Buddhist music


Buddhist music
Since the period of the Northern and Southern dynasties (420–589), Chinese Buddhist music has developed different regional emphases. In the north, a rich legacy of instrumental music exists at many temples or temple complexes, while in large monasteries of learning in the south, vocal liturgical music predominates.
The mainstream of northern Buddhist music is ‘mouth-organ and reed pipe’ music (shengguan). The ensemble consists of the double-reed pipe (guanzi), mouth-organ (sheng), transverse flute (di), framed pitched gongs (yunluo) and ritual percussion instruments, including the drum (gu), bronze bowl (qing), wooden fish (muyu), cymbals (hazi), hand-held gong (dangzi) and hand-held stick bowl (yinqing). Instrumental music pervades temples in the northern provinces of Hebei, Henan and Shanxi, and the northeastern provinces of Shandong and Liaoning (see bayinhui, Shandong guchui, Shanxi badatao).
Beijing is an important centre for this tradition (see Beijing yinyue). The discovery by Chinese musicologists such as Yang Yinliu in the mid 1950s of the ‘Capital music’ (jingyinyue) of Zhihuasi temple brought Buddhist instrumental music to the fore. Musical notations found in Zhihuasi date back to 1694, and its gongche notation system predates the standard gongche used today. Capital Music is further exalted by its use of the seventeen-reed mouthorgan (sheng) and the small nine-hole reed pipe (guanzi), rather than the fourteen-reed sheng and eight-hole guanzi more common today; both, however, can be traced back to the Song dynasty (960–1279). The instrumental tradition of Zhihuasi, with its refined and elegant style, has since become the representative of Capital Music. However, shengguan music has also been found in temples on Wutaishan in Shanxi and in the Beiwanshousi temple in Shenyang. Since the Cultural Revolution hiatus, renewed research has found shengguan music in other temples in Beijing such as the Jiuding niangniangmiao; similar traditions also survive in temples in Tianjin, Shandong, on Qianshan in Liaoning province, and at the Daxiangguosi temple in Henan.
During imperial times, ‘art monks’ (yiseng) were the main practitioners of instrumental music. They belonged to the category of monks who perform rituals for the dead in return for fees. Major political upheavals at the turn of the twentieth century, culminating in the Cultural Revolution, have greatly affected Buddhism. Monastic modernization, which eschewed instrumental music performance because of its link with rituals for the dead, along with a decrease in the number of yiseng, led to the decline of shengguan music in temples. Since the 1980s, scholars have sought out yiseng monks who had returned to laity; Buddhist ensembles comprising elderly monks were formed, and the young were recruited from villages to learn the tradition from this older generation. Conservatoire-trained musicians now promote this music in commercial recordings (e.g. Qianshan Foyue, 1990). Despite these efforts, instrumental music within the Buddhist tradition today is weaker than before. However, the strong influence of Buddhist instrumental music on folk music means that shadows of the former tradition can be found in the latter. For example, the ‘Eight Great Suites’ (Badatao) folk music of Shanxi (see Shanxi badatao) is closely related to the instrumental ritual music of Wutaishan.
Apart from the more exalted Capital Music, a more robust style of Buddhist shengguan music known as ‘rustic music’ (qieyinyue) also exists in the north. In this, the large eight-hole reed pipe is used, and the music shows a stronger folk influence. In Capital Music, instrumentation consists of pairs of the four main melodic instruments (sheng, guan, di and yunluo), but the ‘rustic style’ may add other instruments. This style of shengguan ritual music is best preserved among folk musicians and by ‘music associations’ (yinyuehui), which serve in life-cycle rituals in northern villages. Daoist music throughout northern China is also closely related to Buddhist and folk shengguan music. In the eastcentral Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces and in the southeastern provinces of Fujian and Guangdong, instrumental music is rarely found in large monasteries; smaller temples, however, may use instruments to accompany liturgical singing or to perform para-liturgical music in Gongde or other rituals for the dead.
Monastic liturgical singing is known as fanbei, which may be loosely translated as ‘Indian singing’. The term is used exclusively to refer to melodious metrical pieces, while the chanting of sutras and other texts was once known as ‘undulated reading’ (zhuandu), but is now simply called ‘recitation’ (niansong). According to Buddhist historical sources, the first composer of fanbei in China was Cao Zhi, the son of Cao Cao, the ruler of the Wei Kingdom (221–65 CE). Scholars have found that from the third to the fifth centuries, Indo-Central Asian monks and laymen were disseminating fanbei. From the fifth century onward, Buddhist music gradually underwent syncretic fusion, assimilating court and folk music as it evolved. Vocal liturgy became an essential component of the daily and calendrical rituals in monasteries.
Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces have historically been the epicentres of monastic Buddhism. Several large monasteries such as Tianningsi, Tiantongsi and Longchangsi in the Baohuashan mountains were, and still are, major ordination centres and institutions of monastic training. The fanbei of these monasteries came to be acknowledged as the quintessence of vocal liturgical music. By the end of the nineteenth century, monasteries and temples all over China had adopted the fanbei repertory of this region in their ‘morning and evening lessons’ (zhaomu kesong). This national repertory is also widely disseminated among Chinese Mahayana temples overseas. The vocal style of Tianningsi is considered by Buddhist clerics and scholars to be the representative of monastic fanbei.
Fanbei comprises ‘praises’ (zan) and ‘gathas’ or ‘verses’ (ji) and is accompanied only by ritual percussion. The melodies of zan praises, in particular, are melismatic, with long cadences, and sung to a slow tempo strictly regulated by the percussion. Ji verses have shorter melodies and a smaller melodic and textual repertory than zan. In theory, fanbei singing is in unison, but as a result of oralaural transmission, some degree of heterophonic variation may be heard in performance practice.
Today, in monasteries in the south, including Gushan Yongquansi in Fuzhou, Guanghuasi in Putian, Kaiyuansi in Quanzhou, Nanputuosi in Xiamen, Nanshansi in Zhangzhou and monasteries in Guangzhou and Chaozhou, the unified national fanbei repertory is more expedient than ever because monks-in-residence often come from different parts of China. Traditionally local or regional repertories of zan and ji have existed. These are often used in rituals for the dead. These may come in the form of different melodies sharing the same texts as the national repertory, or different corpora of texts and melodies typical to a region (see Yuan 1997). A repertory which developed in the Fuzhou area is widely diffused in the Minnan area, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines and may even be found among Chinese Buddhist communities in parts of North America.
See also: Shifan (Shifan gu, Shifan luogu)
Beijing lianhua foyuetuan (1990). Qianshan foyue (cassette). Taipei: Music in China Publishing.
Hu, Yao (1992). Fojiao yü yinyue yishu. Tianjin: Tianjin renmin chubanshe.
Jones, Stephen (1998). Folk Music of China: Living Instrumental Traditions, 2nd edn with CD. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Ling, Qizhen (1957). ‘Shenyang diqu fanyue de chutan’. Minzu yinyue lunwenji 3. Beijing: Beijing yinyue chubanshe, 69–74.
Tian, Qing (1999/2000). ‘The Sinicization of Buddhist Music’. Translated by Tan Hwee-San. Chime 14/15:8–30.
Ya, Xin et al. (1955). Siyuan yinyue. Chengdu: Zhongguo Yinyuejia Xiehui Chengdu Fenhui.
Yuan, Jingfang (1997). Zhongguo fojiaojing yinyue yanjiu. Taipei: Ciji wenhua chubanshe.
TAN HWEE-SAN

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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