Dating from the 5th century B.C.E., the tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng in Suizhou, Hubei, furnished some of China’s oldest musical instruments and earliest reliable musicological writings.
The instruments, found in two separate rooms, appear to represent two separate musical genres. Those in the large central chamber—65 bronze bells in graduated sizes ranging over more than five octaves, a large pole-drum and two smaller drums, seven large 25-string se (zithers), four sheng (mouth organs), two paixiao (panpipes), and two chi (transverse flutes)—match the description of a courtly ensemble described in the Shijing (551–479 B.C.);
The instruments in the smaller chamber containing the Marquis’s coffin—two mouth organs, one small frame drum, three se, and one five-stringed and one ten-stringed instrument—suggest a more intimate chamber genre such as that depicted in a 5th-century tomb in Shaoxing, Zhejiang. These two genres may correspond to the “old” music of the Zhou court (ca. 1050–256 B.C.) that Confucius preferred, and the “new” music of the surrounding states that he felt had a corrupting influence.
This according to “Different tunes, different strings: Court and chamber music in ancient China” by Jenny F. So (Orientations XXI/5 [May 2000] pp. 26–34). Above, replicas of the bells; below, a performance on the bell replicas and those of other instruments from the tomb.
“Fifteen musicians sat in a crosswise position on both sides, and thus in a broken row divided into two groups; these in turn sounded together a strange tune with reed-instruments, cymbals and various stringed instruments; drums struck with a light finger, and less often the human voice, joined in with them.
Perhaps you expect my opinion about this ensemble? A noise rather than an ensemble, it was unencumbered by any rules of harmony, but nevertheless not confused nor disagreeable; in truth if I except the singer’s voice, it was pleasant enough, and subordinated to the extent that it did not disturb the conversations or the proceedings in the assembly, but rather with a certain strangeness in its varied but low-level sound caressed the ears and spirits of the seated company with its sweetness.”
So wrote Engelbert Kaempfer in Amoenitates Exoticae (1712), which documented his observations in Persia in the late 17th century. Excerpts from the book are translated in Time, place and music: An anthology of ethnomusicological observation c. 1550 to c. 1800 by Frank Harrison (Amsterdam: Fritz Knuf, 1973).
Above, a plate from the original publication; below, a modern-day performance of Persian court music.
Related article: Virtual Assyria
A black cow leads the members of a South Indian hill tribe, the Kotas, to the Nilgiri Hills and, with its hoof, indicates where to found each village. This footprint acts as a moral center of gravity, an important place for music making, dancing, and other rituals.
The Kotas anchor their musical and other activities around such places and significant moments in time and, in the process, constitute themselves as individuals and as a group.
This according to The black cow’s footprint: Time, space, and music in the lives of the Kotas of South India by Richard K. Wolf (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006). Above, a Kota women’s festival dance; below, Kota men dancing at Kotagiri.
The ancient land of Assyria, long divided among modern nations, lives again—in cyberspace.
Exiled around the world, Assyrians have established an Internet homeland, Nineveh on line. This portal links to many other Assyrian websites and hosts articles about Assyrian concerns.
Music has proved to be a decisive factor in uniting this virtual community and its corporeal counterparts. Assyrian songs have become powerful tools for shaping and communicating Assyrian identity—and even for learning the ancestral language.
This according to “Translocal communities: Music as an identity marker in the Assyrian disapora” by Dan Lundberg, an essay included in Music in motion: Diversity and dialogue in Europe (Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag, 2009) pp. 153–172.
Below, the Iranian singer Gaggi performs Assyrian pop.
The open-access online resource John Thompson on the guqin silk string zither presents extensive materials on the guqin (古琴, “goo-chin”) including classic handbooks and commentaries; organological details; depictions of the guqin in art, poetry, and song; notation and sound files; playing instructions; analyses of performance practice; history and ideology; and links to other resources. Detailed information on the author is also included.
Below, Tao Zhusheng performs Guan shan yue (Moon over the mountain pass) in a 1977 film by Robert Garfias. The work is an evocation of the Tang-dynasty poem of the same title by Li Bai.
Related article: Robert Garfias: Ethnomusicology
The Tamil month of Mārkazhi (mid-December to mid-January) has been associated with Krishna since ancient times, and historical connections between that month and devotional music abound. Against this traditional backdrop, in 1930 the newly founded Music Academy in Chennai (formerly Madras) began sponsoring an annual music and dance festival during that month. Over the years the festival has grown steadily in size; some music lovers call this winter whirlwind of activity “the mad mad Madras music season”.
This according to “The Madras music season: Its genesis” by Sriram Venkatakrishnan (writing under the pen name Sriram V; Sruti 225 [December 2005] pp. 19–24). For decades Sruti has published detailed reports on the season, providing a rich accumulation of data on its history and development. In addition, Venkatakrishnan has written retrospective reports for the magazine on the season in selected historical years.
Today is the beginning of the 2011–12 season! You can follow the performance schedule here. Below, Amrutha Venkatesh performs during last years’ music season.
Music in the Afghan north, 1967–1972 presents materials from Mark Slobin’s research in Afghanistan before successive waves of war and Islamist rule began to decimate its traditional culture.
The site involves three layers of organization, with increasing access to the study’s technical materials: an introduction to the ideas and topics with capsule summaries; links to excerpts from the book-length study; and the complete book Music in the culture of northern Afghanistan (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1976).
Still photography, moving picture clips, and sound clips accompany the written text. Above, a rubāb maker in Mazār-i-Sharīf; below, drums for sale in Istālif, a village renowned for its glazed pottery.
Related post: Robert Garfias: Ethnomusicology
The “Idol” television format has gone global, and since 2004 an Indian version has featured amateur singers of popular Indian film songs. Seeing this, the producer Subhashree Thanikachalam (left)—who had already pioneered three successful television series focused on Indian music—decided to try a version presenting young performers in the classical South Indian tradition.
The result, Carnatic Music Idol, has run for two highly successful seasons and is preparing a third one. The series has done much to raise awareness of the tradition and to help viewers to understand the technical intracacies of its performance. The final rounds even call for a full rāgam-tānam-pallavi, a tour de force that was formerly considered too esoteric for general audiences.
This according to “An idol among TV shows” by Gayathri Sundaresan (Sruti 321 [June 2011] pp. 55–58. Below, an excerpt from the 2011 finals.
The Turkish musical scene may be viewed in terms of three categories: alatürka, which refers to Turkish sociocultural practices; alafranga, which refers to Western ones; and arabesk, which denotes the culture of peripheral urban immigrants. The gazino, a type of nightclub, provides a common denominator for alatürka and arabesk music in an alafranga space.
While the gazino owner holds direct power over the content of the show, he may make changes on the basis of audience reaction. The performers also try to supply what the audience wants, and their aesthetics are further shaped among themselves when they perform backstage for each other. Vocal audience reactions also influence performers’ aesthetic decisions. The visual aesthetics of the gazino—the decor and the clothing of performers and audience members—provide the most significant alafranga elements.
This according to “Aesthetics and artistic criticism at the Turkish gazino” by Münir Nurettin Beken (Music & anthropology VII ). Below, musicians and dancers perform at an urban gazino.