Song of Disillusionment

Song of Disillusionment
(2004)

Hyo-shin Na

There's a story about Xi Kang, the third century Chinese qin player and poet, who'd been condemned to death because of his political views. He’d always refused to promote himself and his art, even refusing a friend who'd begged to be allowed to learn one of his songs. Just before his execution, a great many scholars in the GrandAcademy sent a petition to the administrator who’d handed down the sentence, requesting that Xi Kang be released in order to become their teacher. Their petition was denied (it was said that this administrator later bitterly regretted his decision) and Xi Kang declared, “From now on my music is no more!”

During earlier, less turbulent years he’d written about music as
“a means for guiding and nurturing the spirit, for elevating and harmonizing the emotions”. He wrote, “If instrumental music proves to be insufficient, one hums a melody to set forth one’s intentions and if this is not sufficient, one then composes words for the tune in order to express one’s thoughts.”

Here’s one of his poems:

Wisdom and learning, I don’t need.
Wandering, silence, solitude,
That’s enough for me.

Ambition, satisfaction, the troubles of the world,
I pass them by trailing my hook
Fishing for the unknown.

Winter’s wind has taken my hat,
All the neighbors have vanished,
My silent wandering’s just begun.

After reading this poem, called Song of Disillusionment, I wrote a piece for shamisen and koto, borrowing Xi Kang’s title. This piece has 3 sections; 13-string koto solo, duet for shamisen and 17-string koto & shamisen solo. Today we will hear the middle section only.

To write this music, I thought of the physical movements involved in writing five particular Chinese characters that could be translated into English as “No one in this world will know this music”. I tried to translate these writing movements rather directly into sound. Will you be able to hear the connection between the music and physical movements of writing these particular Chinese characters? Maybe; but don't worry too much if you don’t. Each listener listens in her or his own way and may hear something quite different from what I was thinking of when I wrote the music.