Enjoying the Flowers: Chinese Music & Drama

Enjoy this rarely heard tradition of Chinese music and drama called nanguan. Dating from the early seventeenth-century Ming dynasty, it has been revived by Chinese musicians and actors in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Southeast Asia. It is performed here by vocalists and instrumentalists on Chinese fiddle, lute, gongs, flute, and percussion. The centerpiece of the performance is an excerpt from Enjoying the Flowers, a famous scene in the nanguan repertoire. In this episode, a lady’s maid conjures up imagery of bees, butterflies, birds, and flowers to convince her patron to express her frustrated love through romantic poetry. This performance was presented in cooperation with the Taipei Cultural Center and in conjunction with the Sackler exhibition East of Eden: Gardens in Asian Art. Recorded live in the Haupt Garden at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery on April 22, 2007.

See images, program notes and related artwork at https://www.freersackler.si.edu/series/music/

Program

1. Foot Drum (0:00–6:16 )
The so-called southern drum leads the musical ensemble that accompanies nanguan opera. The drummer places one foot on the drum and produces different pitches and timbres by changing the position and pressure of his/her foot on the drum. This passage combines the southern nanguan percussion pattern, called qibang lo-zai-gu, with rhythms of the northern-style drum and gong, xiaojiao (wooden fish and small gong), and sikuai (four pieces of bamboo).

2. The Painting of One Hundred Flowers (6:17–16:59 )
In this nanguan song, the lyrics refer to flowers as a metaphor for the transience of life. The singer reminds listeners to seize the day to avoid feeling regret when they are older.

3. Pu: Plum Blossom (17:00–27:02 )
This is an excerpt from one of the four core nanguan compositions. It comprises five chapters, describing poetically how the early-blooming plum blossom tree produces lovely flowers even in severe winter. The melody follows the plum blossom from bud to full bloom, expounding on the way it represents the moral integrity of a true gentleman. The melody, as it unfolds, is thought to mimic the blooming process itself.

4. Enjoying the Flowers (27:04–38:05 )
This is a scene from the nanguan opera Chen San Wu Niang. A lady from a good family, Wu Niang is melancholy because she cannot outwardly express her feelings for her beloved, Chen San. Lin Da, a vicious young man from a rich family, has forced her parents to make her marry him instead. One day, a maid named Yichun takes Wu Niang on a stroll in the garden to enjoy the flowers. Yichun uses the imagery of bees, butterflies, flowers, and willows in song to convince Wu Niang to use love poetry to reveal her love for Chen San.

This performance was presented in cooperation with the Taipei Cultural Center and in conjunction with the Sackler exhibition East of Eden: Gardens in Asian Art. Recorded live in the Haupt Garden at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery on April 22, 2007.