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Folk Instruments & Music

In the course of its development over several thousand years, Chinese folk music has produced a host of forms, amassed a large number of works and fostered many outstanding performers.

As far back as the Zhou Dynasty, when an elaborate system of ritual music was set up, the court officials and literary men who created it were required t0 learn t0 play one or tw0 musical instruments, and this tradition had lasted for over 3,000 years. Promoted by the court and protected by the government, Chinese traditional music found favorable conditi0ns for its transmissi0n- Many court officials and scholars, and even emperors, took part in the creation of music, and got musical scores recorded, enabling us to get a general idea when they were produced. For instance, there are over 3,000 guqin pieces preserved, in some 1 50 types of rendering. Most other ancient musical sc0res, including scores for t e lute and 0ther stringed instruments, date from the end of the Ming and the early years of the Qing. of course, it is difficult to put a definite date 0n most Chinese instrumental music, but even without a score or recorded date, we can be sure of its antiquity.

Classical Chinese music is generally discussed under tW0 headings: ensemble and solo music.

1. The Forms And Compositi0ns of Ensemble Music

Traditional Chinese ensemble instrumental music has diverse origins, and forms of arrangement, performance and transmission. Generally speaking, geographic 0rigin is its most distinguishing characteristic: Percussi0n and wind ensembles native to the northern region include i'an percussion and wind, Shanxi Province's badatao, the orchestras of central Hebei Province, southwest Shandong Province's percussion and wind, Liaoning Province's percussi0n and wind and the shto3n music of Luoyang City. Native to the south are the gongs and drums of eastern Zhejiang Province, the shil8n gongs and drums of southern jiangsu Province(Fig. 2-4) and Fuzhou, the longchui of Quanzhou and the Shthan of southwest Fujian Province. In the string and wind categ0ry are the Southern Tunes of Fujian, the poetry accompanied on string instruments of Chaozhou, Guangdong Music, the string and wind music of south of the Y8ngtZe and the northern string music.

The distribution of the artistic groups which played the various types of Chinese folk music was connected with the system of managing music of the feudal imperial court. Generally speaking, the locations of the imperial capitals in ancient times are the centers of the transmission, orchestras and maestros of folk music today. For example, Xi'an percussion music dates from the days when Xi'an was the capital of the Tang Dynasty; the Daxiangguo Temple music of Kaifeng emerged when that city was the capital 0f the Song Dynasty; and the Zhihua Temple music of Beijing and the wind orchestra music of Hebei Province have associations with the days when Beijing was the capital of the Liao, Jin, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. Hebei's,Chengde City, which is not far from Beijing, was the summer retreat of the Qing emperors, and local musicians can still play the court music of that time, despite the fact that the dynasty disappeared long ago. This makes it easy to understand how so many farmer-musicians can have Such comparatively high artistic attainments. This is an important component of the Chinese people's musical artistry.

Types of Percussion and Wind Music These are the most pervasive of Chinese musical forms, All important events in the lives of the ordinary people, for instance, a marriage, a funeral, or a festival, would be complete with the blowing of flutes and the banging of gongs and drums. The Suona is the most widespread and popular folk instrument. It is commonly called a trumpet. In shape, the Suona is conical, with eight holes (seven forward and one at the back). The body is made of wood. At one end is a thin brass tube with a reed attachment, and the other end flares like a trumpet,

The best-known piece of Suona music is called one Hundred birds Scren8de the Phoenix, which is particularly common in the provinces of Shandong, Anhui, Henan and Hebei. After a spirited introduction, the orchestra settles down to a fixed accompaniment mode. With this as backgound, the Suona section plays a vigorous, piping tune in imitation of the chirping of birds in flight The c1oseness of the mimicry expresses the people's love for nature and the intense scrutiny of ordinary life by folk artists, as well as their virtuosity in performance. Such beautiful and auspicious tunes help to account for the popularity ofthis instrument.

A traditional tune revealing another aspect of the Suon8 is the Sprig of Blossoms. This is a mournful piece from the repertoire of southwest Shandong percussion and wind music, and borrows the "wailing tone" of clapper music. Finally, the allegro period in the qu tune Ruddy Small Peaches amply demonstrates the style of rapid clapper playing and slow piping in this type of music, using a long-drawn-Out series of slow notes and giving full play to the versatility of the per formers.

Because of the close connection between sheng and flute music with religious music, we will introduce this in the relevant section; here we will confine ourselves to describing some famous flute tunes. According to musicologists, Yang Yuanheng, the leading performer of folk lute music of this century, plays the northern folk music piece be joy in much the same way as it was pjayed during the Tang Dynasty. The solemnity and simplicity of the melody, the frequent transpositions and the stress on the change of notes in the middle section all have the distinct flavor of the pitch change style introduced during that dynasty Pasturing Donkeys,a bassoon tune from central Hebei, is typical of the northern style. The slow clapper section in this piece expresses theexuberance and optimism of the farmers, and their warm and Open character Its stimulating rhythmical style is full of life. In addition, the rapid clapper section of the melody is vigorous and cheerful, while the tune is relaxed and harmonious. The bassoon achieves its effect by a series of techniques, including leaping periods and trilling. This tune is a representative piece of Hebei folk instrumental music. Another one of this type, River Waters, was adapted by Wang Shilu and others in the early 195os from a wind orchestra qu tune of the same name from Liaoning Province. This moving and understated composition is performed as a solo piece by two flutes.

String and Wind Music from South of the Yangtze This ensemble music originates in southern jiangsu and Zhejiang, and has a special flavor of Shanghai style about it. The chief instruments used are the crhu pop, yangqin and three-string, (Fig. 2-6) and the di, sheng and Xiao wind instruments. Percussion instruments like drums and clappers are also sometimes included. The number of musicians ranges from two or three to seven or eight. During performances, each instrument contribut6s its individuality to the harmony 0f the whole, and embellishments and variations are common. The style is refined, smooth and indirect, expressing the hard-working meticulous and Spartan character of the people who live south of the Yangtze. Following are some representative pieces of this genre:

Zhonghua Liuban. This developed on the basis of the Lao Liuban, but is distingUished from it by its relaxed and ornamented style. It is slower and more expansive in tempo than the tune from which it was derived, for instance, one clapper beat will replace two or even four beats in the original work. Additionally, extra neighboring notes are added to the framework of the original tune to make it more elaborate. The fresh and yrical quality of Zhonghua Liuban is typical of the musical style south of the YangtZe.

Sihe Ruyi also known simply as Sihe, is a qune medley composed of eight interrelated parts. There is not necessarily any connection betWeen the Subject matter of the various tunes, but they often copy each other's tempo and mood. When the musicians are seated, an arrangement of alternating wind and string instruments is strictly adhered to, and the eight parts are played by the individual instruments in turn; just like the game in which a bunch 0f flowers is passed round to the sound of drumbeats, the instruments hand the tune on to each other, compete and intersperse the solo performances with ensemble pieces, the contrast in musical tone forming the fascination of this kind of rendering. Yunqing and Song of joy are ornamented variations of one part of the Sihe.

"Sanliu' (originally called Meihua Sannong), is composed mainly of a number of different melodies, each of which consists of a string of connected musical phrases. Contrasting tempos and the restraining influence of synchronism serve to Produce effects of scattering and tightening. This type of,"cyclical" movement is fairly common in Chinese instrumental music. Hua (man) Sanliu is an elaboration on the basis of Sanliu Guangdong Music Music composed in the GuangZhou dialect area, including the Pearl River Delta, started to become popular both in China and abroad in the early years of this century. It enjoys a high reputati0n and a large following.

The early ensembles consisted of two-string, tiqin (an instrument similar to the banhu), three-string, yueqin and horizontal flute. Such orchestras were called "five frames" or "hard groups". Solos were mostly played on the Pipa or yangqin. As the 2oth century progressed, the gaohu became the main instrument, backed up by the yangqin and qinqin. These three were commonly known as the "frio"or "soft bow". The gaoh uwas sed as the lead instrument or for special renditions. The g8ohu is basically similar to the erhu, except that the sound box is smaller.

At the beginning of the 20th century, folk artist Lu Wencheng changed the usual silk strings of the erhu to steel ones, raising its register four or five octaves, and giving it a brighter tone. During performances, he would hold the sound box between his legs in order to better control the pitch. Guangdong music is good at depicting the minor facets of life, as well as being closely connected with revealing traditional emotions. To appreciate it, one should not be on the lookout for the great themes of social life, but for descriptions of natural scenery and objects, which bring a feeling of relaxation. Some of the finer pieces of music in this genre are as follows:

Rain on the Plantain Leaves. This was one of the earliest compositions of this type. Its smooth and lively melody expresses the pleasant mood of life in south China. The notes are pure, to represent the pattering of raindrops on plantain leaves, the swaying of the leaves under their impact, and the delight with which people welcome rain after a drought.

The Hungry Horse Shakes Its Bells. This was transcribed by He Liutang from an instrumental piece with the pipa as the leading instrument, and rearranged for strings. Its technique of using pure notes in quavering rhythms, with the notes so and fa prominent, manages to convey the very image of a horse shaking its harness bells to express its hunger to its master

The Autumn Moon on the Calm Lake. This is a representative piece by the master of Guangdong music Lu wencheng, which he composed to express his admiration of the beautiful scenery of the West Lake, which he saw on an autumn visit to Hangzhou. The tune combines elements of Zhejiang folk music with the Guangdong style. It has one of the most outstanding melodies in Chinese instrumental music.

The Dragon Soars and the Phoenix Dances. A dragon dance with lanterns is indispensable at folk festivals, when the Chinese people welcome a change of season. Besides, in the Chinese psychology dragons and phoenixes are symbols 0f all that is wonderful and auspicious. This work employs a syncopated rhythm with a strong driving force. It is highly modulated, stepping forward and back, and shifting and turning, in the same way a dancer does. The clear notes of the small gong, the squeal of the Suona and the harmonious plucking of stringed instruments alI combine to create a joyous atmnosphere.

The Hap Palace in the Autumn Moonlight (also known as The Three Ponds Reflecting the Moon) This traditional Chinese instrurnental piece has been rearranged many times in its long history, so it is now a long way from its original musical form. The Han Palace in the Autumn Moonlight was originally a mournful tune, while all traces of sorrow were removed in its reincarnation as The Three Ponds Reflecting the Moon. This work was based on a Northern Tune, to which were added a larp number of fine embellishments adopted from the vocabulary of Guangdong music, and so the wide-ranging boldness of the northern music was transformed into the refreshing fineness of the Guangdong style.

Chaoshan Music This ancient form of folk music is popular in the plains area of Chaoshan in Guangdong Province and part of Fu)ian Province. I originated in the Central pains, and when it was brought to the Chaoshan area it was influenced by the local dialect and temperament. It interacted with the local folk music, and the result was a mixture of Yiyang, Kunqu, Han and Qin musical elements, together with local tunes and musical structures. This kind of music is played on a set of instruments including the two-string, suona and shenbo gong. The two-string, with its sharp, clear sound, is mainly used for tone poems; the shenbo is a large, broad gong tapped with a muffed stick, giving Out a rounded and mellow sound. Apart from these, the yehu, yangqin and small three-string are also used. Chaoshan music is divided into the two broad categories of indoor and Outdoor the Outdoor variety is played mainly on gongs and drums while the indoor variety features tone- poem music, ancient tunes played on pipes, "fine music" and shrine music. Tone poems are a general name for poems set to music and played on plucked instruments. Fine music is performed either by soloists or by small ensembles, and is divided into two types soft and hard. Some of the best examples of Chaozhou music are as follows:

Cold Ducks Paddling in the Water This is one of the calen most famous Chaozhou t0ne poems, and from it we can get a taste of the nature of the rhythms and characteristics of the tunes of Chaozhou music. The piece is divided into three parts. The second part uses elements from the first part, simplifies the tone, andforms a completely new rhythm with a flurry of beats- a technique known as kaoPai, or "rapping".

Miss Green Willow This work chiefly uses a five- note scale. There are three changes of tempo, viz slow beats, changing to rapping beats, and then to rapidly flowing beats. This is one of the traditional pieces of music for the Zheng and the Cheozhou genre, and is known among musicians as the "mother of tone poems".

Lady Zhaojun's Lament This famous tone poem describes the grief of Wang Zhaojun, a palace lady who was sent far from home and kindred to marry a Hun chieftain.

Another tone poem, The Lion Plays With the Ball is full of local color, and depicts the bustling scene of lion dancers playing with a ball on a folk festival day. It uses the techniques of dotted notes, syncopation, duplicated notes and long, fixed notes to change the mood of expression with every change of theme. The frequent shifts in the gong mode give a special flavor to the rhythm. The small drum which leads the orchestra not only controls the changes in tempo, it also adds touches of its own to the atmosphere.

Han Music This type of music also originated among the people of the Centrat Plains, and was brought south by the migrating Hakka people. It interacted with the local musical forms, until it emerged as a special genre. It is popular in eastern Guangdong, southern jiangxi, southwest FUjian, Taiwan and among overseas Chinese. The instruments used are usually the touxian, tihu, yehu yangqin, yuexion, three-string, pipa small Suona, flute, vertical bamboo flute, sheng and cloud clappers. There are various types of instrumental ensembles, the traditional ones being the "hexiansuo" (string and bamboo instruments), "gongs, drums and wind ", "qingyue" and "central echelon" (wind instruments). Traditionally, Han tunes are divided into three parts - slow beat, medium beat and rapid beat. The latter two have fewer notes than the former (or fewer "letters", because the traditional notation uses Chinese characters to represent the notes), making the ornamented rhythm, which was tightly packed with notes, a smoothed down and concise skeleton. Typical of this style are Hundrnd Famity Sring and The Lilies Are Emerging From the Water Newly Created Ensemble Works Apart from the traditional ensemble pieces, 2oth century composers have made re-arrangements of older works. The most famous of these is sPring Moonlight on the Flowers by the River which is a re-arrangement of the pipa tune Floutes and ha at Dusk by Liu Yaozhang, a member of Shanghai's Datong Music Conservatory. Since 1949, it has undergone many revisions, until now it is a highly polished piece. The intro has a background of musical harmony, and then a pipa is plucked faster and faster, giving out drumbeat-like notes. At the same time,deft fingering on a vertical bamboo flute produces the melody. The contrast between the two instruments - one producing pellet-like short notes by twanging, and the other producing long-drawn- Out notes - conjures up a picture of a river in springtime. The technique, often used in folk music, of phrases repeated over and over, and seemingly chasing one another, gives a vivid impression of ripples on water The understated melody, the fluid rhythmical meter, the ingenious subtlety, ogether with random orchestration, combine to paint a tranquil scene of a river on a moonlit night in spring, and is a paean of praise to the countryside south of the Yangtze River Similar works are Beautiful Flowers and Full Moon, PurPle Bamboo Melody and The Moon Is High.

The famous modern Chinese composer Nie Er also re-arranged some folk instrumental pieces, including SPing Dawn on the Emerald Lake and The WM Dance of the Golden Snake Nie applied many mature folk instrumental techniques in these works, such as the spiral crescendo structure, which entails a dialogue between contrasting upper and lower hrases, a step-by-step shortening of the beat until a crescendo is reached. In addition, intense gonging and drumming produces a heated and jubilant atmosphere.

The ritual music used to model characters and heighten the tension used in traditional operas was polished and refined over a long period of time, until it gradually emerged from being traditional qupai music into a pure instrumental ensemble form. Examples of this are the musical arrangements for the Peking operas oPen the Door Little deep in the Night and Audience With the Emperor Divertimento formed of pure percussion ensemble music is the most widespread form in traditional Chinese musical culture. Pure percussion qupaitunes are found in the music of every part of China. Moreover, the plethora of percussion instruments is one of the most remarkable phenomena in the history of Chinese music.

2. Solo Music

The Qin This instrument is also called guqin or the seven-stringed qin. The body is a long and narrow sound box made of wood. It is 13ocm long by 20cm wide, by 5cm thick. The Surface is generally made of paulownia wood or China fir, and has seven strings stretched along it. on the edges are 13 jnlaid jade markers. Catalpa wood is used for the base, and there are two holes, one big and on small (called the "phoenix pool" and "dragon pond", respectively) to emit the sound. The fingering techniques are known as recital, rubbing, plucking, concentration, floating notes and harmonious notes (same measure, five measure and octave). The instrument is rich in tone color, with airy, floating notes, and simple and solid scattered notes. The fingering is mellow and exquisite.

The Guqin This is a representative instrument of traditional Chinese musical Culture. Because it embodied the traditional cuitural values of clarity, fineness, simpljcity and far-sightedness, the guqiR headed the list of four Subjects scholars trained themselves In along with cness, calligraphy and painting. Throughout history, philosophers and artists Such as Confucius, Cai Yong and ji Kang were all masters of the instrument. EVerybody in China knows the stories of how Sima Xiangru got a wife by playing the guqin and the exploits of the guqin masters Bo Ya and Zhong Ziqi. old records contain a large number of treatises on the guqin making them treasuries of ancient Chinese esthetic thought, and thousands of pieces of music for this instrument have been preserved. Their scores are reliable, having been passed down through generations of music masters in an unbroken sequence; as such, they are authentic gems of tradtional chinese music.

Although the scores have been handed down, written in an abbreviated form of characters, the rhythms are not fixed, and so the interpretations of the different schools of their transmission differ As a result, a comparatively demanding task of textual interpretation faces the performer This interpretation of the score is a profound skill, measuring a performer's musical attainments. In recent times, a dozen or so masters of the guqin have emerged in China, including Wang Lu, Guan Pinghu,Zha Fuxi, Zhang Ziqian, Wu jinglue, and Gu Meigeng. They have mastered the strong points of the various schools of this instrument and grasped the interpretation of a large number of pieces of guqin music, manifesting not only their musical skill but also their deep esthetic ppreciation. Following are introductions to some of the most famous guqin pieces.

The Tipsy Fisherman Sings in the Evening was composed by Pi Rixiu and Lu Guimeng of the Tang Dynasty Nowadays the interpretation most commonly played is that of Zhang Kongshan of the Sichuan school. The tune describes a fisherman who steers his boat on a river as fascinated with the Surrounding landscape. The music starts off on a low pitch, and then progresses at an evenly rolling pace. The melody is rich in cadences. Through repetition of the rhythmic syncopation, with alternation of scattered and concentrated notes, and contrasts of fight and dark tones, it gets across to the listener vividly the unsteadiness of the fisherman and the sentimental mood he is in.

The Drunkard is a zither composition by Ruan Ji, one of the Scven worthierof the Bamboo Grovc, during the period of the Wei, Jin and Northern and Southern Dynasties. lt deals with the wiId antics of the drunken Ruan ji in order to keep away from the p0litics, and is full of hidden meaning. The tune's clear cadences portray the drunken man's Uns eady steps and his befuddled state, to reveal his troubled mind.

The Wild Goose Lands on thc Smooth Sand first appeared in a book called Mainstrieam Ancient Music printed in 1634. lt iS a favorite among guqin players, and has undergone many refinements. It is among the gnqin tunes with the most recorded scores. Zhang Ziqian's version contains the theme of "a clear autumn sky; a flat stretch of sand by a broad ri er; a swan goose hovers and cries'-. The melody undulates markedly, and displays a wide range o musical technique. The basic tune displays stillness in movement, and movement in stillness, and the result is an impression of pleasing tranquillity.

Flowing Water first appeared in the Mysterious and Secret Musical Scores, and is connected with the well-known legend of the musicians Bo Ya and Zhong Ziqi of the Spring and Autumn Period. The piece is divided into four parts: introduction, taking up, transmitting and bringing together The first part, through the floating n0tes of a deep, lucid and fluent melody, conjures up a vision of cloud-shrouded peaks and secluded, torrent-filled gullies; the second part unfolds in a continuous sequence, like drops of water gathering together and forming a thin, gurgling stream; in the third part, the notes are taken from the lower part of the scale and the pentatonic scale in a wide p0Ftamento, giving the tumbling and swishing effect of cascading waterfalls and rushing torrents; the final part brings the whole together by echoing the previous two parts. The lingering ech0 0f the dashing waters are a paean of praise to and an expression of love for China's landscape.

Guangling San, also known as The End of Guwi Guangling is an ancient place name, and san is a form 0f the ancient Daqu tunes. The background to the piece is the assassination of Xia Lei by Nie Zheng in the Warring States Period, and the prevailing mood expressed is one of indignati0n. ji Kang, who fell foul of the Sima clan for opposing its monopoly of power, played this tune as a lofty form of protest just before he was executed. This means that Guangling San is over a thousand years older than when it first appeared in the Mysterious and Sccret Musical 5cores, where it is a Daqu piece in 45 sections. It is one of the most famous representative works in the history of Chinese music. It is a rare masterpiece of guqin usic for its passionate tone of angry resistance to the old ruling elite.

The Waters and Clouds of the Xiao and Xiang Rivers. This was composed by Guo Chuwang of the Zhejiang school of guqifl during the Song Dynasty. According to the Mysterious and Secret Musical Scores, Guo Chuwang fled from northern invaders and took refuge near Hengshan in Hunan Province. There, he often wandered by where the rivers Xtao and Xiang meet, particularly admiring the scenery of cloud-covered Mount Jiuyi. This, together with his anxiety about his endangered country and his sadness over his rootless, wandering life, caused him to create this work. The first part is lyrical and unrestrained, and at the same time pleasantly tranquil; the second part is boisterous and rousing. The various moods of this piece blend harmoniously reminiscent of Surging clouds and waters, the natural landscape and wide-ranging em0tions. It has been highly praised by guqin masters of all schools since the Southern Song Dynasty.

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