Sunday, August 30, 2015

Musician in a Landscape - Chiang Yee

Chiang Yee,  from The Silent Traveller in Edinburgh:

"That had been a very fine morning, and as I sat on one of the public seats along the Crags I had become completely intoxicated by the still, yet fresh air. A shaft of sunlight hovered in the mist, suggesting the busy movement in the air of each tiny particle. Then the chiming began from one church after another. At first I could distinguish a single tune quivering through the mist with notes so clear and pure they seemed to cleanse my heart and shake old dusty thoughts out of my mind. Involuntarily I rose to my feet. More chimes floated up, each distinct and yet blending with the rest to produce an extraordinary harmony. I held my breath with a happy feeling of expansion and clarity until the peals ended in a soothing trail of sound. I realised how right our great philosophers and musicians were to say that music is best heard at a distance and from a high place. Perhaps I had been particularly fortunate in hearing the chimes washed by the morning mist. How much better this was than to listen indoors or in a street to tunes cramped by walls and tarnished with urban reek! I have read many tales of famous old Chinese musicians who liked to play their instruments in the depths of a grove or under the shade of a big tree in a far corner of a garden while the audience listened at a distance, or, when forced indoors, sat behind screens so that the audience could enjoy the music undisturbed. We modern people sit close together in packed auditoria watching the movements of the hands and the expressions on the faces of the players on the stage, and sometimes even daring - if it is winter-time in Britain! - to sneeze or cough."


full version:
It was raining hard outside my window; I could hear it clearly. But I had thought of going up Arthur's Seat to hear the Sunday morning chimes of Edinburgh's church bells. Rain has never prevented me from going out.
I might never have thought of this expedition had I not chanced to hear the chimes on a previous Sunday from Salisbury Crags.
That had been a very fine morning, and as I sat on one of the public seats along the Crags I had become completely intoxicated by the still, yet fresh air. A shaft of sunlight hovered in the mist, suggesting the busy movement in the air of each tiny particle. Then the chiming began from one church after another. At first I could distinguish a single tune quivering through the mist with notes so clear and pure they seemed to cleanse my heart and shake old dusty thoughts out of my mind. Involuntarily I rose to my feet. More chimes floated up, each distinct and yet blending with the rest to produce an extraordinary harmony. I held my breath with a happy feeling of expansion and clarity until the peals ended in a soothing trail of sound. I realised how right our great philosophers and musicians were to say that music is best heard at a distance and from a high place. Perhaps I had been particularly fortunate in hearing the chimes washed by the morning mist. How much better this was than to listen indoors or in a street to tunes cramped by walls and tarnished with urban reek! I have read many tales of famous old Chinese musicians who liked to play their instruments in the depths of a grove or under the shade of a big tree in a far corner of a garden while the audience listened at a distance, or, when forced indoors, sat behind screens so that the audience could enjoy the music undisturbed. We modern people sit close together in packed auditoria watching the movements of the hands and the expressions on the faces of the players on the stage, and sometimes even daring - if it is winter-time in Britain! - to sneeze or cough.
The church bells of the Christian West sound much as our temple bells do, though the latter only strike single notes. They are cast in the same manner, and they are rung for similar purposes: the difference lies in their timbre. I do not know when the first church bells were cast in the West; in China there are temple bells among the ancient bronzes of the Chou Dynasty dating back three or four thousand years. We often use the phrase 'Sheng-chungmu- ku" which means ' morning bell and evening drum', to describe something which awakens the mind and quickens the conscience, and it came to my lips as I stood listening to the chimes on Salisbury Crags.

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