Nanguan (Chinese: 南管; pinyin: Nánguǎn; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Lâm-im; literally: "southern pipes", also called nanyin (南音), nanyue (南樂), or nanqu (南曲)) is a style of Chinese classical music originating in the southern Chinese province of Fujian, and is also now highly popular in Taiwan, particularly Lukang Township on west coast.
Fujian is a mountainous coastal province of China. Its provincial capital is Fuzhou, while Quanzhou was a major port in the 7th century CE, the period between the Sui and Tang eras. Situated upon an important maritime trade route, it was a conduit for elements of distant cultures. The result was what is now known as nanguan music, which today preserves many archaic features.
It is a genre strongly associated with male-only community amateur musical associations (quguan or "song-clubs"), each formerly generally linked to a particular temple, and is viewed as a polite accomplishment and a worthy social service, distinct from the world of professional entertainers. It is typically slow, gentle, delicate and melodic, heterophonic and employing four basic scales.
Styles and instruments
Nanguan repertory falls into three overlapping styles, called chí, phó· and khiok (zhi, pu and qu in Mandarin), differentiated by the contexts in which they occur, by their function, the value accorded them by musicians and by their formal and timbral natures. The Chí (指) is perceived as the most "serious" repertoire: it is a purely instrumental suite normally more than thirty minutes in length, of two to five sections usually, each section being known as a cu or dei ("piece"). Each is associated with a lyric that alludes to a story but, although this may denote origins in song or opera, today chí is an important and respected instrumental repertory. However, the song text significantly eases the memorising of the piece.
Khiok (曲) is a vocal repertory: two thousand pieces exist in manuscript. It is lighter and less conservative in repertory and performance than chí. Most popular pieces today are in a fast common metre and last around five minutes. Phó· (譜) literally means "notation" - these are pieces that have no associated texts and thus must be written down in gongchepu notation. It is an instrumental style that uses a wider range than chí and that emphasises technical display.
A nanguan ensemble usually consists of five instruments. The pie (muban (木板) or wooden clapper) is usually played by the singer. The other four, known as the téng-sì-kóan or four higher instruments, are the four-stringed lute (gî-pê, or pipa in Mandarin), a three-stringed, fretless, snakeskin-headed long-necked lute that is the ancestor of the Japanese shamisen, called the sam-hiân, (sanxian in Mandarin), the vertical flute, (siau (簫), also called tōng-siau), and a two-stringed "hard-bowed" instrument called the jī-hiân, slightly differing from the Cantonese erxian. Each of the four differs somewhat from the most usual modern form and so may be called the "nanguan pipa" etc. Each instrument has a fixed role. The gî-pê provides a steady rhythmic skeleton, supported by the sam-hiân. The siau, meanwhile, supplemented by the jī-hiân, puts "meat on the bones" with colourful counterpoints.
These instruments are essential to the genre, while the ē-sì-kóan or four lower instruments are not used in every piece. These are percussion instruments, the chime (hiangzua), a combined chime and wood block called the giaolo, a pair of small bells (xiangjin) and a four-bar xylophone, the xidei. The transverse flute called the pin xiao (dizi in Mandarin) and the oboe-like aiya or xiao suona are sometimes added in outdoor or ceremonial performances. When all six combine with the basic four, the whole ensemble is called a cha̍p-im or "ten sounds".
From the 17th century the Hoklo immigrated from Fujian to Taiwan and took with them informal folk music as well as more ritualized instrumental and operatic forms taught in amateur clubs, such as beiguan and nanguan. Large populations of similar background can also be found in Malaysia, Guangdong, Hong Kong, Philippines, Singapore, Burma, Thailand and Indonesia, where they are usually referred to as Hokkien, ("Fujian" in the Min Nan language). There are two nanguan associations in Singapore and formerly there were several in the Philippines: Tiong-Ho Long-Kun-sia is one that is still active. Gang-a-tsui and Han-Tang Yuefu have popularised the nanguan ensemble abroad. A Quanzhou Nanguan Music Ensemble was founded in the early 1960s, and there is a Fuzhou Folk Music Ensemble, founded in 1990.
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