Date: 17 November 2001
Place: China Institute of America, 125 East 65th Street
Members Attending: Chang Pei-you, Alan Berkowitz, Stephen Dydo, Matthew Flannery, Holly Grinnell, Shida Kuo, Bo Lawerngren, John Thompson, Marilyn Wong Gleysteen, Yuan Jung-Ping
Guests: Total conference attendance was approximately 45 people.
Minutes: Matthew Flannery with thanks to Jung-ping and Bｏ
The Qin Society's first conference had three major events: two lectures related to the qin and its culture and a set of performances by some of the Society's members. The first talk was a paper presented by Jung- Ping that analyzed various aspects of the culture of the qin, especially as it was affected by different aspects of society in the Song dynasty.
Several months ago, I began to write down a few things about my topic, the culture of the qin in Song times. But the more I thought about what to say, the longer my talk got. I couldn't help it, for gu qin culture in the Song is so broad and complex that it is impossible to talk about it in detail and in such a short time. Therefore, I have chosen some key points and interesting stories to tell you today.
In every dynasty in China, the culture of the gu qin has influenced life in many ways. At the same time, gu qin culture itself has changed over time. In the Zhou Dynasty 周 , from the twelfth to the third centuries B.C.E., qin playing was already a profession at court. The main role of a qin player was to perform in an ensemble during ritual ceremonies. But the social status of the qin player at this time was that of a servant. Qin players could be bought, traded, or even exchanged as presents among royalty. The number of qin players owned by an individual was regulated by law. When feudalism replaced the slave system, the status of the qin player improved greatly. So did the social status of the qin itself. Many noblemen learned the qin from professional players in the court; even Confucius is said to have learned to play the qin from a famous Qin Master Xiang 師襄.
Gradually, in the following dynasties, the qin was not only played in court by noblemen, it was also played and enjoyed among the educated class. Once used only in ensembles to accompany ritual ceremonies, the qin as a solo instrument became part of the daily life of the upper classes. It was often played by those for whom self-cultivation and a life of learning were important. So, as the qin became a solo instrument, it began increasingly to be played by scholars. And as the qin came to be played by those of higher social status, respect for the instrument grew. Eventually, gu qin music and performance became one of the highest forms of expressions of the Chinese heritage, both artistically and socially.
During the Song dynasty 宋, painting and calligraphy, dance, drama, and music all advanced to new levels, and the playing of the gu qin spread to an even wider public. Now I will discuss four types of qin players: monks, priests, emperors and scholars.
During the tenth century reign of emperor Song Taizhung 宋太宗, a qin department was established in the palace, and this meant qin players were given official government positions. The Song official history records that a position in the qin department, Qin Master-in-waiting, Qin dai zhao 琴待詔, was held by a certain player Zhu Wenji 朱文濟. Zhu taught the gu qin to a Buddhist monk Yizhong 夷中 who was living in the capital at the time. Having learned the essence of qin playing, monk Yizhong passed on the tradition to a second monk Yihai 義海.
Yihai went to Fahua mountain 法華山 in Shaoxing 紹興, Zhejiang province, to concentrate on practicing the qin. He stayed on the mountain for ten years. Day and night, nonstop practice brought him to the true spirit of the art of the qin. Moreover, many people studied with him. In a Song dynasty book of notes about the qin, Qin Yuan Yao Lu 琴苑要錄, the monk Yihai considered nature's beauty to be the most important source of music composed by man. He said: "若浮雲之在太虛 因風舒卷 萬態千秋 不失自然之趣." To me this means that a good piece of music has the possibiliies of change and variety of a floating cloud: when blown by the wind, its many transformations appear without losing its basic nature. Yihai also said that "急若繁星不亂 緩若流水不絕" " Fast playing should be organized and controlled, like the movements of stars; slow playing should flow with rhythmic movement, like a quiet river. "
One of Yihai's students was the monk Zequan 則全. He compared playing the gu qin to cursive calligraphy. In cursive calligraphy, the essence is movement, therefore when I'm playing the qin, just at the point when I'm about to complete a phrase, I'm already thinking about the next movement. In this way, we have a sense of forward rhythm. With their subtle and refined theories of qin performance, it is a pity that we cannot hear these monks perform on the qin today.
The Southern Song qin theorist Cheng Yujian 成玉澗 wrote that playing the qin is like practicing meditation: after years of practice, there can be sudden enlightenment. Enlightenment allows one to discover the purpose of life and understand the greatness of nature. While we know that Buddhist philosophy influenced qin theory, at the same time, playing the qin must also have helped Buddhist monks achieve their religious goals.
Next, I would like to talk about the scholars who played the gu qin during the Song dynasty. We have to remember that the early Chinese character for a "stringed instrument" like the gu qin appears in the earliest writing in Chinese culture, that is, in oracle bone script 甲骨文. And it has remained part of the written culture to this day. By Confucius' time, when playing the qin became fashionable among the educated, most accomplished scholars could play the qin. It gradually became associated with the man of letters and his daily life. Its involvement with scholarly life is recorded as early as the Book of Songs.
As for qin activities during the Song, in the year 1111 of the emperor Song Huizong's 宋徽宗 reign, the mayor of Qiantang (present-day Hangzhou ) 錢塘, Mei Gong 梅公, organized a gathering near West Lake. The gathering brought together many famous scholars of the time, and they brought with them several legendary gu qin. This event was so rare and grand that, in its day, it set everyone talking. One of the scholars at this event was Ouyang Xiu 歐陽修, who played and collected qin. In a farewell party for his friend Yang Zhen 楊真, he not only asked his teacher to perform, he also wrote the "送楊真序" (" Letter of Farewell to Yang Zhen"). In the letter, he talked about his theory that qin performance can help to elevate one's spirits and improve one's health. Today, we have "music therapy"; 800 years ago, Ouyang Xiu already knew that playing the qin could promote good health. Another work by Ouyang Xiu is the famous essay "醉翁亭記" ("Notes from a Drunkard's Pavilion"), which records a trip he took to Xuzhou 滁州. His friend Shen Zun 沈遵 liked this essay so much that he composed a piece for qin called "醉翁吟" ("The Drunkard's Song"). Later, the famous poet Su Dongpo 蘇東坡 added words to the music that are still sung today.
Not only did Buddhist monks and scholars play the qin, but Daoist priests also. While perfecting their qin skills, Daoist priests discovered that the playing the qin helped them in their Daoist pursuits. In the Song royal family, Daoism was practiced and Daoist masters held high positions at court. Some of the most famous Daoist masters appeared during the Song, like Chen Tuan 陳摶, Zhang Tianshi 張天師 and Wang Chongyang 王重陽.
The Song Daoist priest Bi Luozi 碧落子 wrote a book on constructing gu qin and discovered a new tuning method that was more advanced than that used during the Tang dynasty . In the Xi Lu Tang Qin Tong 西麓堂琴統, a Ming handbook containing many works for the qin, there are many works with Daoist titles taken from books such as the Laozi 老子 and the Zhuangzi 莊子. This tells us that Daoism also influenced the qin culture of those times.
If Song Huizong was mad about the qin, there was someone crazier yet. When the Jin 金 emperor Zhangzong 章宗 defeated the Northern Song dynasty, he described Huizong's "Spring Thunder" qin as "御府第一琴 ("the best qin of the imperial court") and never let it leave his side, day or night. After he died, this qin was buried with him. It is said that later it was stolen and is now in the collection of a qin player in China. There is a saying in Chinese. "上有所好 下必從焉" In the present context, we can say, when the emperor is passionate about playing the qin, the people must take it up. By the Song, even ordinary people respected the qin and of course scholars were proud to be able to play it. Evidence of its popularity is that the qin is often found in Song paintings. We may conclude that, during the Song dynasty, the gu qin, played or just hung on the wall, had become part of the scholar's image: both as a musical instrument and as a scholarly status symbol.
In ancient times, travel and communications were less convenient than they are today. This allowed local environments to create individual life styles. Naturally, the music played in different parts of China also had different styles and means of expression. During the Song, the qin playing style in the north was bold and heavy, while the southern style was soft and light. Between these two areas, the Zhe 浙 school of qin playing was centered in Zhejiang 浙江 province. It combined the northern and southern approaches, resulting in the most elegant and refined style. When the Southern Song government moved the capital to Linan 臨安 (today's Hangzhou 杭州 in Zhejian province), the Zhe branch became the most popular style and dominated the field of qin performance.
Of Zhe school performers during the Song, a scholar named Guo Chuwang 郭楚望 was the best known, and his "Clouds over the Xiao and Xiang Rivers 瀟湘水雲" is representative of the Zhe school's style of composing. This is a patriotic piece. It can be seen as a metaphor for the loss of the Northern Song territory to the Jin conquerors. It describes clouds covering the montains just like barbarians occupying their home. It therefore expresses his feeling for his lost country. This piece greatly influenced future qin composers. In the aftermath of this war, Guo Chuwang assembled fifteen notebooks of qin music and passed them on to his students. His students then collected other qin pieces for a total of 468 separate melodies to create the new handbook Zi Xia Dong Pu 紫霞洞譜, which was just one of many handbooks. However, we no longer know how many melodies survived in the Song. But today in total more than 2000 pieces are recorded, although fewer than 300 pieces are performed.
As to qin performance, there are two main forms of expression: playing while singing and solo playing. Since the Warring States period, the qin has been elevated from a group instrument to a solo instrument. The Zhe school of playing emphasized the independent role of the qu qin. This emphasis had a great impact on the future art of the gu qin, and, except for rare performances that include singing, today we usually hear the qin being played alone.
Many gu qin theories were published and studied during the Song dynasty. Compared to the rest of the world, what Song scholars were thinking and discussing about music was very advanced. They analyzed both the music itself and its effect on the listener. Their ideas still have meaning for us in the modem world. Today, I only have time to introduce one of these theories. In his essay Qin Yi 琴議, , or Discussing the Qin, Liu Ji 劉籍 of the thirteenth century divided music into three components: 聲 韻 音(Sheng. Yun, Kn).
" Sheng" refers to the physical vibrations that make up the individual note or pitch, including the overtones.
" Yun" refers to the speed, volume, and length of two or more notes.
" Yin" refers to the musical phrase and its arrangement and structure.
Liu Ji also discussed why music can move us and say something that words cannot express. Why is it that, after hearing a great piece of music, it affects us deeply and lingers in our mind?
Liu believed that the art of music in its highest form contains three basic elements: De 德, Jing 境, Dao 道. These are usually translated as "virtue," "state of mind," and "the way."
In terms of qin performance, " De" is style and technique, "Jing" is the imagination, and "Dao" is the player's philosophy and expressive power. For me, qin virtue refers to a qin performer's total life experience, cultural and intellectual level, and understanding of a piece, and being able to express these naturally in playing style and technique. The qin state of mind combines qin virtue and the player's personal interpretation of the piece. Here, the performer's background influences his interpretation of each piece. The qin way occurs when both qin virtue and the qin state of mind combine in complete harmony. When this happens, I can forget myself and enter into a blissful state of oneness with the music and feel myself part of the wholeness of nature.
Gu qin construction is time-consuming and complicated. It is a work of art, and every detail has its meaning and function. That is why, every time I hold a gu qin, 1 have a sense of respect. Just like enjoying a great artwork, when I see a gu qin, my mind becomes clear, and I feel peaceful inside. I no longer hear the noise of the street or worry about the troubles of life. That's why I'm so devoted to playing the qin.
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