Following the beat of the drum

作者:Gui Qian
【导读】Musicians keep Tang Dynasty music alive through creative ideas 西安东仓鼓乐社:传承千年遗音,奏响盛唐气魄

The Dongcang Drum Music Society puts on a show.PROVIDED TO TEENS

When the evening lights are lit, a big performance opens at Xi’an’s theme park Tang Paradise. Dressing as people from the Tang Dynasty (618-907) with traditional clothes and high hair buns, around 20 musicians play the traditional drum, sheng, flute, yunluo and other instruments.

They are members of the Dongcang Drum Music Society playing Chang’an ancient music, or Xi’an guyue, which started in the Tang Dynasty. At first, guyue only included wind instruments and percussion instruments. Later, string instruments such as zheng and pipa were also added. In 2009, it was listed as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage. 

“Guyue is our own symphony from ancient China,” said Qi Xingfeng, 33, who is now the manager and a musician of the Dongcang Society. “It has been played for over 1,000 years, and now we are inheriting it as well as innovating it.”

“We add modern stage performance elements such as plots, sound and light to make guyue more enjoyable for audiences,” Qi explained. “We play traditional songs as well as adapt ancient tunes like Melody of White Feathers Garment about imperial concubine Yang.”

“For the music itself, we divided our group into different parts such as the bass and treble so the tunes become more complex and expressive,” he added.

Another thing the Dongcang Society is doing is to spread guyue to more young people. They do livestreaming on Douyin for two hours every day, on which they’ve got more than 725,000 followers. “We sometimes play songs from TV series and video games, showing that guyue can be playful and fun, too,” Qi said.

“Many kids’ parents have reached out to us, saying they want their children to learn guyue, which is a very cheerful sign to me – our ancient music is really coming back,” Qi said.

By GUI QIAN, 21st Century Teens

Dongcang Drum Music Society
The Dongcang Society now has 29 members. Most of them are in their 20s and 30s. Many were teenagers from local villages when they joined the society. Then they had two years of training in the society. They must learn to play drums and sheng. They could also learn some other instruments. Now, new members have mostly graduated from music schools. 

A different kind of ‘symphony’
· Different from the music notation used in Western symphonies, guyue uses a music notation method from Tang Dynasty, which is called gongchepu. Even if you can read the notations, you need a tutor to guide you to sing it.

· Guyue inherits over 3,000 ancient scores, from which experts have sorted out around 1,000 but only about 300 are complete enough to be played.

· During the performance of guyue, there is neither a score nor conductor: All performers must keep all the tunes in their heads.

· At first, guyue was played only for royal gatherings. But later on, the music became popular among common people and was played at festival gatherings and temple fairs.

Members of the Dongcang Drum Music Society play Xi’an guyue in Germany.  PROVIDED TO TEENS


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