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Playing Pipa
written by Ingo Stoevesandt

Aesthetic concepts

To understand the concept of performing ancient Pipa music, one should consider to think about "ya", a term which includes the Confucianism concept of a simple elegance, a beauty of restrain. When Shanghai became the Chinese center for Pipa music in the Ming dynasty (1360), the extension of the tonal range of the Pipa led to new musical concepts which are still valid today:
Though widening the range of expression, the Pipa was understood likewise the Qin as a recurrant tool that has to rebuild ancient art, recreate picture labeled tunes which are found in the core melodies, the "qu pai".
It might be, that an actual performance of a piece or tune with two different players will result in two different songs, which seem seperated by the playing skills and ornamentation methods used the player, but the "qu pai" melody will always be in there and stays proscriptive for each player in this descriptive music.

Categories of collected pieces + Notation

Like mentioned before, most ancient or classical Pipa music has survived in bigger collections. Most of the time, these collections sort the pieces in different categories, for example following their geographical origin (north, south), their melodic appearance and other topics ("za") and most important the "xiban" and "daqu" of which we speak about on the next page.
This classification goes far beyond the "wen" or "wu" categories and has a deep impact on the composed music.
The music once was notated using the ornamentation signs of the Qin music (which refers to
Guliks choice to write about the Qin as a Chinese "lute"), later on the Gong Che notation was changed into the usage of arabic numbers.  
In Chinese instrument music, one may discover several structural levels which accord to the categories above.  Not only the modal scales used within (toanl material, pitch), also the interpolations between phrases and patterns ("ban", = more than two notes) are sometimes hard to seperate and durely indicate the category of the piece performed. The most important aspect are the microtones and ornamentations, which indicate the origin and intention of the pictures transported via sound. In many notations, this is the most difficult apsect of writing down the music - how to ornament and modulate the tone precisely.
If we keep in mind that the important "lun" technique is often used to smoothen melodical and motival endings, it becomes quiet obvious that the main intention of the Pipa music is to keep the "flow" of a continuum of music.  Rapid tempo changes and the use of augmentations and diminuitions reminds us of the European Barock and the Indonesian Gamelan composition techniques...

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