New York Qin Society at Henry Chan’s Office



May 15, 2011 NYQS at Henry’s office on St. Mark’s Place

Henry Chan

John Thompson

Stephen Dydo
Participating Visitors:
Jason Ginsburg


The meeting was an impromptu gathering to meet with John Thompson, who has been away in Mumbai for two years. We met at Henry’s office on St. Marks Place in the East Village. There was no agenda other than playing and talking.

John talked about some of the pieces he
's been working on. In particular, he has been looking for pieces with a rather unusual tuning (diao ) He is interested in this tuning because, with his qin strings tuned lower than metal strings are usually tuned these days (lowest string at C, silk typically tuned to B flat), he was looking for a tuning that would work with ensembles of Western instruments tuned to A = 440.

A discussion of modes (also diao ) followed. John mentioned that it is often difficult to identify a particular mode in a melody, and sometimes the definition of a mode seemed to change over time. Stephen mentioned that he had noticed something similar in his work with church modes; early Medieval pieces and later Renaissance pieces not only used different melodic features in the same mode, but the early period modes are not the same set as the later period modes. Jason said that similar things happened with the modes used in the Highland bagpipe literature.

John then played two pieces he’s been working on:

Pounding Cloth (搗衣 Dao Yi)

Yueshang Melody (越裳操 Yueshang Cao)

This led to a short discussion of singing. John pointed out that the syllabification of Yueshang Cao was very typical of vocal settings in qin music. That is, there is one character for each right-hand gesture, usually a single note; a singer would in fact sing a single note per syllable. This is different from opera, where it is often the case that a single syllable will go over many notes. Henry pointed out that there were regional differences, in opera, in the way that tones were treated. That is, in Mandarin opera melodies, the tones of the speech were not preserved, and the words are often unclear; but in Cantonese opera, tones are preserved, despite the fact that they are more complex than in Mandarin, and the words are much clearer.

Finally Stephen played Geese Descend on a Sandbank (平沙落雁 Ping Sha Luoyan). This was not something hes been working on, but rather a piece taught to him by Jung-ping Yuan. The teaching was completely traditional, without the use of tablature or recordings.














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