The percussion prelude

In my book (p.280) I observed a subtlety of Yanggao Daoist ritual that may elude us:

Novices soon pick up the short pattern in rhythmic unison on drum, small cymbals and yunluo that opens and closes every item of liturgy, an accelerando followed by three beats ending with a damped sound. This is known as luopu (“cadential pattern”) and it turns out that the number of beats is fixed, 7 plus 4—unless the guanzi player needs a bit more time to prepare his reed!

See also Tambourin chinois, and Drum patterns of Yanggao ritual .

Much less impressive is Beethoven’s take on this, the four soft quarter-note beats that open his violin concerto (less creative than the EastEnders Doof Doof). The quote from my book is itself just a prelude to the popular story of a famous conductor rehearsing his orchestra in the concerto. Though he was notorious for nit-picking, one might suppose that at least here the band would get up a bit of a head of steam before he started correcting them. But no, sure enough he brings them to a halt even before the oboe can come in.

Turning to the bemused timpanist, he says,

“Can you play that with a little more… magic?”

The timpanist looks back at him sullenly, beats out the four notes again, and goes,


* * *

In Daoist ritual there’s nothing quite akin to “rehearsal”, but during a ritual Li Manshan maintains standards by the subtlest of facial gestures, with a little glare if the ensemble is less than perfect. As I learn, I benefit from such hints.

7 thoughts on “The percussion prelude

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