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Qin as
Qin in
/ Song
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Performance Themes 1 表演主題

Art Areas
e.g. Chu
Birds Buddhist Confucian Daoist Drink
Wine / Tea
esp. Ming
Japan Marco
Mountains Novels
Passions Poetry
Seasons Women Other

My performances, which are almost all intended to be HIP,3 include purely music performances (where I may also sing) as well as illustrated or narrated performances and lecture/demonstrations that introduce the qin/guqin. They include qin music that could be divided chronologically into five groups:4

  1. Early (4th to 10th centuries) 5
  2. Song dynasty (mainly 13th century) 6
  3. Ming dynasty (and perhaps Yuan; 14th to 17th centuries) 7
  4. Qing dynasty and Republican period (17th c. to 1949)8
  5. Modern period9

By far the bulk of my repertoire is melodies I have reconstructed from Ming dynasty publications. Thus the music for most programs I have presented, or for my part of most other programs in which I have participated, could be categorized simply as Ming dynasty. Here, however, the focus is on themes (or sub-categories) within this repertoire. The chart above has links to some of these themes. Further themes are also mentioned below, beginning with such natural programs as:

The latter may require a second person to sing and/or recite the poetry. In this regard, although the qin by tradition is largely a solo instrument, there are also many depictions in art and literature of duets between qin and other instruments. I have a great interest in exploring various ways of combining qin with other instruments, thus expanding the normal setting of qin play. However, such programs must be planned very carefully, especially with regard to balancing the sound of the various instruments.12

My programs combining the qin with other instruments and/or media have also so far included:

Other programs involving more than one performer could include:

The traditional environments for playing qin were alone, for a friend, or at a gathering where participants would also appreciate (or do) calligraphy, painting or other activities popular amongst literati.19 Modern technology allows such multi-media events to be done as performances. At a basic level, a display of appropriate art work can enhance the environment for introducing the qin.

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1 Performance themes
Here I have tried to distinguish between the programs I have actually performaned and the ones I have only planned. There are many more possible themes not mentioned here.

3 HIP performances
Although inspired largely by HIP as developed for early Western music, there is also what might be called "HIP with Chinese characteristics". For example, much Western music comes with no explanatory titles or explanations. Part of the historical aspect of a qin performance is the extensive commentary trying to give cultural context to the music. Here obviously common but obviously incorrect explanations such as, "Composed by Confucius", need to be given further explanation.

4 Five chronological divisions
If a program were to focus on famous people associated with qin, then there could be divisions for each dynasty since the Shang. Here, however, the divisions are in accord with the sources of the available music. Since there is such little written music surviving from before 1425 CE, but strong evidence for pre-Ming and particularly Song origins of some of the music published in 1425 and later, two pre-Ming categories seems quite sufficient.

5 Early qin music (4th to 10th centuries)
This is the most speculative category, as there is only one full-length melody (
You Lan, ca. 600 CE) that can be attributed to this period with certainty.

A program I have done on melodies with connections to the Six Dynasties period (at a conference in 2003) included melodies such as:

The latter melodies actually survive only from from the earliest published handbook (Shen Qi Mi Pu, 1425): its compiler wrote that Folio 1 of his handbook included melodies so old he couldn't find anyone still playing them. Other melodies here also have both early attributions and aspects of the tablature and music itself that seem early. Other than this there are only a few short melodies and modal preludes dating perhaps from the 12th or early 13th c.

6 Song dynasty (mainly the 13th century)
Specifically the Southern Song dynasty and its well-known qin masters centered in Hangzhou at the end of the dynasty. In addition there are a few short melodies and modal preludes dating perhaps from the 12th or earlier in the 13th centuries. There may also be attempts to re-arrange for qin melodies of this period with no original qin tablature, such as
songs by Jiang Kui.

7 Ming dynasty (14th-17th centuries)
Great Ming series divides the dynasty in three parts. Other programs deal with specific themes popular during that period.

8 Qing dynasty and Republican period
As my repertoire consists almost exclusively of melodies I have reconstructed from Ming sources, programs with Qing dynasty music usually involve other players: perhaps them playing a version of the melody has it has come up to the present, then I play the earliest known version.

9 Modern period
As yet I have done little that falls into this category (see, however, my
blues melodies).

10 Qin with poetry (and song)
The Qin in Poetry and Song

11 Qin and poetry
On several occasions I have played qin at poetry readings. The poetry could be Chinese, translations from Chinese, or unrelated to Chinese. When this is done in an art gallery it may evoke an old
scholar's gathering. This could also be combined with Qin in Poetry and Song.

12 Qin with other instruments or media: problems of balance
The main difficulty in combining the qin with other media is that its very rich tone is so delicate that it can easily get lost. Efforts in China to overcome this problem begin with using nylon-metal strings instead of the traditional
silk, but this loses the traditional color of the music. I have spent considerable effort searching for ways to project the traditional silk string sound in large environments and in combination with other instruments and media.

13 Qin and Film
Qin in film has an account of how qin is treated by films in general.

14 My film music (compare Qin and Film)
My own work with film and video has included:

15 Qin and Storytelling
There is no record of the qin being used by traditional Chinese story tellers (about whom see
further). However, the stories associated with a number of qin melodies were also in the repertoire of story tellers (see also qin in popular culture). In fact, qin music can interestingly supplement a story-teller whether or not the story has an historic or otherwise direct connecton to the qin. Perhaps related to this would be the use of projected images such as can be found on this website.

16 Qin in a duet with another Chinese instrument (including perhaps voice )
Most Chinese traditional music involving more than one instrument is played
heterophonically: two or more instruments/voices all perform the same melody but they each do their own version. Unison play is considered boring, the art being in making the varying renditions work together naturally. There is no specific information how qin duets were played in the past: only the melody for the qin part is written down. Today the accompanying instrument (most commonly xiao end-blown flute) or voice usually simply follows the qin, perhaps adjusting only for octave leaps. The most likely reasons for this are respect for the ancient qin tradition, and lack of experience with heterophonic play on the part of modern qin players. To my ears the main effect is mainly to cover the delicate colors of the qin music. Hence my idea of combining the qin with other instruments is to have them play alternately and/or, when together, use a form of "multiple-phonics". There is some further comment under Comparing Western and Chinese materials for re-creating early music.

17 Qin and shakuhachi (古琴與日本尺八)
See The Guqin in Japan. The qin was brought to Japan over 1,000 years ago, together with the 箏 zheng. However, whereas the zheng became localized as the koto, inheriting some characterisitics of qin aesthetic, the qin itself remained foreign, played mostly by Sinophiles. As a result, and because of its association with meditation, some people say the shakuhachi end blown flute is the Japanese counterpart of the qin. On the other hand its connection to Buddhism is much stronger than that of the qin, which is more associated with Confucian and Daoist self-cultivation.

18 Qin and komungo (古琴與韓國玄琴)
See The Guqin in Korea. In Korea the guqin was rarely played. Instead, according to tradition, in early days Koreans invented a new instrument in imitation of the qin, called it a "black crane zither" (shorted to "black zither", i.e., komungo), then created repertoire for it. Korean literati are said to have played this music, but never developed a method for writing it down, hence the early repertoire was lost. As a result the repertoire played by the Korean Confucian scholars apparently came to consist of solo komungo music extracted from the Korean court music repertoire.

19 The antithesis of playing for 知音 zhi yin: Playing qin for an ox
對牛彈琴 dui niu tan qin, under Ideology.

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  Some other natural possibilities include programs on

Bo Ya
Qin with poetry;15
Qin with storytelling,16
Qin with flowers, especially Orchids
Qin and shakuhachi,17 and
Qin and komungo.18