Beyond Words – Beauty and Strength

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  As I have already mentioned in the previous post, my love for Asia’s music began through movies and dance. Namely Korean traditional dance. Or cinematographic reinterpretation of traditional dance.

  What struck me from the very beginning was not only the grace. Delicate hand movements meant to express as much as a story would. There was also the perfect balance. Dancers exhale perfect control of the breath, of the body, of their own selves and of the viewer. Every single movement calculated and executed at a very precise moment, no sooner or later. The steps barely touching the ground, the props used as an extension of the body and the floating of the body around its own axis or jerky floating above the ground (trust me, it IS possible) fascinate me beyond words. 

The same precision, balance, control is felt throughout more complicated performances – drum dances, fan dances or sword dances and so on and so forth. I am not sure if I am utterly amazed by the synchronization in the dancing groups or if I expect it in a certain degree.

Drum Dance: Korean Drum Dance By The Little Angles of Korea

Fan Dance: 부채춤 (Buchaechum – Korean traditional dance performed with fans)

Sword Dance: Korean traditional court dance mu go and geum mu 무고 검무 합설 (I recommend paying extra attention to the dancers in the middle. They are performing 검무 – geommu – the sword dance. I never cease to get amazed by the way the swords are handled!) Am I totally wrong to consider these dances a good competition even to modern world ballet?

 I am less familiar with Japanese traditional dance, but I am impressed by the skill, the strength and the stamina needed in Taiko dance – Japanese drum dance. It is so much more than rhythm, synchronization and skill.  It is really manly.

Taiko Drummers: A divine force unleashed?

Another performance: Taiko drummers in Barcelona

One more complex performance: A breathtaking Japanese drum line

China… China is for me the symbol of fine art carved into human bodies. I am not sure about the traditional character of the dances I have seen, but each and every one made my jaw drop.

Here – an example: Jade Porcelain Dance

Add some hearing impaired dancers and you have:  Thousand Hands Guan Yin ( Goddess of Mercy ) – in other versions, Buddha– incredible performance, perfection!

I am well aware that there are other fabulous traditional dances in other countries (Indian dances are also impressive). But I decided to stick to what I know better.

Here you have a playlist with the videos chosen for this post and a few more: 

Travelling through Asia

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  My contacts with Asian music were scarce before a few years ago. It is true that Chinese music I used to hear on TV picked my attention and I remember asking my mother why does it sound so different. I know for sure it was not Japanese or of any different Asian origin. Mum explained me about the difference in dividing the tone (I knew about tone and semitone) and that was pretty much all I knew and mattered to me at the time. I was listening almost exclusively to modern music. (I listened to classical and opera pieces just because she was listening to them and, well, there was no other option at the time, but it didn’t bothered me at all, I quite enjoyed them, and whenever she was listening to the folklore of my people  I looked away with a bored face. Sometimes I wonder how I could be so narrow minded, but I suppose wisdom comes with age.)

  After a while I discovered a melody named ”Because I am a girl” sang by a group named Kiss and after that I discovered an artist named BoA. They were Korean pop singers, but I did not know at the time. They were Asian. That’s all I knew and I cared about. I liked what I heard but I didn’t bother to look deeper. (I will not talk about modern music today, though.) Only a few years ago, a couple of years ago, I discovered Korean dramas. The very first drama I watched – by some sort of accident of the fate – revolved around traditional dance. Traditional dance means traditional music. There was this instrument that resonated in such a delicate and painful way at the same time, named gayageum. This is how it began my journey through Asian traditional music. Because I am a curious mind and once it starts, it keeps looking and searching until it reaches unexpected territories. Because, you know, the gayageum is related to the Japanese koto and the Chinese guzheng as the Korean kkangkkangi (haegeum) is related to erhu. Sounds complicated? It is just about traditional Asian instruments and I stop here. I shall let only the music to speak. It speaks so much better than me!

I begin with the very first traditional Korean song I fell in love with. It is – as far as understood – the most treasured song of Korea. I shall not speak about versions and meaning of the lyrics. Minimal information can be read here by anyone interested. But I am going to tell you that the very first time I listened to it, I felt warmth and pain, grace and despair. I offer you two versions – a more traditional one and a modernized one, more suitable to ears less accustomed to the inflections of Korean traditional song.

Traditional version: 

Modern version: 

Now, please let me exemplify my personal concept of pure Asian beauty – grace, delicacy, deep emotions played on various traditional instruments, on more or less traditional arrangements. (I wish I had such an extensive culture to be able to say precisely which is really traditional and which is modernized!)

Korean gayageum: 

Japanese koto: 

Chinese guzheng: 

I think I make no mistake to say that all the songs above express a certain melancholy, maybe because of the sound of the instrument.

Korean Haegeum: 

Chinese erhu:  Erhu – Spring Scenery in South of Yangtze River

I invite you to stop just a few more times in our journey: 

Chinese Music – Traditional Style (I know it is NOT traditional, maybe played in the traditional way, but I love this song too much to ignore this version)

Traditional Japanese Music

  This is just a short visit in Asia. One thing I must emphasize once and again. I am not a specialist and this selection was based solely on my taste and my knowledge. If I made any mistake, I am more than willing and happy to correct it! Even more, I would be happy to receive as many responses to this entry! That would be a fabulous way for me to learn more and faster!

Tomaso Albinoni – Adagio in G minor

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I must confess! Although I listen to classical music and I really do enjoy it, I am never able to say which is which. Who composed this or that. At times it can be more than frustrating! It happens once in a while to hear some classical piece as a background music for a scene in a movie and to wonder ”What is this? I know it! I really do, but who is the composer? What is its name?” Most of the time I get no answer. I wish I could ask someone! Mum, who was a real connaiseur, well… She is no more. That makes me even sadder what such a thing happens.

But there is piece that whenever and wherever I listen to it, I recognize it instantly. It is Thomaso Albinoni’s Adagio. (Well, it is said that it is Remo Giazotto’s Adagio. But who cares about that?!) It is sad. Well, G minor might be a hint that is noting close to joyful. Every time I listen to it, I find myself thinking about Mother and people that left this world. Truth being said I used to listen to it a lot in the first year after her death. Although it saddens me, it soothes me at the same time.

Today I was a bit lazy, a bit lonely… Nothing was happening and I needed some musical stimuli to raise up my mood. That’s why I began skimming what people posted in a group dedicated to classical music. There was this link:

Oh, it only open my appetite! And one thing leading to another, I began listening to:

Which led just naturally to my favourite:

Looking for a HD version, I discovered: which I find strange, but interesting. I do not pretend to be more than I am, so, please excuse me if I am wrong.  I think he plays it using a bit too many pauses (is he playing stacatto?), which makes the whole sound less fluid, but it certainly adds some dramatic effect. Plus the strained accents. This version could be used successfully into horror movies, maybe… Some dark, gothic church as a background, maybe?

In the end, I listened to  which seems a very soft, delicate interpretation. It makes it less angsty.

Is it redundant to say I enjoyed Karajan version the most? But I liked all of them.

A soft transition was made by listening to the guitar version  which reminded me some older version – I wish I remember the guitarist – that I used to listen to a lot, a couple of years ago. The video made me weep a little. I seldom pay attention to the videos, because I listen to music while doing different other things, but this one caught me the attention long enough to make my heart flutter.

And in the end, I could not go away without listening to the modern reinterpretation of this masterpiece. Although I am not at all a fan of pop-opera, I find quite enjoyable Sissel’s version: 

The cherry on top of everything was one of my favourite modern songs: . (I have read that Remo Giazotto almost prevented her from releasing this song. How unfair it would have been!) Lara Fabian is one of the closest to my heart. Not only that she has a great voice, but she expresses dramatically the core of the songs she plays – some may argue that she is overdramatic. But for my this means colour, being involved heart, soul and body into the music she creates.

This is how I spent my Sunday. In the end it was pleasant and uplifting, getting me ready for a new week of hard work.