Different musical genres corresponding to different social classes

Gagaku à court (music restricted to the court and certain families of musicians)

Shakuhachi à Zen practitioners

Koto (19th century) à young middle class women

Kouta à Geisha (female performers)

Kabuki, Bunraku à 17th century urban merchant middle class; women excluded as performers

Noh à 15th century intellectuals, samurai values


Good supplement:  http://jazz.sdsu.edu/courseM151/weeks11-15/Japan.htm


great video clips of Noh:  http://www2.ntj.jac.go.jp/unesco/noh/en/


great video clips of Bunraku:  http://www2.ntj.jac.go.jp/unesco/bunraku/en/


Components of Japanese Sound-Culture

I. Musical Specifics

A.  Pitch –

1.      scales: 2 distinctive scales with 5-note cores; one scale has prominent half-steps in it

2.      melodic tendencies: expressive bending of pitch (especially in shakuhachi music & gagaku)

B.  Rhythm – very loose coordination; duple subdivision; odd meters in folk music

C.  Form – jo ha kyu suggests a shape for phrases and pieces

D.  Texture – gagaku - transparent

E.    Timbre --

1.     instrumental
a. preferences: NON-BLENDING TIMBRES (gagaku, kabuki) or timbral variety within one instrument (shakuhachi)
b.  typical instruments: shakuhachi, shamisen, koto

2.     wide range of vocal preferences, techniques from gravely low chanting sounds (Noh) to fairly nasal (kouta)

            F.  Sound intensity -- loud (Taiko drumming by Kodo!) or soft (shakuhachi) ; dynamic range fairly static

II.  Social Organization of Music

A.  Who can participate (play, listen, make instruments) in this music?  Who is excluded? See top of page.

B.  How many musicians are appropriate for an ensemble?  Gagaku 10–15.  Definite distinctions between musician and audience member.  

C.  Transmission -- how is the music learned and passed on to others?  Tight restrictions and an emphasis on guilds and precise teacher-student lineages.

D.  Social status of musicians -- variable

III.  Ideas about Music

A.  aesthetic preferences:  Maximum effect from minimum means:  Noh, gagaku; extravagance: kabuki

B.  Contexts for use of music – VARIES BY GENRE:  ceremonial: gagaku, folk rituals; for aesthetic enjoyment: gagaku, koto; religious practice/meditation: shakuhacki; entertainment: kouta, koto, kabuki, and, for serious entertainment, Noh, gagaku.

C.  The historical consciousness and awareness of change is acute as shown by Gagaku’s divisions of “left” and “right.”  The great emphasis on lineages of performers and teachers is also an example of this reverence for tradition.

D.   Composition -- what is a "piece" and how does it come to be?  What is the role/status/awareness of a composer?  There are notated pieces, but the emphasis is more on the tradition and teacher, rather than the origin of a piece.

E.    What is the contribution or role of improvisation?  Hardly any.

F.    Genres – what categories exist? What defines them? What maintains them?  See top of page.

G.   Theory – nomenclature, acoustics, ideas about music’s role in society – Not very verbal about music.

IV.  Allied Arts

A.  Texts – kouta texts are often subtle, with elegant wordplay

            B.  Movement – dance – bugaku; Noh is also known as “the art of walking”

            C.  Visual parallels – art, textiles (non-blending of patterns & colors in stage costumes) , architecture (“ma” in rock gardens)

V.  Listening & Personal Response

A.    1st hearing reaction

B.    After repeated hearings and discussion?

C.   What would the “ideal” trained & sympathetic listener-participant find in this music?

rev. Oct 2005

David Meckler


web page

music class web pagesmusic course offerings