Procrastination and Dapu’ing

Dapu means cramping oneself in a corner, huddled on paperwork.
Dapu means cramping oneself in a corner, huddled on paperwork.

Since late spring 2008, I have undertaken the challenge offered by a friend on the Facebook Guqin group to do Dapu work on a piece that is long, challenging, and practically NEVER heard of before. Due to procrastination with my own novels, writing projects, and computer games, I have still not completed it as of the end of September.

Similar to my novel writing, my moments of uber-productiveness usually happens in cafes, in class, or in transit. If it weren’t for my frequent travels from Richmond Hill to Downtown during the summer, I wouldn’t even have finished half of the work.
Before I go on, let’s give an overview of what Dapu’ing involves. You have a score from a historical source, which has only a bunch of fingerings. Your mission (should one accept it) is to make sense of it by playing it out, and then memorize/record the tempo and rhythm, as well any corrections to the score if necessary.
 As it is intensively boring work, this post will cover and update as I go along.

 The piece is called Songxia Guantao 松下觀濤, or “Viewing the Waves from Under the Pines”, from Yanlulou Qinpu 研露樓琴譜 of 1766 (Early/Mid-Qing). If I hadn’t been introduced to it, I would have never touched this manuscript. The piece itself is nine sections long, in standard tuning, lasting estimated 6 to 7 minutes if played smoothly.  
I use the following procedures for the Dapu’ing process: 
  1. Copy all fingering from old vertical layout to horizontal, underneath the five-line staff.
  2. Correlate and record all the pitches from the fingerings. Correct anything from fingering if necessary.
  3. Through experimentation playing, establish and record rhythm.
  4. Perfect the piece, final corrections, reinterpretation of measures etc.
  5. Publish, with audio/video recording if possible.

 I have done step 1 within a week, which was a pretty straightforward job. I had great fun doing step 2 on the TTC while holding another piece of paper and quickly establishing a fingering/pitch chart of ALL the possible positions on the instrument in Standard Tuning, for pressed notes and harmonics.

The difficult part is that the original score writes all the left hand positions in an overly exact way that it becomes strange to any reader asides from that era. It is not in the simplified decimal (hui-fen 徽分) system (which we use today), nor the huiwei 徽位 system used in the Ming Dynasty, but a mixture of both/transition from one to the other. It resembles something like the Yuguzhai Qinpu (in the mid 1800’s) once promoted (albeit even the author agreed that it was terrible in practice) — an ‘exact hui-fen’ system that calculated to two or more decimal places instead of one, which given the already cramped design of Jianzipu, was terrible to read. To further complicate things, this score rounded the positions down (or up, numerically), creating a strange convention that nobody before or after would accept. For example, a pressed position we may commonly use is 7.6 on the 5th string, but since musicologically the perfect sound (a shang sound in this case) is actually on 7.664, this score writes it as 7.7 and freaks out readers not of this lineage. It was extremely frustrating but necessary to put them back into our current context and fix the positions. What a prime example of repressed scholarship that has nothing better to do than to over-correct oneself into a fallacy, AKA 矯枉過正.



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September 2008
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