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"Chinese Music, A Brief Introduction to Traditional Chinese Music"

The origins of Chinese music can be traced back to distant antiquity  around 3,000 years ago.


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Traditional Chinese Music

Chinese Culture >> Chinese Music

A Flower Moon Night on Spring River puts the listener in a happy mood, as though he were looking at a graceful Oriental landscape painting; Mournful Autumn makes one feel the inner sorrow of a bleak autumn day; Ambushed From Ten Sides deposits the listener on a thunderous ancient battleground; All the World Rejoices stirs up a joy of celebration in whoever happens to get caught up in its festive rhythms. These are famous examples of traditional Chinese musical compositions, all of which can transport the listener into a whole new sensory world.

The origins of Chinese music, or traditional Chinese music can be traced back to distant antiquity. Around 3,000 years ago, when European music was just experiencing its first rustlings of life, a complete musical theory and sophisticated musical instruments began appearing in China, owing largely to the orthodox ritual music advocated by Confucius. By the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-220 A.D.), the imperial court set up a Music Bureau, which was in charge of collecting and editing ancient tunes and folk songs. Because of commercial contacts with Central Asia, foreign music entered China in the form, for example, of the p'i-p'a , or lute, and the hu-ch'in , a vertically-held violin. Influenced by this foreign-originating music, composers of the time modified and improved Chinese music. By the time of Emperor Shaun Tsung (r. 713-755 A.D.) of the T'ang Dynasty, the court organized the Pear Garden Academy song and dance troupe, cultivating a large number of musicians, and thus laying a firm foundation for Chinese music.

The variations of rhythm, beat, tone quality, and embellishments in traditional Chinese music are highly distinctive and unlike their Western counterparts. This is mainly due to the unique sounds and playing styles of traditional Chinese musical instruments.

Chinese musical instruments can be divided into four basic categories based on the method by which they are played:" blown," "bowed," "plucked," and "struck" (i.e. percussion) instruments.

The development of traditional Chinese music in the Taiwan on Taiwan can generally be divided into two categories. The first developed from the traditional music played by folk performing groups, usually composed of three to five or at most ten people. The performers are generally of advanced age, and they play mostly folk tunes or themes from traditional Chinese operas. This kind of music gives the listener a good feel for the rhythms of day-to-day Chinese rural life. The modern version of the Chinese "orchestra," comprised of dozens of different types of Chinese instruments, developed in response to changes in society. Besides performing traditional Chinese music, the Chinese orchestra plays adapted versions of folk songs along with classical and modern symphonic compositions. It is widely favored by young music lovers.

There are currently three professional orchestras in the Taiwan on Taiwan that give frequent public performances of Chinese music: the Taipei Municipal Orchestra, the Chinese Music Orchestra of the Broadcasting Corporation of China (BCC), and the Experimental Chinese Orchestra of the National Taiwan Academy of the Arts. Most of the members of these orchestras were trained in departments of traditional Chinese music of local universities and colleges. In addition to the technical music training they receive, they also study traditional music under the guidance of elderly folk performers. In this way, they preserve and pass on tradition while carrying out musical research and development. Outside of the three professional orchestras, there are over 200 amateur and school orchestras. And classes on traditional Chinese musical instruments are held in elementary, junior high, and senior high schools, a further reflection of the popularity of Chinese music in Taiwan today.

In the area of composition, musicians are experimenting with incorporating elements from other musical systems and introducing creative innovations while preserving the spirit of traditional music, thus infusing Chinese music with a whole new vitality.



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