Hello Friends and Family,

Link to this year's index by clicking here.

Musical Instrument Museum, Part 4

We start today with a Tonggu bronze drum from the Song dynasty, 960 to 1279 CE. It is made in the style of earlier drums from the Han dynasty. Tonggu drums are said to have magical powers and were traditionally used in healing rituals and exorcisms. Tribal cultures living in the mountains of China's southern provinces still highly value these drums and play them for important rituals.

The next photo shows a tiny figure of a performer also from the Song dynasty, 960 to 1279 CE. The figure holds a large set of clappers, commonly called ban.

Here we see a set of Xun vessel flutes, again from the Song dynasty, 960 to 1279 CE. Xun flutes were among the most popular toys for children and were frequently made in the form of comical human and animal heads.

The next item on exhibit is a ceramic pillow featuring painted images of a performance of puppetry and music in a pleasant garden. Sorry, but this pillow does not look too comfortable to me — but a little research reveals that they were often used as a means for cooling a warm sleeping room in the summertime.

This is a set of bronze figurines of female musicians from the Ming dynasty, 1368 to 1644 CE. These represent court musicians playing a small drum, a reed pipe, a rack of gongs and a flute. Most of these instruments are still played today in various folk music and opera genres.

This not-so-ancient silver lock necklace is from the Republican period, circa 1912. It depicts scenes from an opera performance, probably of Henan's local Yu opera style. Still vibrant and popular throughout central China today, Yu began during the late Ming dynasty and has continued through the centuries.

The next display features a Qin zither from the Qing dynasty, 1644 to 1912 CE. Qin zithers are constructed from an arched soundboard of paulownia wood and a flat lower plank of catalpa wood. The arched top is meant to represent the heavenly skies, while the flat underside represents the Earth, making the very structure of the instrument a harmonization of Heaven and Earth.

This older "Banana Leaf" Qin zither is from the Ming dynasty, 1368 to 1644 CE. This exquisite qin is made in the rare jiaoye, or "banana leaf" form particularly associated with Confucian scholars. It displays elegant craquelure of the lacquer. In keeping with tradition, this qin has been given a poetic name, "Flying Springs Rinse the Jade", which is inscribed in calligraphy on the instrument's underside.

While not an instrument, these qin plectrums are indispensable when certain stringed instruments such as qin zithers are played — they are needed to pluck the strings. Both of these are made of jade and date to the Qing dynasty, 1644 to 1912.

Here is the last of the images that I captured at this special exhibit — a ceramic pillow depicting a qin performance, from the Northern Song dynasty, 960-1127 CE. The ability to play and appreciate the qin was described as an essential virtue possessed by Confucian scholars, and its performance was meant to be shared privately among friends. This ceramic pillow illustrates two Confucian scholars in a manicured garden — one plays the qin and the other listens.

Although this is the last of the photos from the Ancient Chinese Musical Instrument Exhibit, during the next few weeks I will be sharing photos from the main part of MIM focusing on exhibits that were different or new since my last visit.

To be continued...

Life is good.

B. David

P. S., All photos and text © B. David Cathell Photography, Inc. — www.bdavidcathell.com