1,000 words minimum word count plus media filesTopics can include information on musical instruments, the music of specific geographic areas, a musical style, musical and cultural characteristics of a given society, biographies on specific musicians, etc.In creating this kind of presentation, it will be important for you to be able to bring out the main points of the topic, especially as it relates to the material you have learned or discussed in class, and to support your research with musical examples. In addition, you should be able to give some subjective insight about your topic, especially if the topic is a new musical concept for you.
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China: The Music of Silk and Bamboo
China is the world’s most populous country with almost 1.4 billion
people. Foremost among factors that bind East Asian cultures together is an
ideographic writing system (the use of a symbol to express and idea or
concept) developed by the Chinese. Chinese philosophy is strongly influenced
by the spiritual beliefs and practices of Confucianism, Taoism, and
Buddhism. Communism is the current ideological and political structure in
Guqin or qin “Ancient Zither”
Though indigenous to China, the qin (pron. chin, also known as guqin,
ancient qin) belongs to the family of long zithers in East Asia. Our first
impression of the ancient zither, the guqin, is that it is quiet and intimate. It is
a seven-string fretless zither, played in free rhythm. It uses harmonics and
“sliding” tones to create music.
The guqin is a scholar’s instrument associated with intellectuals and the elite.
It is most often used for sonic meditation and is therefore, highly
philosophical. Each musician is responsible for interpreting the unique
tablature notation, and most of the music is based on programmatic themes.
Traditionally, the qin is not only a musical instrument but also an objet dart.
Connoisseurs have long studied inscriptions and lacquer cracks on a qin to
decide its age, origin, historical ownership and other distinctive features. It is
said that with age the lacquer layers of a qin crack into patterns that render
the instrument visually venerable and reveal its age. Inscriptions found on the
exterior surface of the bottom board of a qin record its poetic name,
comments on its tone and the identities of its successive owners. Inscriptions
on the interior surface of the bottom board, which can be carved only during
building or rebuilding, reveal the identity of the instruments makers and
Sizhu “Silk & Bamboo”
Next, we visit the sizhu, the “silk and bamboo” ensemble. Our first
impressions tell us that the instruments play a clear melodic line with a flowing
feel. Aural analysis tells us that the ensemble is characterized by
the bayinorganological system. Using this philosophy, instruments are
constructed using stone, metal, gourd, skin, wood, clay, silk, and
bamboo. The music uses a heterophonic structure and a clear beat.
Sizhu is predominant among the instrumental ensemble traditions in China. It
is a type of instrumental chamber music dominated by strings and flutes,
derived during the 19th century from existing string music and local
ceremonial traditions. The Jiangnan region is also the centre of two
instrumental solo genres of great importance: the revered pipa tradition, with
no fewer than four traditional schools, and the more ancient guqin tradition,
emblematic of the highest of literati ideals, also represented by several
schools. From the 1930s the city of Shanghai became an important centre
for the growth of guoyue (national music), 20th-century concert-hall music
comprised of ensemble compositions, instrumental concertos and solo pieces.
Musical influences from the Jiangnan region have been strong on the poorer
nearby areas of Anhui and northern Jiangsu (which also absorbed influences
from Shandong province) and on the Han population up-river in Sichuan
Sizhu instruments include the pipa (a pear-shaped lute), the dixi (a
transverse flute), the yang qin (a hammered zither), and the erhu (a fiddle).
Sizhu is amateur music played in social clubs. Because of this, there are
many regional styles.
Jingju “Beijing Opera”
Next, we learn about jingju, Beijing Opera. You may have also heard it
referred to as Peking Opera. They are the same. Our first impressions may
not be that favorable, especially to Western ears, but hang in there, open your
mind and your ears, and really try to appreciate this Asia aesthetic. At first we
hear a “piercing” voice and a fiddle that imitates that nasal sound. Aural
analysis tells us that jinju is comprised of voices and instruments, in fact, a
melodic ensemble. Melodies follow the contour of the language. Classical
Chinese and Modern Standard Chinese are both performed. The percussion
provides sound effects that symbolize actions, emotions, and objects. It also
establishes movement by keeping the opera flowing along.
Jingju is characterized by symbolic scenery and stylized speech. There are
four major role types: shoeing (the male), dan (the female), jing (the paintedface), and chou (the comedian).
Beijing opera (jingju) is one of the most highly developed and best known of
Chinese opera forms both in China and abroad. Before the 20th century,
Beijing opera was not commonly performed outside of Beijing and a few other
centres. Its enormous popularity in the early 20th century, however, carried it
to the status of Chinese national opera.
The early decades of the 20th century may be considered Beijing opera’s
golden age, with the art form being one of the most pervasive and popular
types of entertainment in China. Until the outbreak of war with Japan in 1937,
the tradition remained extremely vital, with its practitioners actively involved in
artistic experimentation and creative activity. The work of actors, musicians
and librettists of the early republican period remain unsurpassed in terms of
volume, innovation and longevity. Many of the schools of performance (liupai)
developed during this period continue to dominate contemporary practice, and
a large portion of today’s standard repertory is comprised of works created
during these years.
That Beijing opera held a relevant and dynamic role in society is
demonstrated by the hopes of social activists, who viewed it as a potentially
powerful vehicle for social and political change. The Beijing Opera Reform
Movement, at its height from approximately 1908 to 1917, was just one of
many such campaigns aimed at social and political reform. Activists believed
that the theatre served as a classroom for the largely illiterate masses and
that the most expedient way to achieve broad social change was through
opera. To this end, progressive performers staged new operas
called shizhuang jingju (contemporary-costume Beijing opera), the texts of
which often focussed on contemporary social problems. The staging of these
dramas employed realistic scenery and stage properties, and actors wore
costumes based on contemporary clothing styles.
Take a moment to observe the distinct attributes of jingju in these
videos. We can see the elaborate costume of the jing actor, a depiction of a
warrior battle scene, a dan putting on make-up, the instruments in
the jingjuorchestra, and the costumes of the dan and chou actors.
Revolutionary Beijing Opera
Next, we learn about Revolutionary Beijing Opera. Our first impressions tell us
that Revolutionary Beijing Opera sounds more Western and more
orchestral. We can also see modern theatre displayed. Our aural analysis tells
us that the orchestra used in RevolutionaryBeijing Opera is a combination of a
traditional Chinese ensemble and a modern orchestra. This ensemble uses
Cultural considerations are important for understanding Revolutionary Beijing
Opera. The most important fact is that it was China’s Cultural Revolution
(1966-1976) that created this opera form infused
with communist and nationalist political messages. During this period, “Eight
Model Works” were created: five Revolutionary Beijing Operas, two
Revolutionary Ballets, and one Revolutionary Symphony. After the Revolution,
the Chinese people began the Democracy Movement during which many
protests were staged, including a pivotal one in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
After the establishment of the Peoples Republic of China, the communists
reformed Beijing and other operas according to the ideology of Mao Zedong.
Mao saw all art as representing the interests of a particular class and
demanded that Beijing opera should serve the workers, peasants and
soldiers, not the feudal aristocracy or bourgeoisie. Art should be explicit
propaganda for the revolution and should help to convert the masses to
socialism. To see that practice was brought in line with theory, the Ministry of
Culture set up a Drama Reform Committee in July 1950. The reformers made
certain changes to the texts and performance conventions to emphasize
patriotism, democracy and equality between the sexes. At the same time, they
developed a body of modern Beijing operas on contemporary themes.
The status of actors improved tremendously with the Communist party’s
efforts to eliminate institutionalized discrimination against actors, to raise their
living standard and to promote the notion that theatre workers are due the
same respect as other brain workers. Training methods also changed, and
actors were recruited by a modern school system that included normal
education in addition to instruction in the arts of the theatre.
Until 1963 traditional opera flourished, although particular patriotic or antifeudal items enjoyed special prestige. From 1964 traditional operas virtually
disappeared; during the Cultural Revolution (196676) they were strictly
banned and replaced by model operas (yangbanxi), the themes of which
were contemporary and revolutionary, with realistic staging and costumes.
After the fall of the Gang of Four in 1976 the performance of model operas
was halted, and the traditional repertory slowly reclaimed its place on the
stage; in 1978 Deng Xiaoping publicly condoned the revival of traditional
During the 1980s and 90s many social, political and economic forces
combined to threaten Beijing opera’s prospects of continuing as a living
tradition. With economic reform, the state has withdrawn substantial funding
from both professional companies and training schools. Box office sales are
now directly responsible for a much greater portion of a company’s funding
than in previous decades. This change has come precisely at a time when
young people’s interest in the traditional arts is declining and audiences for
them are growing old and dying.
The East Is Red is a 1965 Chinese film directed by Wang Ping dramatizing
the history of the Chinese Revolution and the Communist Party under the
leadership of Mao Zedong. It portrays the beginnings of the Boxer Rebellion
to the Civil War against the Nationalists to the victory of the Communists and
the establishing of the People’s Republic. The prologue is presumably from
the Hua Guofeng period in the mid-1970s.
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