Describe the relationship between sound and silence in Japanese gagaku

For this reflection essay, choose any one of the following ideas and write your one-page essay about it:

  • Describe the relationship between sound and silence in Japanese gagaku. How does the interplay of silence and sound affect the timbral (textural) and impact of the music? Are the sounds of the instruments surprising to you based on what they look like? If so, describe what you expected based on appearance and what sound quality you hear instead.
  • Consider the sound vs. silence question in relation to the instruments of the sankyoku ensemble (shakuhachi, the shamisen, and/or the koto).  What is it that gives each instrument its unique timbre? (think instrument materials, things used to play the instrument, etc.)
  • What are the requirements for becoming a gagaku musician in the Imperial Household Agency?  (Is there a family connection? How long must one study? What does an aspiring gagaku musician need to know?
  • Describe one membranophone, one aerophone, and one chordophone used in gagaku, including how each is played, and the instrument’s subtype (according to the Hornbostel-Sachs system).
  • Describe how ethnomusicologist William Malm’s observation (extracting maximum effect from a minimum of musical materials) applies to a gagaku performance, or to any solo performance style of one of the three sankyoku instruments.
  • We discussed three different musical (or at least sound-making) groups or roles that are part of kabuki theater performances.  Name all three, including the instruments or sounds they use, and where they are physically located in relation to the main action and actors on stage.  What are some other important elements of kabuki staging? (These may or may not have to do with music.)
  • Describe the relationship between the shakuhachi, breath, and meditation, and the instrument’s movement from that purpose to music.
  • Discuss the role of the komuso and what it had to do with the shakuhachi, meditation, and the internecine struggles between the warring states of Japan in the Tokugawa (or Edo) period.
  • What are the instruments used in sankyoku? Describe distinctive features of each — structure, material, etc., and how each is classified in the Hornbostel-Sachs system. And what is their role of these instruments in relation to the main melody?
  • How does an Okinawan sanshin differ from a Japanese shamisen, in terms of both instrument structure (and materials) and playing technique, and use within different traditions, in different ensembles (or alone), and for different occasions?
  • What group of instruments is typical in Okinawan minyo music? What about the role of the voice?
  • How is Okinawa (and really the Ryukyu Island chain) both part of Japan, and yet separate in history and identity?

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