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About the Author
Ken Smith currently divides his time between New York (where he writes for Gramophone magazine) and Hong Kong (where he serves as the Asian–performing arts critic for the Financial Times). He is Co–Music Director of the recordings Dong Folk Songs and Miao Music for China's MediaFusion Group, and he won an ASCAP–Deems Taylor Award in 2008 for his liner notes to Gil Shaham's recording of The Butterfly Lovers Concerto for Violin. Ken is also the author of Fate! Luck! Chance!, published in 2008 by Chronicle Books.

Ancient Paths, Modern Voices Blog

Taking It on the Qin

At the 2005 conference for CHIME (the European Foundation for Chinese Music Research) in Amsterdam, Hunter College Professor Emeritus Bo Lawergren generated what passes for shock waves in the academic community by suggesting that the ancient qin had arrived in China from somewhere in Central Asia. Now, one might expect scholars to question the musical bloodlines of the pipa—which does, after all, look a little bit like the oud—but to question the ethnic purity of the qin? You might as well claim that Marco Polo brought the noodles with him from Venice.

Without hair-splitting (I personally side with the late Lou Harrison, who once wrote—in capital letters—“THAT’S ALL THERE IS”) there’s at least one particular attribute that make the qin (or guqin, as it’s formally called to when referring to the “ancient” instrument) conclusively Chinese. The “complex system of tablature” that Stephen Jones refers to in his introduction is actually based on the Chinese written language. The qin became “the music of the literati” because only a true student of literature could read the instructions telling the player where, how and how long to place his fingers. Beyond that, the melody for the qin itself was derived—often overtly, sometimes subtly—from literary sources.

Posted by Ken Smith

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