Oriental Music

Oriental music encompasses music involving a broad spectrum of countries from the Far East to the Middle East, many musical instruments, and various types of music. Japan is one of the countries with the oldest musical tradition. Traditional Japanese music is not only popular in Japan, but also in the West. Many Japanese compositions have been played and performed throughout the world. In Japan, music plays an important role in the culture. Even in modern times, traditional music is played at social and religious gatherings and is enjoyed by nearly everyone.

There is not much information available about pre-historic Japanese music, although it is known music began to play an important role in Japanese culture during the Jomon and Yayoi periods. During those eras, many tombs were built for poets, composers and musicians. There is evidence, chronicled in the works of Kojiki and Nohon Shoki, that during the reign of Emperor Temmu, many popular songs were composed and recorded by artists, becoming part and parcel of Japanese culture.

Much of Japan's music was borrowed from other countries. A great deal of Japanese music, in particular the traditional music called Gagaku, has Chinese and Korean origins. This music was known in China and Korea as To-Gaku and Komagaku music, respectively. Gagaku, known in Japan as the music of the courts, was created at the courts of important noblemen and the upper classes. Gagaku music can be divided into three categories: pure original Japanese music, original foreign music, and music that was composed in Japan but influenced by foreign countries.

The Chinese and Korean forms of Gagaku utilize an orchestra and do not have vocalists. Often, a dance group accompanies Gagaku music, which uses very popular Japanese instruments such as the flute, drum, mouth organ and zither. The zither is a box with a number of strings stretched over it to produce a flat-sounding tone. The zither player lays the instrument down flat and plays using the fingertips or a plectrum.

Kokufukabu is another kind of pure, traditional Japanese music. This ancient music combines instruments and vocalists and is played only at religious ceremonies and in temples. Although considered pure Japanese, it has its roots in neighboring countries.

More modern, yet traditional, music has developed within Japanese culture. This music became popular with the introduction of new musical instruments. The very popular Shakuhachi music was first played by Buddhist priests in their temples during ceremonies and religious holidays. It took its name from the musical instrument of the same name.

Other styles of traditional Japanese music include Koto, also known as Sokoyoku, and an ancient type of music called Shamisen. This also includes instruments and vocalists, and derived its name from the instrument called Shamisen. The music includes melodious singing as well as narrative.

Ancient Japanese music also features folk songs. Unlike those in Western culture, Japanese folk songs are mostly connected to religious services and ceremonies. Although there are also folk songs that relate to everyday chores, they are still different from Western folk songs.

Modern Japanese music consists of a wide array of different performers, each with their own distinct style. Most songs encompass and combine tradition and modernity. The word for music in Japanese is ongaku, which is a combination of two words, kanji meaning "on sound" and gaku meaning "fun and comfort."

Traditional Japanese music is very calm and does not have a distinct rhythm or beat. A British traveler once claimed that Japanese music could exasperate a European heart beyond all endurance.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Ancient and Oriental Music
Egon Wellesz.
Oxford University Press, 1999
Festival of Oriental Music and the Related Arts
University of California.
University of California, 1960
Dance of Life: Popular Music and Politics in Southeast Asia
Craig A. Lockard.
University of Hawaii Press, 1998
"Traditional Music Weeps" and Other Themes in the Discourse of Music, Dance and Theater of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand
Kartomi, Margaret J.
Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, Vol. 26, No. 2, September 1995
Western Music and Its Others: Difference, Representation, and Appropriation in Music
Georgina Born; David Hesmondhalgh.
University of California Press, 2000
Librarian’s tip: "Experimental Oriental: New Music and Other Others" begins on p. 163
Performing Ethnomusicology: Teaching and Representation in World Music Ensembles
Ted Solís.
University of California Press, 2004
Refashioning Pop Music in Asia: Cosmopolitan Flows, Political Tempos, and Aesthetic Industries
Allen Chun; Ned Rossiter; Brian Shoesmith.
RoutledgeCurzon, 2004
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "Global Industry, National Politics: Popular Music in 'New Order' Indonesia"
Women and Music in Cross-Cultural Perspective
Ellen Koskoff.
Greenwood Press, 1987
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 7 "Identity and Individuality in an Ensemble Tradition: The Female Vocalist in Java" and Chap. 8 "Inversion and Conjuncture: Male and Female Performance among the Temiar of Peninsular Malaysia"
Whose Master's Voice? The Development of Popular Music in Thirteen Cultures
Alison J. Ewbank; Fouli T. Papageorgiou.
Greenwood Press, 1997
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 11 "Seeking the Best Integration: Popular Music in Taiwan"
Jockeying for Tradition: The Checkered History of Korean Ch'angguk Opera
Killick, Andrew P.
Asian Theatre Journal, Vol. 20, No. 1, Spring 2003
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