Graphic Notation in Asia: 楽譜と仏教聖歌.


This photo is of the musical score* for the piece known as “Etenraku” –  a popular and oft-used composition in both traditional gagaku music for the Imperial Court of Japan, and in the ceremonial activities of Shintoism. This particular score is for the hichiriki, a small oboe-like instrument with an unearthly timbre unlike any other. Like most traditional writings and scores in Japan, it is script-based, and the smaller ideograms to the left represent the number of fingers one puts down on their instrument while the larger ideogram represents the name of the pitch. Note that the pitch is not determinate, as “six fingers” does not give any indication of the exact tuning of the named pitch. Thus, performances of gagaku can contain rather radical sounding “harmony” based on the aural skills of each musician in the ensemble.

The example below is taken from a book of Buddhist chant used at Tongdo Temple outside of Busan, South Korea. Note that like any other classical writings or scores it too utilizes a vertical scheme with attendant annotations of the original Chinese characters. These ideogram-based manuscript traditions provide a fascinating glimpse into Asian history, as well as the conceptual innovations of East Asian literature and arts.


*This sample is taken from the score anthology I used while studying with hichiriki master Shoji Mori and performing with the Ikuta Jinja Gagaku Orchestra at Ikuta Shrine in Kobe. 


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