In 1997, the United Nations Education, Science and Culture Organization (UNESCO) passed a resolution creating the Proclamation of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. In April 2000, it began the process of selecting such masterpieces, with the goal of using international recognition to encourage governments, NGOs and local communities to recognize, preserve, and pass on their oral and intangible heritage.
On May 18, 2001, UNESCO announced the first group of 19 Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, one of which was Kunqu opera, one of the oldest surviving forms of Chinese opera. On November 7, 2003, the second group of 28 Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity was announced, including the art of the guqin, the most revered of China’s ancient musical instruments. The third and final group, announced on November 11, 2005, included the Uyghur muqam and the urtiin duu (or “long song”) of the Mongols.
The Guqin: The Ancient Musical Instrument of the Chinese Scholar
The guqin, one of China’s oldest musical instruments, has been in existence for thousands of years, with the earliest references to it in Chinese writings dating back to nearly 3000 years ago. The guqin, which is a type of zither with seven strings, was traditionally known simply as the qin, meaning stringed instrument or simply instrument, but in the 20th century it came to be known as the guqin or “ancient qin” to distinguish it from the many other instruments with names that included the character qin.
The guqin has long been associated with China’s scholarly class. It was one of the classical “four arts of the scholar,” the others being Go or weiqi (a board game), calligraphy and painting. Members of the literary class as far back as the time of Confucius were expected to be able to play the qin, and a number of qin pieces are attributed to Confucius himself. The qin was also strongly associated with Daoist philosophy. The music of the qin was considered sacred and elegant; people of ancient times used it to express their emotions and their ideals. The qin was more than just a musical instrument; it was a symbol of Chinese culture and the ideal Chinese scholar.
Beginning in the Tang dynasty, a special type of notation for the guqin was developed. This notation indicates finger positions and stroking techniques with the right and left hands, rather than directly showing the notes. This notation, using unique combinations of radicals and abbreviated forms of characters, is called shorthand tablature. This shorthand tablature expresses a level of detail in playing techniques that modern Western musical notation is incapable of conveying. Over 150 handbooks of guqin tablature have been passed down to the present day, preserving a large number of musical pieces. Together they constitute one of China’s greatest cultural treasures.
The playing techniques, notation, history, rules and aesthetics of the guqin collectively form a complete system, called the study of the qin. This system is deep and broad, not only representing Chinese traditional music, but also reflecting Chinese philosophy, history and literature. No other instrument embodies traditional Chinese culture as thoroughly as the guqin.
Cheng Gong-liang and the Art of the Guqin
In today’s guqin circles, Cheng Gong-liang is well known as a performer with his own distinct style. He upholds the traditions of guqin playing but at the same time dares to innovate, combining old and new to create an original and impressive “Cheng Guqin Aesthetics.” Cheng Gong-liang studied with two guqin masters, Liu Jing-shao of the Mei’an school and Zhang Zi-qian of the Guangling school. His own style is principally based on the traditions of the Guangling school. By means of his thorough immersion in guqin music, he expresses his feelings about nature and his reflections on life. At times warm and gentle, at times deep and fiery, his playing is full of deep human feeling. His performances arise from both a profound self-cultivation and a direct expression of the spirit, such that Japanese philosopher Kato Shuichi described them as “conveying the innermost feelings of the heart.”
When it comes to guqin theory and the study of the qin, Cheng Gong-liang frequently writes treatises on a variety of subjects, and he continues to diligently engage in research and textual criticism on guqin pieces, guqin schools, guqin handbooks, and guqin players, rather than ceasing his involvement in argument and exposition in his professional field because of his success. His spirit and dedication have won him widespread admiration in music circles.
Reconstruction and transcription of classic qin tablature and prolific composition of new pieces are two other areas of achievement that have earned Cheng Gong-liang respect. Steeped in the three thousand year history of the art of the guqin, he reconstructed “Wen Wang’s Melody”, “Guzhu Jun” and a number of other classic guqin melodies. Allowing these thousand year old pieces to come to life in the hands of a contemporary guqin player could even be said to be Cheng’s greatest achievement. The new sounds he has created in his compositions have also won praise. Widely popular works such as the guqin instrumental “Paoxiu Luolan”, the guzheng piece “On the Shores of the Yili River”, the erhu piece “Walking in the River Village” and a number of his recorded instrumental pieces together give Cheng Gong-liang unrivalled prominence in music circles.
Cheng Gong-liang and the Tang-era Qiulai Guqin
Guqin master Cheng Gong-liang’s playing technique is a successor to the Guangling school. The Guangling school has a 300-year history, and is known for its creative fingerings. Using these fingerings, Cheng Gong-liang is able to produce a sound that is exquisite and rich, capable of fully expressing deep feelings. In its May 10, 1986 issue, the German magazine Frankfurter Rundschau described Cheng’s guqin playing as being like “eavesdropping on the sounds of nature.” Cheng Gong-liang’s most precious treasure is a guqin called Qiulai. It was made 1,282 years ago in the Tang dynasty, during the reign of the emperor Xuan-zong. Qiulai means “the sound of autumn.” This name embodies the philosophy of traditional Chinese art, namely, becoming one with nature. When he performs, Cheng Gong-liang tries to convey this Daoist spirit, so his performances are free and uninhibited, transcending time and space and expressing genuine human feelings. Qiulai is a guqin with a gentle sound; when you hear it, the sounds of the strings, the sounds of fingers sliding on the strings, and even the sound of Cheng breathing in time with the melody together constitute the music of the guqin, so you can truly feel that the guqin he is playing is alive. The Japanese philosopher Kato Shuichi described this characteristic of Cheng’s playing by saying Cheng’s guqin is capable of “conveying the innermost feelings of the heart.”
Cheng Gong-liang, who teaches in the music department of the Nanjing Art Institute, not only grasps the spirit of the guqin through his own playing, but also has made an intensive study of guqin music theory. In 1997, backed by the Chinese National Symphony Orchestra, Cheng’s performance of Wen Wang’s melody blended ancient and modern music in a combination filled with new life. Cheng’s trips to Europe, Japan, and Hong Kong to perform and give lectures have elicited exclamations of admiration for the guqin from his audiences.
About Wang Sen-di, Producer
Wang Sen-di has received his Master degree of Music and Ph.D. degree of Agriculture in the Princeton University in America. “String Glamour”, produced by Wang Sen-di himself, has won the Traditional World Award/AFIM (Association for Independent Music) indie Awards in U.S.A. in 1999. Intensely devoted to popularizing classical Chinese music, Wang has produced hundreds of albums, including \"Gu-zheng Melody - Praising and Reciting in the Name of Buddha,\" \"Buddhist melody played by Guzheng Series,\" \"Crystal Music Series,\" and \"Solar Music Series,\" all of which are renowned worldwide. He works enthusiastically collecting and recording classical Chinese music, as well as teaching classical Chinese music in a number of schools.
About Wu Judy Chin-tai, the Producer
Wu Judy Chin-tai, Director of International Music production at Wind Music, is also a music producer and composer. She has won Golden Melody Awards for “My Ocean” (Best Music Producer, 2001) and “Colors of Childhood” (Best Children’s Album, 2004). In 2006 she was nominated in the Best Producer category for “Holding Ina’s Hand – the beauty of Tabalong Music,” an album that won Best National Folk Album and Best Vocal Album for the Formosa Aboriginal Song and Dance Troupe.
After studying music in the US, Wu returned to Taiwan and has worked at Wind Music ever since. Involved in producing numerous albums related to the cultures and natural scenes of Taiwan, she has recently devoted her time to focusing on new Folk songs as well as on various unique instruments. She produced a series of albums of Ocarina performances and created a trend that has motivated over a million people in Taiwan to learn this instrument. In 2006 the album “Over the Way,” produced for Huang Europa, garnered widespread public recognition and positive feedback for its innovate approach to original folk music.
About Kavichandran Alexander, Recording Engineer:
Kavichandran Alexander, a Tamil from Ceylon with broad western education, has great interest in preserving genuine ethnic music and tries to overcome recording difficulties while keeping the original quality of the music intact by using double-tract recordings. A Meeting by the river, recorded by Kavichandran Alexander, won the Best World Music Album the 36th Annual Grammy Awards. In \"The Absolute Sound\" his products are described as \"the best we are pursuing.\" For the recordings of the “Solar Music series,” he chose an old church in Northern California for its acoustic richness. Always sticking to his beliefs, Kavi established a very popular record company of his own: Waterlily Acoustics. In order to capture and bring the magic of music to listeners, he insists on analog techniques and vacuum tubes electronics for music recording. The high standard he demands in producing and recording makes him a master in his field and has won him praise worldwide.