Harmony and Counterpoint: Ritual Music in Chinese Context

Harmony and Counterpoint: Ritual Music in Chinese Context

Harmony and Counterpoint: Ritual Music in Chinese Context

Harmony and Counterpoint: Ritual Music in Chinese Context


Drawing together leading scholars in anthropology, social history, musicology and ethnomusicology, the essays in this book address the roles and functions of music in the Chinese ritual context.


Bell Yung, Evelyn S. Rawski, Rubie S. Watson

Gesture, artifact, speech, and music are the primary architectural elements of rituals. in this book we are concerned with the music in the ritual. Whether we focus on the cacophony of a Taiwanese funeral procession, the austere rhythm of a Confucian rite, or the sung poetry of a lamenting bride, we listen to the music. This listening, we believe, adds to and enhances an extensive ritual literature, which has used insights from linguistics, phenomenology, semiology, and theater arts to study the performance styles and "logics" of particular rituals. How, we ask, does music, one of a constellation of ritual elements, empower an officiant, legitimate an office- holder, create a heightened state of awareness, convey a message, or produce a magical outcome, a transformation, a transition?

In an important article published in 1968, Stanley Tambiah argued that orthodox anthropological approaches had limited ritual to "forms of stereotyped behaviour consisting of a sequence of nonverbal acts and manipulation of objects" and so had devalued the role of words (1968: 175). Seeking to understand the "magical power of words," Tambiah contended that in ritual "language appears to be used in ways that violate the communication function" (1968: 179) and considered the various verbal forms used in ritual to examine how these forms (along with gestures and artifacts) gave ritual its power. Tambiah illustrated his approach by describing how a Trobriand garden magician "unites both concept and action, word and deed" within the context of a ritual to establish metaphorical equivalences. the magician thus transfers an attribute from one object to another and so "achieves" the practical goal of a better harvest (1968: 194).

Writing in 1974, Maurice Bloch, like Tambiah, was concerned with "the Durkheimian problem of how ritual makes its statements appear powerful and holy" (1989: 21). For Bloch, "ritual is an occasion where . . .

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