A Pedagogical Guide to Chinese Art Song: Diction, Style, and a Selected Survey

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Date

2023

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Abstract

A unique hybrid of poetry and music, art song has been a constant art form attracting musicians to examine, study, and research as a serious genre. Since the 1920s, Chinese composers have been exploring this combination of Chinese poetry and music in various ways. This dissertation aims to provide a pedagogical guide for the study and performance of Chinese art song.The first chapter examines the vocal diction of Standard Chinese. The vowels and consonants in Standard Chinese are categorized into two major groups in 汉语拼音 (hànyǔ pīnyīn, Chinese Phonetic Alphabet): 声母 (shēngmǔ, initial) and 韵母 (yùnmǔ, final). At most, a syllable in Chinese can contain an initial, a medial, a main vowel, a final consonant, and a tone. This chapter presents a new diction alphabetic system based on traditional Chinese vocal practices and the Chinese Phonetic Alphabet, to achieve authentic pronunciation in vocal practices. Chapter Two is a survey of treatises on traditional Chinese voice pedagogy. It examines vocal aesthetics and practical concepts from these scholarships, providing pedagogical explanations and approaches. 字正腔圆 (zìzhèng qiāngyuán), the most important vocal principle, is achieved through the system of “head, belly, and tail” of a character. This chapter offers a detailed discussion on the pedagogy for each part of the articulation of a character and the practice of tones, supported by scholarship on these treatises. The important phenomenon 倒字 (dǎo zì) is illustrated with musical examples. Titled “From Poetry to Song”, Chapter Three traces the development of Chinese poetry and introduces the basic characteristics of each genre. With the exception of Shī-Poetry, which is to be chanted, most traditional poetic forms in Chinese literature are meant to be associated with singing and musical accompaniment, which may be considered a precursor to Chinese art song. This chapter traces the pioneers of Chinese art song and discusses their stylistic features through functional harmony, texture, compositional devices, linguistic inflection techniques, and other elements. It also examines the development of "authentic Chinese flavors" in the art song genre by discussing the tremor of the voice, traditional musical vocabulary, and the reformation of orchestral instrumentation. The final chapter focuses on performance practices and provides an example of the Lyric Diction Phonetic Alphabet System (LPA). It discusses vibrato choices, vowel color, glides, ornamentation, and the use of glottal sound. Additionally, the vocal practices for the pronunciation of certain characters are mentioned. Overall, this dissertation provides a scholarly and comprehensive guide for the study and performance of Chinese art song, encompassing aspects of vocal diction, pedagogy, poetry, musical style, and performance practices.

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