Funeral music

Invitation, Beijing concert

Beijing concert, 2013.

On the Li family Daoists’ 2013 tour of Germany I suggested an extra item in our evolving concert programme, an a cappella sequence based on the Invitation ritual performed at the edge of the village (my book p.339; film, from 58.14; playlist #1, with commentary here).

At first they were reluctant: while they have no qualms about performing ritual items on stage, they worried that performing an item so explicitly funerary might be unsuitable. I pointed out that some of the greatest music in the concert tradition of Western Art Music is for the dead.

Apart from various requiems, one of the pieces I used to reassure them that funeral music was quite familiar to Western audiences  was Buxtehude’s Klaglied. Though a recording by the wondrous Michael Chance has just disappeared from YouTube (BRING IT BACK AT ONCE!!!), Andreas Scholl’s version is also great:

Not that the Daoists were remotely impressed by it—by contrast with Steven Feld’s influential experiments in finding which kinds of alien musics might strike a chord among the Kaluli (Sound and sentiment). They enjoyed our trip to the Bach museum in Leipzig not so much for the music as to get a glimpse of the life of a European ritual specialist; and when I showed them the EBS video of the Christmas oratorio they were mainly amused to see me in tails. I can’t even turn them on to jazz.

Occasionally some well-meaning urbanites have rashly suggested I bring my violin to play along with the Daoists, or even arrange their music for orchestra—but to their credit, the Li band have the taste never to do so.

Anyway, the Invitation has turned out to be a great success in our touring programme, a moving tranquil interlude between the uproar of “catching the tiger” and the wild percussion of Yellow Dragon Thrice Transforms its body. As an encore for our French tour in 2017 we even sang the Mantra to the Three Generations (playlist #2 and #3), which follows the Invitation at the gateway after the return to the soul hall.

For adaptations of ritual to the concert stage, see also here, under “The reform era”.

8 thoughts on “Funeral music

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