Jiangnan sizhu


Jiangnan sizhu
(Jiangnan Silk and Bamboo ensemble)
Traditional music genre/ensemble
Jiangnan sizhu is the Silk and Bamboo (sizhu) music tradition indigenous to the region commonly known as Jiangnan (South of the River)—the area along the south bank of the lower Changjiang (Yangzi River) that includes parts of the provinces of Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Anhui, and the cities of Shanghai, Suzhou, Wuxi, Hangzhou and Nanjing. Native musicians have traditionally referred to this wind-and-string ensemble music simply as ‘sizhu’, but it has been common among musicologists and performers alike since the 1950s to prefix the term with the place name Jiangnan in order to distinguish it from other regional sizhu traditions such as Chaozhou-Hakka sixian, Minnan nanyin and Guangdong yinyue (see Cantonese music).
Jiangnan sizhu ensembles typically consist of a core group of wind and string instruments that include the dizi (bamboo transverse flute), xiao (end-blown bamboo flute), sheng (mouth-organ), erhu (two-stringed fiddle), pipa (four-stringed plucked lute), sanxian (three-stringed plucked lute) and yangqin (hammered dulcimer), accompanied by small percussion instruments such as a clapper and a small drum or woodblock. The melodic instruments may be doubled and may also be supplemented by other string instruments such as the zheng (board zither), ruan or qinqin (both plucked lutes) and two-stringed bowed lutes of various sizes, as well as a pair of small concussion bells.
The dizi assumes the lead role, in that it often plays the opening measures of a piece, after which the rest of the melodic instruments join in. All the instrumentalists play the same melody, but each one renders it slightly differently according to the idiomatic techniques characteristic of the individual instrument. For example, a bowed instrument such as the erhu will tend to play more elongated or held notes, while a plucked instrument such as the pipa or sanxian will fill in that space with repeated notes or tremolos as the dizi or xiao flutes play trills. The effect is that of a seamless, flowing melody. Thus, although in theory Jiangnan sizhu is often described as having a heterophonic texture, in practice it is actually contrapuntal, because of the individuality and relative independence of the instrumental parts in spite of the ensemble’s collective adherence to the melodic structure of a particular piece.
Jiangnan sizhu repertory is relatively small and concentrates on a corpus of eight pieces traditionally known as ‘Badaqu’ (Eight Great Pieces). The pieces are mainly derived from three ‘stock tunes’ (qupai): ‘Lao liuban’ (Old Six-Beat), also known as ‘Baban’ or ‘Eight-Beat’; ‘Sanliu’ (Three-Six); and ‘Sihe’ (Four United). Each of these stock tunes (or fixed melodies) is the source of several other pieces that are generated using a technique known to insiders as fangman jiahua (slowing down and adding flowers). It involves slowing down the tempo of the original melody and adding other notes in between its structural notes. This practice has resulted in several different melodic variants, in which on occasion the relationship with the original tune or with each other is not readily apparent.
In the early twentieth century, members of some Jiangnan sizhu clubs in Shanghai spearheaded the efforts to develop traditional musical instruments, adapt solo pieces for ensemble, and perform new compositions. These practices served as precursors to guoyue (national music), which emerged after the 1940s (see modern Chinese orchestra). After a period of suppression during the Cultural Revolution, public performances of Jiangnan sizhu resumed in the early 1980s with the reopening of music clubs, the traditional venue for performances of this type of music. Since then, the number of performance groups has increased; Jiangnan sizhu festivals have been held on a regular basis; and new pieces for the ensemble have been composed.
Wiztleben, J.Lawrence (1995). ‘Silk and Bamboo’ Music in Shanghai: The Jiangnan Sizhu Instrumental Ensemble Tradition. Kent: Kent State University Press.
MERCEDES M.DUJUNCO

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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