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Preface: Seven Questions about Guqin and Us

To introduce who we are and what we are doing, we will post seven entries to address some fundamental issues about Guqin and this blog. Here is an index:

3. Why should I care about Guqin, aka. so what?
4. How to play Guqin?
5. Any good English books, movies, or articles about Guqin?
6. Where to find Guqin pieces?
7. Why should I read or follow this Blog?
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七月访梅庵琴社

图文/ 晴霜       配乐/于水山《忆故人》

七月中,虽是盛夏,南通因临海临江,早晚的风轻快宜人。南通是梅庵琴派古琴的发源地,在于老师的旧文里,像家一样被惦记。满怀崇敬和亲切,我随于老师在此拜访了南通梅庵琴社。

于老师在南通演讲

弹奏结束之后,琴友们三五成群交流起来。朱晓玫老师和于老师切磋着他们各自在《流水》中弹奏水声那一段所使用的指法,周围很快聚拢了一帮听众。我站在三步之外被那一圈热烈的讨论深深吸引,无奈当时正请袁老师帮我调试琴弦,只得艳羡地时不时观望一番。不过这反而使得我对这一番琴艺交流念念不忘,至今回忆起来仍然觉得妙趣横生、心怀向往。

此次拜访,于老师应琴社之邀,做了题为《从指法母题的变化规律看梅庵派古琴的风格特点》的讲座。老师解释了古琴指法中的“pattern”“骨骼”,并类比西方古典音乐中的动机。老师认为提出这一概念的意义之一,就是由指法母题看不同琴派围绕这同一骨骼的血肉细节的差异,将古琴文化中琴派风格的抽象描述具象到指法。在提问环节,于老师还和大家分享了他个人的对于古琴音乐创新的态度:全面了解古人对古琴艺术的成就,在当下即是创新。因为研究一个问题时,免不了要探究古人对此的看法和所做的工作;如果从研究古人的工作着手,自然会有不同于古人的新思路浮现。于老师当天的演讲和分享让琴友们非常受教,事后有琴友还专门写了文章分享其所闻所得。

南通一行,最意外的就是见到了徐立孙老先生的云钟琴。琴身漆色黯淡,断纹蜿蜒,传递着岁月静谧之美。琴背面刻着隶书云钟二字,以及王燕卿老先生的题字“开囊夜映高岩月,拂案秋涵大壑风”;字体古朴典雅,诗句气势宏伟。徐老师回忆他曾在浙江省博物馆见到一张背面刻有“名钟”的古琴,外形与“云钟”一致,推测它们本是一对。两张琴都经历了千年岁月的洗礼,一张高悬于展览柜静待访者,一张仍在琴人的手指下流淌着音乐,焕发着生命的光彩。

云钟

此行虽然短暂,却是难忘。领教了老师们的演奏,见识了云钟的风采,聆听了他们和古琴、梅庵琴派的故事。告别时刻,琴友们的谦谦风度、对古琴的热爱、交流的乐趣,都保存在记忆里。我不禁也想起了波士顿琴社的朋友们,尤其几位已经或即将奔赴前程的。南通也好,波士顿也罢,无论身在何处,每日习琴,我们都在琴声里交谈和重逢。

Q2-What is Meian in your title, aka. who are You?

 
To put it simply, we are a “pentalogy”: one place, one book, and three figures.  
 
One place: the Plum Studio.
Mei’an is pronounced as May-Ann. “Mei” 梅 means plum, and “An” 庵 could mean studio, hut, or nunnery. Best translated as the Plum Studio in our case, Mei’an refers to a historical building located in present Southeast University in Nanjing, China. This is the place where Xu, Lisun 徐立孫 (1897 -1969) and Shao, Dasu 邵大蘇 (1898-1938), the two “founding figures” of the Mei’an Guqin Society, learned Guqin from master Wang Binlu 王賓魯, better known as Wang Yanqing 王燕卿. (For their exciting stories entwined with the highs and lows of the first half of the twentieth century China, see their biographies written by one of the best scholars and story-tellers of Guqin history, Yan Xiaoxing’ 嚴曉星 blog http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_4da1fb100100z87w.html. He also published a series of biographies of Mei’an musicians titled 梅庵琴人傳 )
 
We put quotations marks around “foundning figures” here because Xu and Shao did not actually found the society, but their students founded the Guqin Society in memory of them and named it “Plum Studio”. 
 
If you google “Mei’an Guqin Society”, or 梅庵琴社 in Chinese, you will find many different Guqin groups or societies, because Xu’s and Shao’s disciples later diverged into different directions and started separate branches or new societies of Guqin. We are directly associated with Mei’an Guqin Society based in Nantong, and we are the first and the only branch in North America. 
 
One Book: Mei’an Qinpu, or The Scores of the Plum Studio Society
(For a complete translation and detailed study of this book, see Lieberman )
There is always one book, either a scripture, a manual or other secret canons that define a school of arts, martial arts or scholarship. This sacred book often bears mysterious origin: it is put together or touched by master’s hands; it is hunted, pursued, lost, and finally attained by the founding figure of the school after extraordinary adventure and exploration. Mei’an Qinpu is the sacred book for Mei’an Guqin Society, and it is one with scores and tablature for fifteen Guqin music pieces that lights up the way/Way towards  the excellence of Guqin.
Not really, and I wish Mei’an Qinpu has such magical power, but it is just one of the many Guqin scores transmitted from the previous millennium. It became special, however, because of the people who have participated in the edition, compilation and translation of it, which makes it the most wide-spread Guqin scores around the world.
In early twentieth century, Xu Lisun and Shao Dasu started collecting the music pieces their teacher Wang Binlu taught them. Based on an early Ming Score book from the 17th century, they added some new pieces, and these became the earliest edition of Mei’an Qinpu published in 1931. Later Xu Lisun expanded it into two volumes. The first part is an introduction of the instrument and its history, composed by Chen Xinyuan 陳心園. The second one includes scores of fifteen Guqin pieces, some of which were only played by Mei’an musicians in those days. For those other pieces that were played by other Guqin schools, this book provides Mei’an musicians unique interpretations. That is, they have different renderings of well-known Guqin pieces in terms of speed, tablature and other sound qualities due to different techniques. A repertoire of exclusive musical pieces, early Mei’an masters’ individual interpretation of well-known pieces, as well as careful editions of generations of Mei’an musicians give birth to Mei’an Qinpu, the canon of Mei’an Guqin Society.
The content alone, however, would not project the “legendary” nature of this book, since Mei’an Qinpu becomes important really because of the way in which it entangled with the destiny of Guqin community and the rises and falls of Chinese traditional music in the twentieth century.  After the first print of Mei’an Qinpu in 1930s, it was largely “muted” from 1950s to the 1970s. First, during the nationalization of all kinds of music and musical instruments in the socialist movement in early years of PRC’s regime, Guqin is only one of the many voices that praise the party and embrace its leadership. During the “Great Leap Forward” in late 1950s and early 1960s, large-scale projects of “discovering” and recording traditional musical pieces from peoples were carried around the country. Many Guqin pieces were dug out, musicians were found and their performance recorded or transcribed, and a repertoire of “Chinese” Guqin was built. This process in many ways resembles the “confiscating” of landlords’ properties during the socialist movement , in that once these materials were gathered, they became the property of the central government and therefore only accessible to authorized figures and institutions. Also, every individual, no matter Mei’an or any other Guqin schools, has to relinquish their unique identity and merge into the national narrative.
In late 1960s and 1970s, even more tragic political and cultural campaigns swept China- the Cultural Revolution. Music or arts were almost dilapidated in front of charges like “bourgeois tastes” or “markers of decadent elites/intellectuals”. While musicians in mainland China suffered from endless political campaigns or heartbreaks when their Guqin were destroyed, Wu Zonghan 吴宗汉 (1904-1991) and other Mei’an musicians who went abroad continued to take students. They became the remaining firewood of Mei’an music in this period. Wu together with his wife Wang Yici 王忆慈 (1915-1944) trained a significant number of students in Hong Kong, Taiwan and later in the US. Mei’an Qinpu, in the meantime, was brought to the English world.
Fredric Lieberman, Chinese name 李伯曼, finished a dissertation on Guqin and Chinese music in 1967, which is centered upon a thorough study of Mei’an Qinpu. Later Lieberman published a detailed bibliography of Chinese music in English and in 1972, and he finished  a complete translation of Mei’an Qinpu, making it the first Guqin score rendered into English. Therefore, it is fair to say that Mei’an musicians, mainly Wu Zonghan and Wang Yici’s students, and Mei’an Qinpu become one of the most important, if not the only, representations of Guqin music outside of China in mid-twelfth century. During the chaotic years that cracked many Guqin that were hundreds of years old, and muted Chinese musicians in mainland China, the pieces in Meian Qinpucontinued to comfort, pacify and perhaps lull people outside of China, many of them waiting eagerly for a turning of the page on their motherland.
 
(To be continued: Three central figures of North America Mei’an Guqin Society.)

Q1- What is Guqin?

Let’s start with a 2m scene from Red Cliff, a film based on stories from the Three Kingdoms period (3rd Century AD. China. Have you played the video games, or read any mangas about the Three Kingdom?)  It is totally fine if you don’t know the plot. Just enjoy the beautiful props, clothes, and pay attention to the two musical instruments played by the two male actors, Tony Leung and Kaneshiro.

Someone comments that the Guqin music here is “guitar-like.” There is some truth in that, but only a small grain.

For more interesting visual materials about actual Guqin in history, see this video, (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eBJPNPk6x2I) created by Zhejiang Museum after Guqin was inscribed on the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage.
  
The musical instrument featured in these videos is called Qin 琴, or Kin in Japanese. It is sometimes translated as Chinese zither or lute, but we will stick to Qin. “Gu” means old, archaic or ancient. Therefore “Guqin” means old Qin. It is really one of the oldest musical instrument in the world, having a history of at least 2500 years. That is before Caesar. Imagine what musical instrument Plato was playing, and think about China at the same time: Guqin was played there. Confucius was a good player and also the best listener.
Besides being old, Guqin has played a significant role in Chinese literati culture. It is considered the head of the four arts that a cultivated person is expected to master, followed by chess, calligraphy and painting (Don’t ask me who ranked them…). Therefore it is everywhere in writings and paintings about ancient Chinese elites. Besides used in military camps in historical romance like the Red Cliff, Guqin also serves as a powerful weapon in martial arts fiction and helps lovers express their longings when verbal communication is impossible in dramas and vernacular narratives, etc. In a word, Guqin is essential to our understanding of Chinese literati culture, which is the center of pre-modern Chinese history.
Not to mention its incredible sound. Four words are often used to describe the sound of Guqin: pure/clear, subtle, calm/tranquil, far-reaching/resonant. I don’t necessarily embrace these because Guqin could play a very wide range of sounds and produce lots of possible textures, but these features represent the values and characteristics that have been associated with Guqin.
This is what I, a newbie of only eight months of the learning experience, think about this question. Perhaps my mentor Yu, Shuishan will have something different to say.

Continue reading

开场白——代序 (柳一)

小子柳一,去年初秋开始有幸随于水山师学琴。八个月来,一直如身在大观园,满耳满目都是精彩。于师经常和我谈音律丶弦法,也讲各种琴史琴人的好玩故事。小子不才,记住的大多是后者。近一段时间由我管理琴社博客,本想待于师写一篇序言开宗明义,众人方敢下笔。无奈他诸务缠身,暂无闲暇。于是我决定先写起来,待他发现我光讲故事丶胡言乱语,不忍卒读,说不定就会来写序了。

崔莺莺月下听琴丶流放须磨的源氏在惊涛骇浪之后听明石演奏丶狭衣隔墙“观”二公主弹琴丶绿竹巷中任盈盈以《普庵咒》为令狐冲疗伤……以前读这些故事,总是被其中无言却胜千言的“琴”所打动。近来细细考量,却发觉其中大有周章:听琴者究竟是如何被打动,如何由琴及人,而及弹奏者之心的?弹奏者又是如何传情——或者如装扮成“婆婆”的任盈盈那样,“掩藏”感情的?

在中国古典文学中,对“乐”的书写大概与书写本身同样古老:乐与诗都被视作先人由内而外的丶自然且不可抑制的表达。身体之舞丶口中之音甚至先于语言存在。然而音乐无言,我只能顺着有形之言——文字上溯,希望从前人对音乐的书写中找到线索。

由唐诗开始,挑选细读写琴与其他乐器的诗,归入“琴诗”;赋丶记丶论等写到琴和音乐的韵文散文,归入“琴文”;题跋丶笔记丶轶事及今人所写的传记等,归入“琴话”。无心完备,不求系统,无非是学琴路上随读随写,过千山而偶得小石。日积月累,中间或有零玑碎锦,串起来亦可成章。

是为代序。

Members of NAMGS 北美梅庵琴社成員

North America Mei’an Guqin Society (NAMGS) was founded by Shuishan Yu in Oakland University in 2010. Here are some of our earliest members:

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(Left: Kevin Naeve,Damian Holter,Lisa Schneider,Katherine Lennon. Front: Shuishan Yu)

In 2010, Oakland University officially approved a new course on Guqin (Course Numbers from beginner to higher levels: MUA126, MUA226, MUA326, MUA426, MUA526 ), which was proposed by Professors Yu and Mark Stone. This photo features the cohort of students that took the class in its first round from January to April of 2011. Other members of the Society include students who have regular private classes with Yu as well as a wide range of people who are interested in Guqin and Chinese culture.

Yu has moved to Boston in 2013 and now we are developing a new base in this beautiful city that has only Winter and Summer.

2010年,奥克兰大学正式通过了于水山和马克·斯通 (Mark Stone) 提交的古琴课开课申请(课程编号从低到高依次是:MUA126, MUA226, MUA326, MUA426, MUA526),并在2011年的冬季学期(一月至四月)成功招收了第一班学生(照片上从左到右依次是:Kevin Naeve,Damian Holter,Lisa Schneider,Katherine Lennon)。其中的Kevin Naeve 是音乐系指挥专业的硕士研究生。除了这四位正式学校注册的学生,还有几位私人学生,到家里上课的。北美梅庵琴社的成员除古琴学生外,还有大学和社区里对古琴和中国文化感兴趣的各界人士。