Why Tradition Must Reform: The Jianzipu’s Challenges (Part 2 of 2)

The author (centre) teaching in Taichong.

The author (centre) teaching in Taichong.

Originally “Relationships Between the Physical Structure and the Score Form of Qin” (古琴的物理結構與譜式改革) by Huang Hong-Wen, PhD Candidate (Dept. of Chinese, National Taiwan Normal University), published in Yinyue Yanjiu Vol.18 (May 2013). Translated by permission of the author. Visit his blog at http://blog.xuite.net/zxy5000kimo/twblog.

This is the second half of the 7-part essay, with its accompanying footnotes converted to endnotes.

Translator’s short review: The debate of jianzipu, or “reduced character tablature,” grew heated since the repopularization of the art since UNESCO heritage recognition in 2003 and standardized examination since 2006. Since the 1990’s Chinese and Taiwanese qin scholars have attempted to “modernize” the tablature system, in use for over a millennia since Cao Rou’s invention in the mid-Tang dynasty (8th c. CE), but all have failed to establish a system as equally effective. This paper reveals some open secrets to the reasons why players prefer the traditional Chinese system rather than the Western-adapting systems, but most importantly identified the largest shortcoming of all contemporary systems to be their obsession with score-pitch correlation (a factor of ‘modernity’ they strive to import) but overlook timbre, or the nature that the qin’s consecutive tuning allows numerous variations to produce the same pitch. This paper provides a gateway for further criticism into narratives of Chinese ‘modernization’ methodology and how obsession with pursuing precision often misses its mark as it falls short in effectiveness in delivering critical contexts specifically required in the trade or attaining holistic command of the craft.

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5. Comparing to other instruments

After explaining the guqin’s unique “one note multiple positions” relationship with jianzipu notation, some may still doubt, why do many other instruments abandon their original notation style and change to number or five-line notation, and only the guqin cannot? Actually, for the sake of guqin teaching and promotion, referencing the experience of other musical traditions is indeed a question worth thinking about; even if their experiences cannot be applied on the guqin, it can only show and reaffirm the value in jianzipu. In melodic instruments’ way of producing pitches, they can be generally classified as “one note, one position” and “one note, multiple positions” types. The former applies to the guzheng, xiao, dizi etc,. while the latter goes to guqin, pipa, zhongruan etc.. Taking the dizi and pipa as contrasting examples, let us look at what the guqin has special among these two types. More

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Why Tradition Works: The Jianzipu’s Success (Part 1 of 2)

When “modern precision” is simply more trouble than its worth. From Wu Wenguang’s abridged “Liu Shui (Flowing Water)” score.

Originally “Relationships Between the Physical Structure and the Score Form of Qin” (古琴的物理結構與譜式改革) by Huang Hong-Wen, PhD Candidate (Dept. of Chinese, National Taiwan Normal University), published in Yinyue Yanjiu Vol.18 (May 2013). Translated by permission of the author.

Visit his blog at: http://blog.xuite.net/zxy5000kimo/twblog.

This is the first half of the 7-part essay, with its accompanying footnotes converted to endnotes.

Translator’s short review: The debate of jianzipu, or “reduced character tablature,” grew heated since the repopularization of the art since UNESCO heritage recognition in 2003 and standardized examination since 2006. Since the 1990’s Chinese and Taiwanese qin scholars have attempted to “modernize” the tablature system, in use for over a millennia since Cao Rou’s invention in the mid-Tang dynasty (8th c. CE), but all have failed to establish a system as equally effective. This paper reveals some open secrets to the reasons why players prefer the traditional Chinese system rather than the Western-adapting systems, but most importantly identified the largest shortcoming of all contemporary systems to be their obsession with score-pitch correlation (a factor of ‘modernity’ they strive to import) but overlook timbre, or the nature that the qin’s consecutive tuning allows numerous variations to produce the same pitch. This paper provides a gateway for further criticism into narratives of Chinese ‘modernization’ methodology and how obsession with pursuing precision often misses its mark as it falls short in effectiveness in delivering critical contexts specifically required in the trade or attaining holistic command of the craft.

Abstract (translated from Chinese version): The controversy in reforming the guqin’s jianzipu (reduced character notation) has long origins, since qin players long have listed the tablature alongside rhythm punctuation (、) and Gongche notation in order to solve the problem of ambiguous rhythms. Since Wang Guangqi [t.n.: 1892-1936], modern scholars have used the five-line score as the notational basis, appending further simplified fingering symbols onto the cipher, hence completely changing the face of written guqin music. Amidst these suggestions, few could address the issue from the qin’s physical structure, or its complicated and irregular “one pitch, multiple positions” as the approach for the qin tablature’s reform. Since the qin’s hui harmonic markers are based on just intonation while pressed notes are based on the “San-fen sun-yi” (adding/subtracting thirds method) temperament, the latter’s positional description is controlled under the former and hence causes this phenomenon. In contrast with other instruments such as the dizi or pipa, this exemplifies the uniqueness of the qin’s structure and resultantly its pedagogy. If one uses the “correlating a sound with a position” method typical with other instruments on the guqin, it would counterintuitively cause difficulty and confusion to the player, and therefore “correlating positions to produce a pitch” should be the correct methodology for the guqin, where the jianzipu is exactly the product of such requirements. New written guqin score reforms were unable to clearly provide the harmonic or stopped positional informations, as learners must first learn the five-line staff, and spend extra energy to memorize every position of a given pitch, which to the study of the guqin is double the effort, and counterproductive in spreading the art to the public. A written score should, aside from communicating a cohesive understanding of the music, establish its basic function in effective learning. Hence, guqin scores should use jianzipu as the basis, providing positional information, supplemented by five-line staff or numerican notation, to fill in for any deficiencies in jianzipu’s lack of rhythmic demarcation, in order to fulfill the aforementioned expectations.

Author’s original English abstract (with spelling abridged):

A reform of “less-word score” of Qin has been a long-term debate. During Ming and Qing Dynasty, tempting to solve the problems of the inadequacy of clear melody, some Qin players already accompanied “less-word score” with “seeds dots” or “lyric” to mark the beats and tunes. In modern years, following the first advocate Wang-Guang-Qi, scholars mainly of more simplified finger skills. This has totally changed score form of Qin. Among these proposals, few of them are discussed in view of the physical structure of Qin. That is: the irregular and complicated “One sound, many scales”. Musicalogically speaking, marking dots (called Qin-Hue) on Qin body are results of “pure tones” of overtone, while pressing-tone are results of “three-point profit and loss law.” A compromise about positional signs is given by the latter to the former, which makes the structural phenomenon of Qin. Comparing with Chinese flute, Chinese lute and other instruments, this unique is more obvious. Special physical structures require special learning methods. “Sounds first, scales second” fits general instruments. On the contrary, “scales first, sounds second” fits Qin. Consequently, “less-word score”, not “staff”, is the product. It brings Qin players less confusion and fewer difficulties. Newly-reformed scores cannot directly provide positions of pressing-tone and overtone. Learners thus achieve little success despite much effort, needless to say to the public. In addition to the responsibilities for communicating and solidifying music, scores should provide some basic easy-learning function. In order to mend the problems of insufficient melodic signs marked on “less-word score”, positional information, staff and simple score can be put together with “less-word score”. Under any circumstances, “less-word score” will always be the subject of Qin scores. This kind of combination may possibly satisfy the expectation interpreted as above. More

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