Music is a universal language.
Lijiang is always associated with colorful minority culture, enchanting sceneries and cozy lifestyles. However, the charm of this relaxing city also lies in Naxi Ancient Music, the living fossil of Chinese classic music which took shape as early as the 14th century, the oldest music in Yunnan and one of the most ancient music in China even in the world.
Yunnan is a melting pot where various cultures blend and complement each other. Since ancient time, Lijiang has been a significant trade center along the famous Tea Horse Road. This artery not only brought economy prosperity, but also promoted cultural exchange and flourishment. Nourished by Confucianism, Taoism as well as royal classic music of Tang (618-907), Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1206-1368) dynasties, Naxi music thrives and evolves into a new discipline with extremely high art value and unprecedented popularity. It is a legend and miracle in the kingdom of music. Thanks to it, we can still hear what our ancestor once heard over 1000 years ago. The traces of Taoist rite, Confucian ceremony and the music rhythm, tones, lyrics of Tang, Song and Yuan dynasties are revived here, while in other parts of China, there are just written records in history books.
Naxi ancient music is characterized by three traits: first, the music is ancient, which is over 1000 years old; second, the music instruments are antiques which cannot be found elsewhere in the world; third, the performers are at their 60s, 70s and 80s. By incorporating portamento and vibrato into the classic and aerial music of center China, the creative and versatile Naxi musicians bestowed it with a flavor of wildness, force and tension. The best way to appreciate this extraordinary music is to close your eyes and let yourself immerse into it whole heartedly, allowing it to carry you backward to the ancient China, the most prosperous and fabulous city on earth depicted by Marco Polo. Born with fatal charm, Naxi Ancient Music is so elegant, sweet and intoxicating that many musicians compare it the music of angel and nickname Lijiang as the Venice in China.
Xuan Ke(宣科), the genius of Naxi Ancient Music performer and the chairman of Naxi Ancient Music Association, once remarked that the term Naxi Ancient Music refers to “the ancient music inherited, preserved and advocated by the Naxi People during the past millennium”. He once sued a magazine for inappropriate use of this term and gained one million RMB as compensation.
Naxi Ancient Music comprises White Sand Fine Music (Bai Sha Xi Yue, Naxi local music which blends various cultures), Dong Jing Music (a hybrid of Daoism rite music and Naxi folk music. This ancient music prevailed among Naxi people and preserved the long lost music of Tang, Song and Yuan dynasties which obeyed sophisticated performance procedures and used poetry as the lyrics, aiming to cater the fine taste of fine society, noble class and scholars) and the already extinct Huangjing Music. While Wu Xueyuan(吴学源) , the executive director of Chinese Traditional Music Association puts that Naxi Ancient Music is made of White Sand Fine Music introduced from central China during Ming dynasty, Dongjing music and Re Mei Cuo(热美蹉), a ritual dance originated from the ancient religion.
The Origination of White Sand Fine Music
About the origination of White Sand Fine Music, three versions co-exist and remain unsettle. Legend had it that in 1253 during Southern Song dynasty(1127-1279), Kublai Khan marched the expedition to Dali, and the leader of Naxi people Aliang greeted him with great respect along Ciba River. In no time, Kublai Khan conquered Dali and before he returned, he gave Aliang half of his band members and numerous music instruments a sign of gratitude. The second version is that White Sand Fine Music was composed by Dragon daughter Princess. The third version is proposed by Mao Jizeng(毛继增), a contemporary scholar lives in Beijing. He puts that White Sand Fine Music was introduced by Kublai Khan after carried out thorough field research in 1962. There proofs are illustrated to support his opinion: first, the Mongolia soldiers once garrisoned in Lijiang, which is hard fact recorded by history book. Besides, some villages’ names can be translated into “the village dwelled by Mongolians”. What is more, some villagers hold they are the descendants of Mongolians. Second, the music performers wear the Mongolian costumes, while in other folk performances, there is no such phenomenon. Third, there is an instrument called Su Gu Du(苏古笃), the counterpart of “Huo Bu Si”: a Mongolian music instrument which emerged in Yuan, prevailed in Ming and vanished after Qing dynasties, which cannot be found in or around Yunnan province.
Features of White Sand Fine Music
White Sand Fine Music which has prevailed among Naxi people long time ago, is performed during grand occasions such as sacrifice ceremony or funeral. The orchestra performance is accompanied by singing and dancing and adheres to strict procedures. White Sand Fine Music features melancholy tunes, affectionate lyrics and lingering aftertaste. It consists of eight parts, among them One Letter features slow rhythm and lively tune which shares similarity with Kun Qu (Kun Opera). While the frequent use of “ re-do-la” and “ la-sol-mi” in it indicates the influence of northern China grassland music. These 8 parts can be performed in sequence or separately. According to Lijiang history Record(《丽江府志略》) composed in 1743 during Qing dynasty, one letter was the music of Yuan dynasty. It was used as funeral music during Qing dynasty at least, if not earlier than that.
Instruments & Band of White Sand Fine Music
White Sand Fine Music mirrors the mix of various cultures. Music instruments can be divided into three categories: the first is wind instrument which comprises clarinet, flute and Bobo(波伯), a unique bamboo music instrument of Naxi people, the second kind is string instruments which involve Pipa and Gu Qin, etc. The third is Erhuang, which is made of bamboo and is used by Naxi people to play Naxi Ancient Music exclusively. About the band, there is no fixed numbers. Depending on different occasions and financial status, it ranges from 3 to more than one dozen. Generally speaking, 4 or 8 people form a team. They line up by order of age, the younger stands before the older.
Naxi Ancient Music is passed down by very strict rules and procedures. One senior aged master will choose one talented student as his inheritor. They teach sentence by sentence, and practices very hard to master all the music instruments.
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