Chapter 8 Music of Japan

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					Chapter 5: Music of Japan

Introduction to World Music; SMSU


Culture old and new, Eastern and Western  Outside cultural influences include writing system from China; Buddhism from India through Korea and China  Musical elements connections with Korea and China; European and American influences in 19th and 20th centuries, but Japan, somewhat isolated in the past, has developed many of its own music traditions 2

Although more involvement with new music in past 100 years, traditional music remains viable  Kabuki and bunraku theaters in larger cities  Concerts of traditional instrumental and vocal music  Private and televised instruction in shakuhachi and shamisen

Traditional Japanese poetry; today, a 17syllable verse form consisting of three metrical units of 5, 7, and 5 syllables.  Words contain a sentiment, idea, or emotion, often only describing around the concept.


Haiku Examples

Basho, Matsuo
Fallen sick on a journey, In dreams I run wildly Over a withered moor


Kato, Shusan
I kill an ant and realize My three children Have been watching


In all this cool Is the moon also sleeping: There, in the pool?

Music in Japan
Musical elements from Korea and China; European and American influences from 19th century to present  In art music, appreciation for unpitched sounds, flexibility of pulse; tempo often accelerates to show excitement in theater


Japanese Traditional Music
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Use of pentatonic scales (In and Yo) Compare to pentatonic from earlier in the course Timbre: use of unpitched sounds Melody: use of ornamentation and a nasal, somewhat “pinched” sound Harmony: not a feature of this music Rhythm: flexibility of pulse in many pieces Form: mostly based on jo-ha-kyu – Jo: slow introduction – Ha: building tempo – Kyu: rushing tempo, then slowing at end

Example of Shakuhachi Music
CD IV:1: “Tsuru no sugomori” or “Nesting Cranes”  Performed in the kabuki theater accompanied by shamisen  Ma - space or interval - the timing of a piece including rests and relationship between sound and silence.

Song form that evokes many images and allusions in a short time; dates from midnineteenth century  Women played key role in teaching this music to generations of male performers  Shamisen and Voice


Iemoto Guilds
Several different guilds may be involved with a single type of music  Player must decide which style he or she wants to learn; become affiliated with the guild that follows that style  Guilds also control quality; new composition in many genres was discouraged or even forbidden

CD IV:2: “Hakusen no” (“A White Fan”)  Image of a white fan and the beauty of nature are used as metaphors for romantic commitment  For wedding banquets or private parties  Geisha still trained to entertain at such occasions, but fewer than in the past

Minyo (Folk Song)



Accompanied everyday activities; not as relevant as they used to be, but still very popular; has become more professional and standardized “Nikata-bushi” (CD IV:3) from the region of Akita in northwestern Japan Instrument (shamisen) plays nearly steady pulse while voice has a flexible rhythm


Yatai (The Festival Wagon) IV:4 Shirabe, Ödaiko, and Flute


Popular Music
Much Western influence; Karaoke has become popular around the world; an outlet for stress  Enka composers have adapted songs to the tastes of younger generation; background accompaniment; “Upbeat” with faster tempos and optimistic lyrics

Examples of Enka
CD IV:5 “Nonki-bushi”  CD IV:6 “Naite Nagasaki” (“Crying Nagasaki”)  Typical of old-fashioned enka  Images evoked are common to many enka songs: romantic associations, crying in the windy night, rain; sad mood

Taiko Groups



San Jose Taiko:






Most Japanese music we’ve studied is traditional, but there are also many pop genres. Traditional Characteristics in rhythm, melody, timbre and form - ? Highly influenced by Chinese music, and more recently by European and American models. “Classical” and “Folk” traditions are kept alive by a few.

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