The Link between American and Chinese Folk Music

World music is remarkable because two distinct musical cultures can develop in complete isolation from one and other and still share identical features. These musical links provide insight into the web of patterns and connections that comprise world music. In this investigation, the musical cultures of American Appalachian folk music and traditional Chinese folk music will be compared and their links will be extracted. The defining links between these cultural styles are a basis in the major pentatonic scale, conjunct melodies, and repetitive form.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Feng Yang Flower Drum Song

The Flower Drum Song originated under the Ming Dynasty in China's Anhui Province.  Originally, the song was sorrowful as it was used by the Chinese people to beg in the streets after floods and droughts plagued their region.  Traditionally, the song is sung by a young woman who simultaneously beats a drum decorated with flowers that is attached to her waist.  She is accompanied by a man on a percussion instrument, sometimes a small gong (Music in Childhood).  The combination of performers was typically a husband and wife or siblings (Chinese Culture website). Because the song became so popular, it evolved throughout modern history and now includes dances and other forms of theatrical performance.  The Flower Drum Song has become a symbol of Chinese culture, it even inspired an American Broadway musical about China under the same name.

Instrumental Version of the Song-

Version with Vocals (Including an English translation)-

MEdium- Both versions of the song include cymbals, gongs, drums, Chinese flutes (such as possibly the Dizi), and strings.  Typical string instruments in China that could have been used in the song are the Erhu (Chinese violin), the Guzheng (plucked zither), and the Pipa (Chinese lute).

MEter-  This song is written in common time (simple quadruple meter)

HArmony- The Flower Drum Song has a major tonality and uses instrumentation to echo the vocal line.  It has a major tonality and is structured around the pentatonic scale built around the tonic, supertonic, mediant, dominant, and submediant of the chord.

MElody- As previously stated, this song is based on the major pentatonic scale.  This allows for a conjunct, easily singable melody.  There is an undulating melodic contour because every time the melodic line descends, it is balanced out by a consequent ascending melodic line.  The largest interval in the song is a 6th, from the tonic to the submediant in the "Drr piao" section.

FOrm- The vocal and instrumental versions of the piece  are both written in strophic (AAA) form.  The instrumental version is slightly different in that A section is altered the last time it is played because it has a faster tempo and altered pitch and rhythm structures to add interest for the end of the piece.  The vocal version of the song still follows strophic form, but in each section there are two parts.  One is sung in Chinese and  the other in English.  Then at the end of the piece the Chinese singing is layered over the English for a finale effect.

STYle- This piece is a traditional Chinese folk song.  It is Chinese because of its instrumentation, language, and pentatonic basis.  The folk categorization of this piece comes from the conjunct and repetitive nature of the melody.  This allows for it to be easily singable and passed down from generation to generation.

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