In researching traditional ancient Chinese music I have learned more about the influence of musical evolution through time. My conclusion is that change or evolution sometimes can give many different feelings for the same piece. One piece could produce many wonderful artworks.
However, after the research, I have to ask myself a questions. What is the better way to approach traditional music—to promote it or preserve it?
I would like to give an example. There is a Chinese traditional piece called “Mei Hua San Nong" or “Three stanzas of Plum-blossoms”.
The plum tree and plum blossom have great significance in Chinese culture, and to Chinese literature in particular. The plum tree, its blossoms, and fruit symbolize strength and longevity; but it also represents creative power, fertility and female beauty. Paintings often show the scholar and his qin near one or more plum trees, or a vase with plum blossoms on his qin table. Plum blossoms are seen as a symbol of winter and a harbinger of spring. The blossoms are so beloved because they are viewed as blooming most vibrantly amidst the winter snow, exuding an ethereal elegance, and their fragrance is noted to subtly pervade the air even at the coldest times of the year. Therefore the plum blossom came to symbolize perseverance and hope, but also beauty, purity, and the transitoriness of life.
“Mei Hua San Nong” is one of the most popular of all qin melodies. It was first collected in 1425 in the Shen Qi Mi Pu, a collection of ancient Chinese music. The qin is a Chinese traditional instrument and is called the “father of Chinese instruments.” There are many versions of this melody. The beginnings are always quite similar, but the latter parts are different.
There are two opposing views on how to approach this piece. Many qin performers believe that it should be maintained and reverted to the original concept. They think the melody is like a symbol to represent a kind of spirit or atmosphere. Therefore, the piece should stand with its original look and natural features.
However, many musicians who have sought to develop and promote the traditional style support a different point of view. They do not oppose the retention of the original appearance of the piece. They just hope to create something new based on the old. It would be a new “ancient art” given a new imprint of our time. Maybe in future, when people look back on the history of this piece they could understand more about it and us.
It is hard to judge which method could be more beneficial for ancient art. At least until now we have enjoyed both advantages of them.