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Fan Bai: Chinese Buddhist Monastic Chants. Edited by Pi-Yen Chen. (Recent Researches in the Oral Traditions of Music, 8,) Middleton, WI: A-R Editions, 2010. [Figs., p. vii; CD tracks, p. viii; pref., p. ix-x; hist. & comment, p. 1-42, plates & transcriptions, p. 43-88; facsiin., p. 88-154; notes, p. 155-57; glossaries, p. 158-62; bibliog. refs., p. 163-65. Compact disc. ISBN-10 0895796724, ISBN-13 9780895796721. $150.]

Buddhism in China has a long history, dating back to around the first century of the Common Era. For over two millennia this foreign religion from India via Central Asia has laid down roots in its adopted land, and continuously evolved to develop into a uniquely Chinese Mahayana Buddhism that has infiltrated a wide spectrum of Chinese society up to the present day. There is no lack of historiography of Buddhism in China. Writings in English on music and ritual in Chinese Buddhism are, however, still sparse. Despite being an intrinsic part of the religion, liturgy and its musical expression are often neglected or treated as peripheral to other aspects of Buddhism. Pi-Yen Chen's volume on monastic chants, complete with a compact disc and musical transcriptions, is therefore a welcome addition to the limited body of studies in Chinese Buddhist music and ritual.

The first half of the volume consists of three chapters. The first is a forage into the history and background of Chinese Buddhist chants, following the development of contemporary liturgies and Buddhist music; this is followed by discussions on the types of chants, and analysis of their musical styles; the third chapter then focuses on an examination of the daily liturgies in the monastery. The book's second half consists of musical transcriptions in Western notation (presumably by Chen herself) of a selection of different categories of chant alongside their Chinese chant texts. A facsimile of the complete liturgy of the daily service follows the transcriptions. The first three chapters and the musical transcriptions should be of much interest to music scholars.

The long history of the religion's development in China makes it no easy task to present a full picture of the evolution of Buddhist chants in its adopted land; it is a subject that deserves a separate book altogether. Information on Chinese Buddhist liturgical chant and its performance can be gleaned from canonical Buddhist literature dating from around the sixth to the eighth centuries; references to the origin of Chinese Buddhist fanbai (referring to the singing of hymns and praises), descriptions of musically adept preachers and hymnodists, and accounts of rituals and ceremonies can all be found. Chen's historical account in chapter 1 omits the early history, focusing instead on the development of chant within the various Buddhist schools that emerged after the Tang dynasty (618-907). The establishment of large public monasteries during the Song dynasty (960-1279), she points out, was a "watershed in the development of Chinese Buddhist chants," noting that "most monastic liturgies practised today were composed during and after the Song dynasty" (p. 1). Chen attributes the continued prevalence of chant practice from the Song period to "the fact that the public Chan (Zen) monasteries became the major Buddhist institutions in China during the Song dynasty, and their monastic regulations ensured the perpetuation of fundamental rituals" (p. 2). Two other schools of Buddhism singled out by Chen as having played important roles in shaping liturgies and chants extant today are the Tiantai and Mi/Zhenyan Esoteric schools. The influence of the Pure Land (Jingtu) school, however, is no less than the other two schools; Chen fails to draw attention to this fact in this section but mentions it a few pages later when discussing the nianfo practice (pp. 5-6), and also in chapter 3 (pp. 37-41) when discussing the evening sendee, whose aim "is to direct the participants to the Pure Land" (p. 37). By the end of imperial rule, liturgical practices in the predominantly Chan monasteries clearly displayed the amalgamation of several different Chinese Buddhist schools. No doubt the Song period signaled an important stage in the development of contemporary Buddhist liturgy and chant, particularly that of the daily service, but since Buddhist chanting has traditionally been transmitted orally, and no music notations existed, it is hard to determine if the music heard in monasteries today is indeed descended from, and similar to, that of the Song period. One might conjecture that the music of the chants in the daily service is much older than most other liturgical chants heard today, but it would have been useful to add that liturgical chants and their music continued to evolve in the later Ming and even Qing dynasties.

In this same chapter, Chen summarizes the different categories of early chant types, including fanbai (hymn singing), zhuandu (recitation of sutras), changdao (sung sermon), sujiang (vernacular preaching, a late Tang dynasty development of the former category), niansong (recitation of sutras and dharani incantations), and nianfo (circumambulation). Chen states in the introduction to this section that sonic of these categories are no longer in use (p. 3), but in my view, although some of the terms themselves (e.g., zhuandu, chang-dao, sujiang) are no longer used, continuation of these forms can be gleaned from certain rituals still practiced today. Percussion instruments and their musical notation systems that are unique to Chinese Buddhism are described and introduced in pictures. Fojiao geqti (devotional songs), a new genre of Buddhist music that developed in the early twentieth century in response to the modern Buddhist reform movement led by the eminent monk Taixu (1889-1947), brings the discussion to the contemporary period. The compositional principles and techniques of these songs reveal a marked difference from traditional chant (for the latter, see p. 9). Its function, which is to promote Buddhism and proselytize, also sets this genre apart. The sangha (monastic community) has embraced it in order to keep in step with modern social changes.

Analysis of the different musical styles found in traditional chant follows in chapter 2. Today, clerics simply refer to their liturgical chanting as changsong or changnian. Each of these terms combines two morphemes referring to differing styles of delivery. Chang, meaning to sing, is broadly assigned to textual forms such as tan (verses of irregular prosody) and ji (Sanskrit gatha, verses of four to eight lines of equal length), which are precomposed metered melodies, while the elements nian (to recite) and song (to intone) imply the less musical (or monotone) deliver)' of sutras, dharanis, and prayers. As Chen's closer analyses show, there is less of a polar opposition of two styles than a relatively continuous range of styles of delivery. She thus divides them into eight categories based on musical attributes and ritual purposes. It is worth listing these types here to give a sense of the startling range of performance styles hidden under the English term"chant."

1. Free chant, generally used in congregational recitation of sutra texts and dharanis (spells made up of transliterated Sanskrit syllables) that consist of spontaneous and simultaneous performance of continued short chains of melodies by each individual chanter.

2. Prayer (shuwen), a declamatory text to announce the ritual and solicit blessings from the Buddha with a recognizable nonmetered melodic framework within which the officiant monk or nun improvises.

3. Dharanis, based on a precomposed melody, performed only in specific rituals.

4. Praises (zan).

5. Gatkas (ji in Chinese), which have different metered melodies grouped according to qupai (pre-existing tune types).

6. Solo chant, so called as it is performed in a solo context rather than as part of a collective ritual--an example given by Chen is the "Bell gatha" (Zhongsheng ji) sung by the bell-ringer cleric when performing the duty of tolling the morning and evening bell.

7. Invocations of the Buddha, comprising two types: the repetitive chanting of a Buddha's name during circumambulation, which Chen identifies as having three musical styles, and the baiyuan (prostration and vowing) invocation, which involves antiphonal singing by the congregation.

8. Liturgical recitative (baiwen), a form of address to the different realms that may be performed in three different melodic frameworks.

Chen's structural analyses of the different types of chants, including instrumentation, provide the reader with a better understanding of the rich variety of vocalisation. Discussions of each category are generally accompanied by audio tracks on the compact disc, and clear cross-reference is made to facsimiles of the texts and musical transcriptions in staff notation provided in the second section of the book. However, audio examples of the six-phrase and eight-phrase zan praises are missing from the disc, even though the plates and musical transcriptions are provided (plate and transcription 2.2 and 2.3). Given that these two textual types are the most commonly sung praises, this absence of recordings is a pity. Also, cross-referencing from the plates and transcriptions to CD tracks is strangely absent and awkward for readers wanting to listen to an audio track while following the transcription.

While it is helpful to have transcriptions in Western notation and to include a transnotation of the percussion patterns that are normally notated in the chant texts, I do find discrepancies between the singing on the disc and the transcriptions. Due to the oral/aural nature of the transmission of hymnody, it is true that the performance of a sung hymn varies from person to person, and that variation, particularly in ornamentation, is quite common. A note about the omission of the more detailed ornaments in the transcription would have warned readers what to expect.

The daily practice of the morning and evening service (Zaoiuan ke) is by far the most important and defining of Buddhist practices. In chapter 3, Chen provides a detailed examination of this daily liturgy. She aims here to explore "how its combination of specially selected texts, musical stvles, and ritual actions foster spiritual growth and promote Buddhist ideals" (p. 31). As mentioned above, the Song period saw the establishment of large public monasteries (shifangconglin, "monasteries for the ten directions of people"); these are considered public property, thus with strict rules regulating the everyday life of the monastics living in them. With this came the need to structure the daily service as an essential discipline serving to enhance the spirituality of the monastic community. As Chen notes. Buddhist scriptures apart, certain textual content of the daily service, such as the Gatha of Merit Transference, the Gatha of Praising Amitabha Buddha, and so on, were composed by eleventh-century Chinese Buddhist masters. However, she also acknowledges the fact that the codification of the daily service as practiced today took place toward the end of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644),.when the monk Zhuhong (1535-1615) edited and published Zhujing Risong (various sutras for daily recitation) based on an earlier anonymously compiled recitation book. In this chapter, Chen also briefly introduces various contemporary editions of daily recitation books.

A table (p. 33) listing the texts in each section of the senice and their associated musical form is useful for a quick sunnnaxy. Since the musical forms have been discussed in the previous chapter, (Then focuses more on the textual content and the musical and religious meanings here in chapter 3.

There are a number of errors in the pinyin romanization throughout the main texts (e.g., p. 2: lichen yi = lichen yi; p. 3: gungshang fofa, jingshi tianyin = gongshang fofa, jinshi tianyin), in notes to the chapters (p. 155: Xuzanjing = Xuzangjing), and even in the glossary of Chinese characters at the end (p. 161: Wulianshoujing Yopotishe = Wuliangshoujing Youpotishe). These small errors aside, overall, this volume is a practical and informative contribution to our knowledge of Buddhist liturgical chant and music.


Hwee- San Tan University of London
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Title Annotation:Fan Bai: Chinese Buddhist Monastic Chants
Author:Tan, Hwee-San
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 1, 2012
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