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The Way of the Guqin

The Way of the Guqin 620x920

After studying the guqin for decades and experiencing my personal journey of discovery of this 3000-year old instrument, I came to realize that not only do the sounds emanating from its cords sooth my senses and brings me serenity, the feeling of oneness with other spiritual forms of humanity which the guqin evokes resonates and echoes within my inner soul.

One thing that makes guqin stand out from other musical instruments is its deep and inseparable ties with Chinese history, culture, philosophies and religions. Similar to other string instruments, it is relatively easy to learn guqin but much more difficult to play it well. And to be able to play it at the expert level, a good understanding of the culture and other non-musical aspects associated with the qugin is essential.

As my knowledge of the guqin grew beyond the technical level of playing the instrument and reading its musical notes, I came to realize how broad and deep the world of guqin really is. The more I was exposed to its ties with just about everything that defines Chinese and enchanted by such new found knowledge, the more I grew apprehensive about ever reaching an end point in such a vast ocean of antiquity. This dichotomy eventually compelled me to condense my years of learning, research and love for the guqin into the form of a book. To find out how much you really know about a subject, you have to write it down, as the saying goes. My apprehension of embarking on a seemingly endless journey in my quest for qugin knowledge was finally overcome by my passion for this ancient instrument and my desire to bring it to the rest of the world unfamiliar with it.

By virtue of the broadness of the subject and my admittedly limited knowledge thereof, my first book, The Way of the Guqin, does not purport to be ‘the Bible’ on the subject matter by any means. Rather, by providing a panoramic view of the subject and dipping into the first few chapters of each of the related topics, so to speak, I hope to introduce the qugin to all beginners and those with rudimentary knowledge thereof. By whetting their appetite as well as laying the first foundational bricks, it is my sincere hope that this book will usher in future generations of new guqin lovers whose musical abilities and love for the instrument exceed mine.

The spread of music, philosophy, culture and many art forms across language, cultural and geographical barriers is a perfect manifestation of our increasingly borderless world. With the language barrier overcome, guqin music has the potential to further spread far and wide beyond the Chinese speaking communities. Therefore, by introducing it in both English and Chinese, I hope to share my love for the guqin to all overseas Chinese and Westerners in general.

Content Summary

The book covers several broad topics. The first section delves into the origin and long history of the guqin as well as the special qualities of its forms and sounds that give the instrument its unique artistic charm. It goes to great lengths to outline the various styles of guqin masters, the cultural aspects and humanistic spirits, and historical figures and events associated with the guqin. The same section also covers guqin selection and its unique fingering notations.

Another section of the book provides a collection of music notes of the most classic guqin pieces, categorized by their levels of difficulty.

The remaining section of the book consists of a gallery highlighting the author’s journey with the guqin, as well as website links to some of her music performances.

Table of Content

Foreword: Alan R. Thrasher, PhD.
Preface: Songyuan Lin
Luo Fu: On the Guqin and Diana
Jack Tianji Xe: The Tradition of Guqin is Carried on in the West
Haoquan Chen: Guqin Music – Diana
Sinologist Dr. Jan W. Walls & Professor Yvonne L. Walls
Preface 1 & 2
Introduction
Chapter 1: History and Origin
Chapter 2: Choice of Form, Structure and Material
Chapter 3: Cultural Contents and Humanistic Spirit
Chapter 4: Special Qualities of the Guqin’s Sound and its Artistic Charm
Chapter 5: The Jiuyi School; Mount Jiuyi
Chapter 6: Guqin People, Gquin Events and Anecdotes
Chapter 7: The Beauty of Reduced Character Fingering Notations
Tang’s Gallery
Music Scores for Guqin
Links to Diana Tang’s Guqin Music Performances

Introduction

The babbling stream gently flows outside my window, caressing bamboo shadows,
the guqin on my lap reflects my tranquil feelings.
I have practiced the art of the guqin for three decades now,
a lamp in my heart accompanies the bright moon and me.

There is a small garden in the corner outside the window of my home, with several stalks of emerald green bamboo. Every time I want to play the guqin, watching the babbling stream gently flow beside the bamboo, as if the water is caressing their shadows, it adds to my pleasure and contentment. The scenery resembles the imagery in the poem: “The sage carries a guqin down a scenic path through pine trees, and the breeze from the pines brings a refreshing tune to the ear.” Images like this often take shape before my eyes. I have come to understand that “the emerald bamboo and the yellow blossoms are all part of Buddhist culture, the green pine and the white stones visualize the core of Buddhist ideology”. I have studied and played the zheng and the guqin for more than 30 years. At last, I have gained enough wisdom to be truly appreciative, bringing the light of guidance from Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism together with my enlightenment. This inspiration has made me realize the art of guqin integrates heaven and earth, like the brilliant moon accepts the reflections of oceans and rivers alike. The art of the guqin is delicate and ingenious, the way to the guqin is vast and comprehensive, and the integrity of the guqin is beautiful. The guqin has taught me to aspire to be tranquil, noble and gracious, and I love the guqin with sincerity and gratitude.

The guqin is also known by other names: the five-string qin, the seven-string qin, jasper qin, jade qin, graceful qin, singing qin, plain qin, serene qin, precious qin, green silk, silk and parasol wood, and burnt tail. The guqin was known only as ‘qin’ in ancient times, and has been widely referred to as guqin  (ancient zither) only since the early 20th century. There are four skills in which ancient academics all were well versed: qín (zither), qí (chess), shū (calligraphy), huà (painting), among which the qín was the most important, and is what we call the ‘guqin’ today.

Among the musical instruments in China, the guqin has the longest history, requires the highest levels of technical skill and aesthetic taste, and possesses the greatest cultural value, humanistic spirit and traditional qualities of a Chinese instrument. It has always been regarded as the most respectable instrument, and is often praised as “the instrument of the sages”, and “the father of all Chinese instruments”. Over the past few millennia, the guqin has played a powerful role of complementing and interacting with other art forms and ways of thinking in China. Thus, we see that the guqin has always played a unique role within Chinese traditional culture. Not only was playing the guqin a required skill that academics historically were expected to master, but it has also been seen as a manifestation of a person’s personality and sentiments. In 2003, the guqin was recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization(UNESCO)as one of the masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Recently, the renowned guqin master Mr. Guǎn Pínghú played the guqin tune: “Flowing Water (Liúshǔi)” as the most representative piece of music that represents China, and it was broadcast to the universe on the American space shuttle.

 


 

窗前潺水抱竹影
膝上綠綺知吾情
攀行琴道三十載
一盞心燈伴月明

吾舍窗前有一園林小隅,旁生翠竹數株。每欲撫琴,見潺水環抱竹影,更別有怡情和感懷。眼前常現“道人抱琴鬆下行,鬆風入耳清涼生”之景境﹔心中便起“翠竹黃花皆佛性,青鬆白石見禪心”之感悟。吾習琴箏三十載余,終有儒釋道沐浴、導引、光耀、相隨,倍感琴道融三家,通天地,如皓月,納海川。琴藝精妙,琴道博深,琴德大美。琴教吾清雅、高遠,吾愛琴虔誠、欣然。

古琴有五弦琴、七弦琴、瑤琴、玉琴、雅琴、頌琴、素琴、幽琴、寶琴、綠綺、絲桐、焦尾等別稱,在中國古代祗叫做琴,作為“古琴”的名稱,隻是在近代的民國時期才被廣泛認可。中國古代文人四技“琴、棋、書、畫”之首的琴,即指今天的古琴。

古琴是中國歷史最久、藝術水准最高、最具文化內涵、人文精神、審美情趣和傳統藝術特征的樂器,在歷史上一直處於最為尊貴的地位,被尊為“聖人之器”、“國樂之父”。在數千年的漫長歷史中,古琴與其他思想和藝術形式相互滲透,交相輝映,在中國傳統文化中佔有特殊的地位,不僅是中國古代文人階層必修的一種樂器,而且被視為人格、情操的象征。2003年,古琴被聯合國科教文組織評定為“人類口頭與非物質遺產代表作”。近代,著名琴家管平胡先生彈奏的古琴曲目《流水》,作為中國最具代表性的音樂,隨美國的宇宙飛船在太空中唱響。

 

Book Launch

A book launch for The Way of the Guqin has been planned in Vancouver, Canada, in the summer and early fall of 2020, subject to the unfolding situation of the COVID-19 global pandemic and subsequent social distancing regulations.