While I’ve rather moved on from mere audio to film (like WAM, these are never “autonomous” pieces for detached aesthetic appreciation), the audio playlist of Chinese music in the sidebar (not to be confused with my playlist of world songs!) has some wonderful tracks!

(Just in case you can’t find the sidebar, keep scrolling wa-a-ay down past the tags and categories, and the playlist will materialise, just above the photo gallery)


 1 Shanxi, Yanggao county, Li family Daoist band: Invitation ritual

Invitation, Beijing concert

The village ritual version makes a moving scene in my film (from 58.14): for the sequence, including the choral Song in Praise of the Dipper and solo Invitation verses, see this post.

This track is from the Beijing concert, 2013; though the sequence was further abbreviated from the ritual version, note how they perform at a more controlled majestic tempo than in the more casual conditions of recent village practice.

2 Li family Daoist band: Mantra to the Three Generations, 2001
This is the a cappella version, as sung at the gate on the return from the Invitation (my film, from 1.06.17). We recorded it informally in 2001 in the courtyard of Li Qing’s old home, with the regular members joined by the distinguished elderly Kang Ren (1925–2010, far left).

Li vocals 2001

The shengguan version, optional for Delivering the Scriptures and Transferring Offerings (my film, from 1.08.01), is much slower and more decorated. But even for this a cappella rendition they sang the hymn more slowly than they now tend to at the gate. For further discussion, with a score of both versions, see my book, pp.268–72.

1 In the Palace of the Eastern Pole,
Compassionate Worthy who Rescues from Suffering.
The transformative appellations of the Ten Quarters,
Only to rescue from suffering. In myriad rays of light,
revealing compassionate visage, [1]
Bestowing vows, the power of wishes deep.

The dark yang realm, delivering the suffering multitudes of beings,
Entirely departing from the darkness of the Department of Streams and Bends.

2 The eternal quest for long life to evade adversity,
So the soul can enter the great hall, vast will abiding,
Will abiding, now towards the Zhuling palace,
Three generations of ancestors obeying the summons,
Preceding ancestors with one pulse gain deliverance together.

3 Universal salvation for the deceased orphan souls,
From the realm of holy immortals,
Worthy of Grand Unity who Rescues from Suffering,
Vowing this evening to attend the ritual assembly,
Leading the deceased spirits to ascend upwards towards the Southern Palace.SDZ text

[1] A rare instance of miswriting in the manuals: yun 雲 “clouds” instead of rong 容 “visage”.

3 Li family Daoist band: Mantra to the Three Generations, 2017
Nanterre encore

Photo: Nicolas Prevot.

This version was recorded on our tour of France in May 2017, at the splendid Centre Mandapa in Paris. As described here, for a somewhat unusual encore I joined them to sing the Mantra, again at a suitably slow tempo. We improvised an edited version, segueing from the opening section to the climactic final verse.

Recorded by Jean Marc Lometec of Harmonie par le son, subtly edited by Martyn Phillips.

4 Li family Daoist band: shengguan suite Da Zouma, opening sections
Today’s younger Daoists learned all the six shengguan suites with Li Qing, and love them, but since they are prescribed mainly for temple and earth scriptures they now hardly need to play them. I mildly suggest that since they know how hard it was for Li Qing to transmit them all under Maoism, it would be a shame to let them “turn black” in their hands. Li Manshan agrees they should make an effort to play through them occasionally anyway.

Indeed, for funerals, during the nocturnal Crossing the Soul (guoling, or Sitting Through the Night zuoye) deep into the night, they mainly play their more popular repertoire, but if the host is discriminating then they may play one or more of the long classic suites too.

The suites open with a series of two or three related slow melodies, gradually accelerating into an equally long series of fast simpler melodies revolving around a couple of pitches.


Zouma score, written for me by Li Qing, 1992.

This recording is from the Beijing concert, 2012. Note the imperceptible yet ineluctable accelerando; and the distinctive sharp fa, used as part of a descending conjunct pattern from la down to mi.

5 Shanxi, Yanggao county, Hua family shawm band: Shuilongyin in meihuadiao scale

Hua Jinshan 1991Hua Yinshan 1991
Shawm bands in Yanggao used to play this piece in two different mode-keys: the basic scale (bendiao), used as the morning overture (Walking shrill, track 2), and the plaintive meihuadiao version, prescribed for the afternoon, as a prelude to remind people that they are “civilized” before launching into the jocular “small pieces”.

As in Shaanbei, meihuadiao is theoretically one tone lower than bendiao, with its tonic on D, the top finger hole and thumb covered (the lower octave would be the note below the lowest note on the shawm). But the feel of the shawm is such that the lowest note E and the A a 4th above it still exercise a strong pull, and the D may sound like a blues 7th. Further, Hua Yinshan often uses the high G# as a passing note down to F# and then back up to A, suggesting a scale with a sharp 4th. The only other meihuadiao piece they can now play is Da Yanluo (Walking shrill track 8).

See also track 11 below, and further analysis here.

This piece illustrates the typical metrical sequence, opening with the recurring 8/4 pattern on the drum punctuated by one gong stroke and four cymbal clashes every measure; through a long and carefully graded accelerando the drum adds more free syncopated patterns. But the piece has few obvious signposts. Just before the frantic final section a short 9-measure phrase is repeated four times, so fast and wild that it may elude you. Otherwise it’s a magnificently through-composed piece, exploring the relationships between pitches, little motifs flashing past and then leading in different directions. I never cease to be impressed at their memory.

Track 3 of the Pan CD Walking shrill—from our first sessions in 1991, outside in Hua Yinshan’s courtyard.

6 Liaoyang shawm band: Batiaolong
The large shawms of the northeast are renowned. I recorded Batiaolong (“Eight dragons”) in August 1992, with Liu Yongqing leading his band. It is a slow ornate decorated version of a simple outline melody [(a) in the example below], in the plaintive key of beidiao, with the rasping pogong technique imparting a visceral anguish. Unusually, the two shawms play in virtual unison, unlike the heterophony at the octave of most other bands in north China.


From 2-CD set China: folk instrumental traditions (AIMP/VDE Gallo, 1995), also track 4 on the CD with the 1998 paperback with my Folk music of China; this score of the opening is from p.170 there.


For a 2014 recording of Ku huangtian from Anshan in similar style, click here.

7 Hebei, Laishui county, South Gaoluo, vocal liturgy: Langtao sha, from Houtu precious scroll

“Precious scrolls” (baojuan), widely treated by sinologists as a historical textual subject, are still commonly performed on the Hebei plain (see also my In search of the folk Daoists, Appendix 3).

This is part of the Houtu scroll: two verses sung to the melody Langtao sha, one of many melodies which punctuate the chapters of the story (see Plucking the winds, p.382).


verse 1

As Our Lady calls, young lord obeys
And generous hearts are set forth
You are the master of all under heaven
You lost your way at Nanyang
In later days to become a sage.

Young Lord Liu
Grateful to the efficacious spirit
Rescuing my body safe
In my current difficulties I shall repay your generosity
As time goes by when I ascend the dragon throne
I shall personally ennoble you with my imperial mouth.

The text describes the rescue of Liu Xiu, usurped heir to the Han throne, by the goddess Houtu, and his vow to grant her imperial divinity upon his restoration to the throne. The structure is 3-3-4-7-6-4 words, with the final 4-word line repeated.

Plucking the winds, CD track 24, recorded informally in August 1993.

8 Hebei, Baxian county, Gaoqiao village ritual association, from shengguan suite Jintang yue

Gaoqiao 1993

From the shengguan melody Jintang yue, played by the fine Buddhist-transmitted ritual association of Gaoqiao village in Baxian county just southeast of Gaoluo.

This section, leading from the end of the long free-tempo introduction into the main a tempo melody, illustrates the high standard achieved by exceptional groups preserving the style acquired from Buddhist or Daoist priests (cf. track 14). The ensemble is small: on this occasion the melodic section consisted of one guanzi (the magnificent Shang Lishan, then a mere 31), one dizi, two sheng, and two frames of yunluo played by one musician. The association also ran a sheng factory, providing and mending sheng for many villages.

Plucking the winds, CD track 14, recorded informally in Gaoqiao, September 1993.

9 Gaoluo: singing the solfeggio of Ma yulang
The shengguan ensemble music of temples and ritual associations around Beijing, Hebei, and elsewhere in north China is learned mainly by internalizing the melodic skeleton, represented in gongche solfeggio. This outline is decorated elaborately, first in group singing, and then in different ways suitable to each instrument (track 10).

MYL score

1997 copy of old score: Ma yuiang, end of 1st section and 2nd and 3rd sections complete.

While the playing of the Gaoluo association wasn’t exceptional—their heterophony is noticeably less dense than that of accomplished groups like Gaoqiao (#8)—in their singing of the score one can hear their deep commitment. This is section 3 of the suite Ma yulang, sung at an evening rehearsal before the New Year’s rituals in 1995.

Track 17 from the CD with Plucking the winds.

10 Gaoluo, from shengguan suite Ma yulang
This is the shengguan ensemble version of the same piece. The introduction (not part of their sung version) is actually a free-tempo version of the final repeated section of the melody. The gongche melody begins at 1’21”.

Recorded in the ritual building at New Year 1998. One reason I am fond of this track is because I am playing in it, on one of the two frames of yunluo. But not so you’d notice, I hope—like playing in a chamber orchestra.

MYL played

Seated opposite another yunluo player, I am flanked by the two guanzi players Cai Yurun and Li Yongqiang.

Track 18 from the CD with Plucking the winds.

11: Shanxi, Yanggao county, Hua family shawm band: Da Yanluo suite in fanzidiao scale

Hua band 2001 edited

For this suite, recorded in Hua Yinshan’s courtyard in 2001 (Walking shrill, track 7), see my detailed analysis here, including a link to a 1992 funerary version.

12 Xi’an ritual suite (opening), 1961

ALX group lowresFor background on the so-called Xi’an guyue ensemble, see this page, and my Folk Music of China, pp. 227–45, including basic analysis of this sequence.

In 1961 the former Daoist priest An Laixu brought a group to Beijing to perform. On this track he plays the double frame of yunluo gongs; other revered musicians include Yang Jiazhen (dizi flute) and Meng Qingzhen (drums). The recording was made by Li Wanpeng of the Music Research Institute.

This is the opening of the celebrated “Sitting music” suite in the scale of chediao. Percussion sections frame a free-tempo melodic prelude, followed by a section in which an eight measure (bapai) piece from the guduan genre alternates with more stately pieces from the faqu genre.

Track 6, China: folk instrumental traditions; also track 6 on the CD with the 1998 paperback edition of my Folk Music of China.

13 Bach à la chinoise
We recorded this medley from the Goldberg variations on erhu fiddle and sanxian banjo as a tribute for the great Stephan Feuchtwang‘s 80th birthday. My role in it is less inconspicuous than in track 9, but hey.

Bach party

14 Zhihua temple, Beijing 1953: Xiao Huayan (opening)
This precious recording was made in February 1953 on a Webster wire-recorder during the historic visits by the great musicologists Yang Yinliu and Zha Fuxi. This is an excerpt from the haunting free-tempo opening of the long ritual suite Xiao Huayan (Lesser Avataṃsaka), with the former monks led by the great Xu Zeng on guanzi oboe.

Zhihua temple 1954

While the present group plays magnificently, having themselves learned with the former monks, the subtle differences in style are intriguing; the old style is less polished, and the arabesques on the flutes still more hallucinatory. For the similar style of amateur ritual associations on the Hebei plain just south, cf.#8.

Track 2 on CD1 of China: folk instrumental traditions; also track 2 on the CD with the 1998 paperback edition of my Folk Music of China.

For a list of sources on the Zhihua temple and related groups, see here.

15 Longchui shawm band, Quanzhou 1961
Shawm-and-percussion piece Desheng ling 得勝令 in the “martial” style, played by “casket winds” (longchui 龍吹) ensemble recorded by Li Quanmin, Quanzhou December 1961 (for his trip, and an outline of expressive cultures around Fujian, see here).

The band was led by Huang Qingquan 黃清泉 (d.1981), whose father had belonged to the band of the Qing imperial yamen at Quanzhou. Note the lengthy free-tempo prelude, and then the long sustained notes with circular breathing, suggesting the music of imperial armies. The melody makes use of all degrees of a hepatonic scale; but unlike the heterophony of most northern shawm bands, here the two shawms play largely in unison. The percussion section includes large barrel drum, large and small gongs, a knobbed gong, and large and small cymbals.

For more, see my Folk music of China, pp.312–18; and for transcriptions, see Zhongguo minzu minjian qiyuequ jicheng, Fujian juan 中国民族民间器乐曲集成,福建卷, pp.784–96.


Desheng ling, opening.

Longchui, Quanzhou 1990. My photos.

Track 4 of CD2 of China: folk instrumental traditions, also on CD with 1998 paperback of my Folk music of China. Track 3 of the former has a piece with the more diverse “civil” longchui instrumentation.

With thanks as ever to Michele Banal for his technical wizardry.