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The word, “Gagaku,”originally means, music made for the common people of the world, but is also designatedthe word for traditional music in the literal sense.  The Gagaku that exists in China andKorea has a different meaning then the Gagaku of Japan. 

JapaneseGagaku is based on the ancient songs and dances of Japan. Also it has been influenced from the ancientAsian continental nation’s instruments, songs, and dances.  It was almost totally completed in the tenthcentury (middle Heian era) becoming Japan’soldest classical music and dance.

Mainly inthe past it was performed in the court of the capital and was patronized bymembers of the higher classes of society, which also included other famoustemples and shrines, at all of these places Gagaku has been performed.But now in modern times the ImperialHousehold Agency has maintained the standards concerning all aspects of traditionalGagaku in Japan.

Cultural value of Gagaku

Gagaku has many playing styles andtraditions that have existed for over a thousand years.  As one of the world’s oldest traditions it isof very important historical value making it a priceless cultural asset.  Gagaku is played by traditional courtmusicians of the Imperial Household Agency helping to preserve this importantcultural heritage.  Gagaku has a highartistic value that is different from Western style and instruments.  Especially concerning its contribution as aninfluence of modern contemporary music and the progress of music in generalgiving it a high degree of sophistication. There is a great possibility that Gagaku will develop into an artfamiliar all over the world. 

Kinds of Gagaku

There are three different kinds of Gagaku that developed in Japan. They are the Gagaku of “National guidelines song and dance,” “Continental music and dance,” and “Folk Songs.”

■ “National guidelines of song and dance” (Shinto Music, Eastern Plays, Ect.)
 “National guidelines of song and dance” (Shinto Music, Eastern Plays, Ect.) Are ancient primitive Japanese songs based on completed dances and songs from the Heian era.
 Kagura (Shinto Music), Toyu (Eastern Play), Yamato-uta, Kume-mai, these are also called [High class singing and dancing], [Japanese traditional song and dance.]
 These arrangements were completed in the middle of the Heian period.
 They were very much influenced by other countries in the Asian continent of song and dance, special attention should especially be given to the Hichiriki (Reed flute) which is taken from these outside musical instruments.

■ Asian Continent System (Tang Music Dynasty of China and Kokuri Music Dynasty of Korea)
 This system is based on the music and dance of the Asian continental nations that transmitted instrumental music from China and Korea during 400 years during the fifth to ninth century and was fully completed in Japan during the Heian era.
 From the Yamato era to the Nara era, the Asian Continental system remained the same as when it was introduce from the other countries.
 But it was gradually consolidated and changed during the Heian era.
 First of all the instruments were divided and organized into the “Left side” and “Right Side.”
The “Left side” is music and instruments that originated in China, Central Asia, and in India, during “The Tang music dynasty of China.”
The “Right Side” are instruments that originated in Korea called, “Kokuri music dynasty of Korea.”
The performance technique was further classified according to the form of the performance, which divided it again into two more categories of “Wind and stringed instruments” and “Court dance and music.”
In addition many different kinds of instruments outside of Japan were chosen to form the orchestra into a small-scale chamber music designed for the indoors.
At the same time the instruments and arrangements were actively changed by Japanese composers to create delicate and graceful musical pieces allowing Japanese court music to become completed.

■ Utamono(Saibara and Rouei)
 In the Heian era gagaku’s vocal music received much influence by the Asian Continent system, which was to be sung with accompaniments of instruments such as from the Tang Dynasty of China.
  Including the folk songs lyrics called “Saibaraku” and Chinese poems called “Rouei” which came to be included in the music.
Japanese songs and poems called “Utahiko” (Which are done during the Imperial festival poetry reading of the court) do not appear in any “Gagaku” performance.

Different Forms of Performance’s in “Gagaku”

  In "Gagaku" there are three kind of forms of performances, “Wind and stringed instruments,” “Court dance and music,” and “Folk songs.”

■ Wind and stringed instruments

 In “Gagaku” the instrument organization is called “Sankan-RyoGen-Sanko.”
 This is organized into three parts. The first part is that of the wind instruments called “Sankan” which are made up of instruments such as the “Sho”, “Hichiriki,” and “Ryu-teki.”
 The second is “RyoGen,” in which all the stringed instruments are classified. The third is “Sanko” which is the category of percussion instruments that include “Kakko,” “Taiko,” and “Shoko.”

 The wind and stringed instruments are used the most.
 “Hichiriki” is used in the main melody and the “Ryuteki” helps to decorate the main instrumentation followed by the “Sho” which creates harmony for all three.
  The percussion instruments “Sanko” take charge of the rhythm for the other musical instruments.

 The wind and string instruments provide the court dance music with powerful and gradual active rhythm.
On the other hand the “Wind and stringed instruments”are also played slowly and very sensitively depending on the intended effect.

■ Court dance and music
 Music and songs called “Kuni-buni-no-mai” meaning the “National customs and manners of a country” are played with the dance of “Sanmai,” translated into the “left dance.” The dance combined with Korean songs are called “Umai” or the “right dance.

■ -Kuniburi dance- National Customs and Manners
 “Kuni-buni-no-mai” is an elegant and solemn dance done in simple costumes, but is considered to be very high class. The instruments used in the songs are both originally from Japan and imported from other Asian countries.

■ Samai -left dance-
 The specific rule of “Sanmai” is that only red costumes are worn. The dancers move on the stage from the left side. The musician doesn’t usually use stringed instruments but it is common to use wind and percussion instruments. Also they dance to the “Hichiriki” and “Ryuteki.”      

■ Umai -right dance-
 As a rule for “Umai,” the perfomer wears a green costume and advances from the right side of the stage. The musicians usually do not use the “Ryuteki” instruments especially the “Sho.”
 They also use in this performance “Sanoko” instead of “Kakko.” The stringed instruments are not used at all in this dance.
 The performers dance with the rhythm of the “Sannoko” and “Taiko” during the performance.

■ Folk Songs
 The Japanese traditional songs accompanied by the wind and string instruments called “Kuni-buri-no-uta” and “Saibaraku” were based on old primitive Japanese songs and music gathered from other parts of the Asian Continent.

■ National customs and manners song
This song is accompanied by the instruments such as the “Koto” (Shinto Harp Music) and “Kagurabue” (Dancing Whistle). Depending on the song they will use instruments from other countries such as the “Ryuteki” or “Komabue” instead of the “Kagabue.” (The “Sho” in this performance is not used at all.) The “Shakubyoshi” (Scepter rhythm) is played together with the wind instruments to unify the two.

■ Saibara
 “Saibara” is played by striking the “Shakubyoshi” and is accompanied by only the “Sankan,” being sung in Japanese.

■ Rouei
  “Ryoei” is only accompanied by "Sankan" and the singing elegant Chinese poems. This is a folk song which is begun by only one singer and then is sung in unison by all the members. The stringed instruments in this performance are also only played by the main performer as a solo. The “Sho” provides the harmony for the wind and stringed instruments and also for the court dance and music. The melody it plays is different from the other kinds of performances and is mainly played for the “Utamono.”

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