand more deeply and be able to achieve
success.

原文:
師襄子,蓋魯人,《論語》所謂擊磬襄者是也。夫子學鼓琴師襄子, 十日不進,襄子曰:
“今子於琴已習,可以益矣。”孔子曰:“丘已習其曲矣,未得其數也” 有間,曰:“已習其數,
可以益矣。”孔子曰:“未得其志也。”有間,曰:“已習其志,可以益矣。”孔子曰:“未得其為
也。”有間,曰:“有所穆然深思焉,有所怡然髙望而遠志焉。”曰:“丘得其為人矣。黯然
而黑,頎(音qi2)然而長,曠如望洋,如王四國, 非文王其誰能為此也。”師襄子避席再拜曰:
“師蓋云《文王操》也。” 夫以琴為聖人師,其工妙矣。然師襄之學,徒知其音;聖人之學,
必得其意,其過襄遠矣。先授以聲而未授以名者,蓋古人之教人者,常待學者之自得而未
盡告也,自得則悟之深而左右逢其原矣