15, 2011 NYQS at Henry’s office on St. Mark’s Place
The meeting was an
impromptu gathering to meet with John Thompson, who has been away in
Mumbai for two years. We met at Henry’s office on St. Marks Place in the East Village. There was no agenda
other than playing and talking.
John talked about some of the pieces he's been working on. In
particular, he has been looking for pieces with a rather unusual tuning
(diao 调) He is
interested in this tuning because, with his qin strings tuned lower
than metal strings are usually tuned these days (lowest string at C,
silk typically tuned to B flat), he was looking for a tuning that would
work with ensembles of Western instruments tuned to A = 440.
A discussion of
modes (also diao 调) followed. John mentioned
that it is often difficult to identify a particular mode in a melody,
and sometimes the definition of a mode seemed to change over time.
Stephen mentioned that he had noticed something similar in his work
with church modes; early Medieval pieces and later Renaissance pieces
not only used different melodic features in the same mode, but the
early period modes are not the same set as the later period modes.
Jason said that similar things happened with the modes used in the Highland bagpipe literature.
John then played
two pieces he’s been working on:
Pounding Cloth (搗衣 Dao Yi)
Yueshang Melody (越裳操 Yueshang
This led to a short
discussion of singing. John pointed out that the syllabification of Yueshang Cao was very typical of vocal settings in
qin music. That is, there is one character for each right-hand gesture,
usually a single note; a singer would in fact sing a single note per
syllable. This is different from opera, where it is often the case that
a single syllable will go over many notes. Henry pointed out that there
were regional differences, in opera, in the way that tones were
treated. That is, in Mandarin opera melodies, the tones of the speech
were not preserved, and the words are often unclear; but in Cantonese opera,
tones are preserved, despite the fact that they are more complex than
in Mandarin, and the words are much clearer.
played Geese Descend on a Sandbank (平沙落雁 Ping Sha Luoyan). This was not something he’s been working on, but
rather a piece taught to him by Jung-ping
Yuan. The teaching was completely traditional,
without the use of tablature or recordings.