How to Lute a Sunday in 'Burque for a Jade Earful

Imagine you hear the sound of pearls falling on a carved jade plate. The sound is round and smooth, delicate, falls gently into the curves of your ear canals, stringing a beaded melody. Or you hear thousands of hoof-beats trampling moist forest floor, thudding, the breath of men and horses straining, spears lifted. Or you hear a hawk lighting on a pine, claws clasping, soft bend of a branch, drops of morning dew falling to earth.

Or perhaps you hear a cacophony, two millennia of complex history.

Or maybe you overhear a lone noblewoman recounting her fate after marrying a tea-merchant, talking only with her fingers across four strings, as many laments, a multiplicity of frets, a push/pull against silk---p’i p’a, these are the sounds you hear as fingers push forwards, pi, and backwards, pa, and this is the name of the instrument you hear, the pipa (pronounced "pee-paa"), a Chinese instrument with over 2000 years of history.

So where are you? In a museum? In China? Transported to back in time to the Qin Dynasty (222-207BC) when the earliest incarnation of the pipa developed? Or perhaps just hunkered down in front of a radio in the 1950s listening to government-sponsored musicians offer traditional songs to the public after the formation of the People’s Republic of China? Could you simply be in Albuquerque a couple blocks off of Central Avenue listening to a contemporary pipa concert?

You could.

You could be at an AMP concert. On Sunday AMP is presenting Wu Man solo on the pipa at the Outpost Performance Space 210 Yale SE at 7:30 pm for a bargain discount cost of $10.

(Later this afternoon, you could even win free tix to the show if you watch for Samantha Anne Scott's forthcoming post on Duke City Fix!!!)

When you listen to the pipa--a Chinese lute related to the barbat, oud, sitar, erhu, mandolin and many other instruments with pluck--what you'll hear is a living tradition carrying across continents.

Wu Man is a pipa virtuoso. Not only is she responsible for exporting the pipa and bringing the traditional music to the world, but she also invigorates the tradition by playing new contemporary compositions and by collaborations which include performances with the Kronos Quartet, Yo-Yo Ma, and the Silk Road Project. In the Albuquerque Journal, she told David Steinberg she'd be touching on eight historical periods as well as doing her own originals in her solo concert!!!

But this concert isn't about history. Or this is about the kind of history that humans make: stories. Music is universal. In the preface to his verse Ode to Pipa, Xuan Fu of the Jin Dynasty (265-420 AD) wrote: "When the people suffered from being forced to build the Great Wall, they played the instrument to express their resentment." This is "folk music", music with as varied an emotional range as humans are capable of expressing.

When I was researching the pipa, I found a long poem titled "Pipa Song" (Pipa Xing) written by Bai Juyi in 815 AD. The poem tells of a group of drinkers who catch sound of a pipa on the wind and invite the woman musician to come and musically recount her story. By the end of the poem, the poet laments the resonance he shares with the sad fate of the woman. Here is an excerpt:

The bold strings rattled like splatters of sudden rain,
The fine strings hummed like lovers' whispers.
Chattering and pattering, pattering and chattering,
As pearls, large and small, on a jade plate fall.
...
Suddenly a strain of notes burst out
Like water splattering out of a fallen vase
Or horsemen riding among a forest of spears.
She struck the four strings all at once
As if the silk curtains were ripped with great force.

See this link for the entire 616 character poem.

The pipa offers music of imagery, music of story, music rich with heart, with life-force and life-quandaries. And Wu Man is the consummate performer to hear if you want to catch an earful of music that can literally do nothing except enrich your day and your mind. Concerts like this are heartening. We are lucky to have this rare opportunity...

AMP Concerts Presents:
Wu Man
Sunday, August 1
Outpost Performance Space
210 Yale SE
7:30 PM
Only $10!


[Banner is part of an image from the Jin Dynasty (265-420 AD). Note that the second musician from the right side plays the pipa. I found it here.]

Views: 12

Tags: AMP, albuquerque, china, history, jade, pearls, pipa, wu man

Comment by Richard Read Oyama on July 30, 2010 at 11:31am
Thank you, Lisa, lovely blog. So hope I can make this concert. My friend Jason Hwang has composed pieces that included a part for pipa.
Comment by cc on July 30, 2010 at 6:54pm
You make this sound fascinating. Thanks.
Comment by Poet Oishi on July 30, 2010 at 10:43pm
Lovely imagery, Lisa! Thank you, Neal, for bringing this act to Albuquerque.
Comment by lisa gill on July 31, 2010 at 12:47am
Thanks Richard, CC and Mary, --and yes, as Mary said, we all owe Neal Copperman for great shows. I hope to see some of you at the show and was glad to see someone figured out the characters for the free tix on Samantha's post. I used to "meditate" by writing Chinese characters out 100/day in proper stroke order and loved that process...
Comment by neal copperman on July 31, 2010 at 10:47am
Best blog title ever.
Comment by J. Paul Lanier on July 31, 2010 at 11:21am
Many thanks for this wonderful piece!
Comment by Merimee Moffitt on August 2, 2010 at 7:34am
I had a previous engagement but love the blog--wish I'd heard sooner the enticement to attend--lovely echo of the pipa thx Lisa
Comment by lisa gill on August 2, 2010 at 7:35am
gracias all, this was so fun to research and then at the show Wu Man gave historical context for the works... very sweet,
Comment by Merimee Moffitt on August 2, 2010 at 7:43am
and, I really appreciate the whole poem by the "Deputy Chief of Prefecture . . J . . Dynasty" Sweet!!! what a grand narrative . . . thx again

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