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Tag: field recordings (Page 3 of 4)

Memory, Poetics and Living Musical Tradition in Iranian Khorāsān: The Stephen Blum Collection

A new finding aid from the Archive of World Music provides the opportunity to explore and listen to music and sung poetry from northeastern Iran.

Kamancheh Player, Kermanshah by indigoprime, on Flickr
Kamānche player,
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License by indigoprime

The Stephen Blum Collection of Music from Iranian Khorāsān at Harvard University: original ethnographic sound recordings, 1968-2006 contains audio from ethnomusicological fieldwork conducted in the northern part of Iranian Khorāsān. Included are about 50 hours of field recordings made in 1968-1969 and 1972, with an emphasis on sung poetry in three languages: Persian (Farsi), Khorasani Turkish (Torki), and Kurmanji Kurdish. Musical genres in the collection include both lyric songs (chārbeiti, ghazal, and gharibi) and narrative pieces (naqqāli, dāstān, and others), performed as solos or accompanied on instruments such as the ney, a kind of flute, the kamānche, and the dotār, both types of lutes. The performers are the subjects of Blum’s Ph.D. dissertation, Musics in Contact: The Cultivation of Oral Repertoires in Meshhed, Iran.

In this representative recording from the collection, made in the city of Mashhad in 1969, the naqqāl Heidari – a solo singer – performs an excerpt from Firdawsī’s 11th century verse epic, Shāhnāmah, the Book of Kings: Haft khwān-e Rustam (Seven exploits of Rostam). The hero Rostam, accompanied by his horse Rakhsh, battles monsters, demons, sorcerers, and temptation, in order to release the king Kai Kavus and his army from captivity.

Dr. Blum has been deeply engaged in the scholarly exploration of Iranian musical culture since the late 1960s, and he completed his doctoral studies under the direction of Bruno Nettl, a leading ethnomusicologist. Blum has also been instrumental in the field, not only with his scholarly work but as the founder of the ethnomusicology concentration at the City University of New York Graduate Center, where he has taught since 1987. Among his many publications are chapters on Central Asia and Iran in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians and The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music.

Following the Revolution of 1979, Dr. Blum was unable to return to Iran until 1995, when he donated copies of his earlier recordings to the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance and made additional recordings in Khorāsān as well as in the city of Qazvin, northwest of Tehran. He began to make more frequent visits in 2006, and remains in close contact with Iranian students and colleagues. Recordings from these visits consist largely of conversations, with occasional performances, which are being digitized for future inclusion in the finding aid. The collection also includes notebooks and printed collections of verses intended for singing, along with a street guide to the city of Mashhad.

Earlier this fall, Dr. Blum visited Prof. Richard K. Wolf’s seminar on classical Iranian music and its relationship to poetry and narrative in vernacular traditions, and used performances from the collection to illustrate these relationships.

The finding aid to The Stephen Blum Collection is part of the OASIS catalog, Harvard’s Online Archival Search Information System. The reel-to-reel tapes from the collection have been digitized, and audio files of the recordings are available through the finding aid to anyone, anywhere in the world. (Make sure you have Real Player installed to play the files.)

– Donna Guerra and Kerry Masteller

Remnants of Ancient Sounds: from the Rulan Chao Pian Collection

Qin Pu he bi, which includes a score in Chinese Jianzipu notation. Photograph courtesy Harvard University Department of Music.

Qin Pu he bi, which includes a score in Chinese Jianzipu notation. Photograph courtesy Harvard University Department of Music.

Mastery of the qin (or guqin), a type of zither, was one of the necessary skills of a scholar or well-educated person in ancient China, along with an understanding of qi (chess), shu (calligraphy), and hua (painting).

An extremely rare Ming dynasty qin anthology – one of 19 known extant copies – was recently discovered by Print Media Acquisitions Assistant Lingwei Qiu in a collection donated to the Music Library by Professor Emerita Rulan Chao Pian. The eight-volume anthology, compiled by Yang Lun and printed in China in 1609, includes two works; the first, Tai gu yi yin, Remnants of Ancient Sounds, is a collection of scores written in jianzipu character notation. Since aesthetics and philosophy form essential components of Chinese musical traditions, each piece is preceded by a poem to describe its mood, while the notation itself indicates which strings, finger positions, and techniques the musician should use. The second work, Boya xin fa, or Boya’s Internal Method, is a treatise about the philosophy of music and an instruction manual for students of the qin, with scores, illustrations, and discussions of the instruments, fingerings, and playing techniques.

Another seventeenth-century book from the collection is an edition of the Chinese encyclopedia Shi lin guang ji, published in Japan in 1699. First printed in the thirteenth century, and continually revised and reissued, this general encyclopedia covers subjects ranging from history, government, and military strategy to medicine, philosophy, literature, and music.

Lingwei Qiu with the encyclopedia Shi lin guang ji. Photograph courtesy Harvard University Department of Music.

Lingwei Qiu with the encyclopedia Shi lin guang ji. Photograph courtesy Harvard University Department of Music

In addition to these rare books, the Rulan Chao Pian Collection includes several hundred field and commercial recordings of Buddhist chants, Chinese songs, Kun, Cantonese and Peking opera, and a recording of a Taiwanese aboriginal dwarf ceremony. Video recordings include Korean heungboga, Japanese bunraku, and other genres, as well as recordings of the Chinese drama Shajiabang, and American rituals used for a course on Music and Ritual.

For further exploration:

  • Moore, J. Kenneth. “The Qin“. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–.
  • Chinese Musical Instruments, from the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

– Lingwei Qiu and Kerry Masteller

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