2013 Student-Faculty Fellows Program: Carleton College
Temple Music in the Chinese Diaspora, Taiwan and Singapore
Mentor: Gao Hong Dice, Music
Students: Kim Bauer ’13, Yawen Chen, ’15, Joseph Concannon, ‘13
This is the second “Student-Faculty Fellows” grant received by Professor Hong to assist her students in studying traditional temple music in Asia. The initial research was undertaken by Professor Hong and three students in Kyoto, Seoul and Beijing during the summer of 2011. This grant enabled her to lead three new students to Taiwan and Singapore to study temple music. In Taiwan, the group visited several Buddhist temples where they interviewed monks and nuns and lay members seeking to preserve temple music, particularly those in the Taipei and Kaohsiung branches of the Xiang Guang Bhikkhuni Sangha. They also participated in a four-hour chanting session in the Dharma Drum Mountain Temple in Taipei. In Singapore, they visited a number of temples, and devoted quite a bit of time analyzing the methods utilized by the Singapore Taoist Federation to preserve temple music. Now back from Asia, the group is engaged in transcribing recorded music into Chinese and Western scores so it can be performed in the West. Yawen Chen, who plays the dizi, and Professor Hong, who is a world renowned player of the pipa, will showcase their talents and some of the music discovered this past summer at the ASIANetwork spring conference and elsewhere, and the Chinese Music Ensemble at Carleton College will also play this music at Carleton and throughout the Midwest. Kim Bauer maintained an extensive blog of the group’s experiences while in Taiwan and Singapore. Ms. Chen will also prepare a month-long exhibit, based on the discoveries made during this trip, for display in the Laurence McKinley Gould Library at Carleton. Joe Concannon will draw from interviews taken during this trip and music recordings to present the group discoveries on several public radio broadcasts.
As a member of the Chinese Music Ensemble and player of the Chinese erhu, I discovered that temple music among the Chinese diaspora in Taiwan and Singapore varies quite significantly based on time and place and how local culture influenced earlier traditions. Our research focused upon interviewing monks, nuns, leaders of temples, and performers of music throughout Taiwan and Singapore and also acquiring CDs of temple music and recording temple music wherever possible. The main objective of our research is to transcribe the melodies from our recordings into Chinese musical scores, which we will post for free online so that this can be shared with people at home and abroad. The scores will remain true to the melodies we heard, yet they will be instrumental (whereas the chants we heard were mostly vocal with percussive accompaniment). In this way, our scores are at once preserving temple music, yet also adapting to fit the needs of the Chinese Music Ensemble at Carleton. Once transcribed, the Ensemble will perform these pieces throughout the Midwest.
Even though I have played the bamboo flute in various Chinese ensembles for over ten years, this research experience provided me with a new opportunity to study ethnomusicology to see how the social components such as language, culture, history and politics shape music. I also discovered that Buddhist temple music in Taiwan and Singapore is rarely written down. Instead, it is passed on orally from one generation to the next. One remarkable experience occurred for me at the Dharma Drum Mountain Youth Center near Taipei where I participated in a four-hour-long chanting that provided me with a much deeper understanding of the impact and purpose of temple music. I also studied the various chanting traditions practiced in Taiwan, especially the Jiangzhe style, which originated in Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces in Mainland China, and the Minnan style which chants in the Minnan dialect. In Singapore, my horizons were further broadened as our group studied Taoist, Indian, and Buddhist temple music as well as local folk music.
My role in this undergraduate research group is to be its writer and publicist, and, as such, to help record and collect numerous temple chants and pages and pages of interviews that will be shared with audiences through several public radio broadcasts. I journeyed to Asia for a first time through this grant, but feel that my interest in religion and comparative literature prepared me well for this undertaking. We recorded chanting at three primary sites – Fo Guang Shang Temple outside Kaohsiung, Kiang Guang Temple in urban Taipei, and Sheng Hong Temple in Singapore, and acquired literally dozens of CDs that provide examples of changing trends in Buddhist music. Personally, I discovered the interesting connection between folk opera and chanting patterns, and the fact that although the words of Buddhist prayers are chanted in Sanskrit or local dialects of Mandarin or Hokkein, the rhythms often come from local operas, even though many of these operas are Daoist or not specifically Buddhist in origin. This points to the great fluidity between religious communities in urban Asia where one might meet a Chinese Singaporean, Hokkein-speaking, Daoist-Buddhist-identified person who is worshipping at a Tamil Hindu temple. This fall, I will complete a radio feature, using interviews, music and the sounds recorded during our research experience to tell the story of the changing aesthetic in Buddhist music which will be aired by OPD in Portland and several other stations.