Gagaku, the Music and Dances of the Japanese Imperial Household

Gagaku, the Music and Dances of the Japanese Imperial Household

Gagaku, the Music and Dances of the Japanese Imperial Household

Gagaku, the Music and Dances of the Japanese Imperial Household

Excerpt

We pray for One World, not one world of monolithic unity but of the rich vitality and variety of the many worlds that may, one day, be one in independent diversity. Our two great Worlds of East and West have never before been so interdependent, so linked by tension and by mutual attraction. The fascination of East for West and West for East is the key of our time. The visit of Gagaku, the musicians and dancers of the Imperial Japanese Household, is a symbol of extraordinary depth and importance, of the possibility of bridging culture, time and place.

Gagaku, founded in 703 A.D., is the oldest institution performing music and dance in the world. Its tradition, of imperial support, hereditary personnel and artistic repertory is uninterrupted. It has had, until recently, an almost secret, almost a sacred life. It is possible that more people will see Gagaku in the United States on its epochmaking tour than have ever beheld it in the Imperial Music Pavilion in Tokyo or at one of the great shrines at Ise or Nara.

However, we must school our ears to hear, our eyes to see Gagaku. We are accustomed to sounds and sights arranged quite differently by measures of time and space. In the West, time nervously passes; in the East, man passes through imperturbable time. In America, space is unlimited; our prairies stretch from sea to shining sea. In Japan, the islands are strictly circumscribed; mountains are terraced, foot by foot. Music and dances in their rich accumulation from all South East and Central Asia, already a thousand years old in some cases when Gagaku was founded, found a haven and a home in Japan, for there was nowhere else to move on to, save into the Pacific.

So there survived elements from Persia, Mongolia, Thailand, Korea, Japan itself, of an almost unimaginable antiquity. Think for a moment what was happening in Western Europe in 703 A.D.; in Nara there was a great court. But what is more, a pre-Buddhist culture that we are only beginning to prize today, along with Etruscan and Cycladic art, had long preceded the Chinese priests and architects who had made Nara a shrine city of unsurpassed splendor. Kyoto itself was not founded until almost a century later. Gagaku performs sacred and secular dances; the ceremonial movement derive sometimes from folk-sources, Persian polo, Korean bargepoling, Chinese military discipline, but it has been refined, essentialized, formalized, in the atmosphere of the Im-

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