Drum music, Guyue (/goo-yooair/ 鼓乐) in Chinese, is a kind of grand drum show, popular in Xi’an (ancient name: Chang’an), of North China’s Shaanxi Province, and its neighboring areas. Xi’an drum music has been passed down from hundreds of years ago. It originates from the Sui and Tang dynasties (581-907), and has been popular through the following dynasties till now. It is one of the most well-preserved folk music forms in China, and it has been preserved well, with relatively complete music chapters, music scores, structures and performing styles. Being an important historical heritage of China’s ancient music, Xi’an drum music is acknowledged internationally as a “living fossil of China’s ancient music.
According to analyses of historical materials, Xi’an drum music is said to probably be originated from the Tang Dynasty (618-907). It has been developed by the following dynasties. Great vitality was added to Xi’an drum music through continuous practice and developments, especially being influenced by opera music of the Ming and Qing dynasties (1364-1912), so that it was gradually formed into a complete grand folk music style.
During the period of the An Shi Rebellion (755-763) in the Tang Dynasty, musicians escaped from the imperial palace, and that’s why drum music was heard and became known by common people. The drum music from the palace was greatly different from folk music at that time; it was solemn, plentiful, complete and rhythmical.
From 1951, Chinese scholars began to collect and classify the historical materials of Xi’an drum music, in order to make people aware of the wonderful cultural heritage of China and to make protection a priority.
A great number of famous musicians were involved in the protection of Xi’an drum music, and great achievements have been made so far. High praises have been given by musicians from all over the world.
In 2009, Xi’an drum music was proclaimed as one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. The rich features of drum music have provided precious evidence in the study of Chinese ancient music, and will play an important part in the further development of Chinese folk music culture.
Xi’an drum music is a special grand music style that blends percussion music with wind music. It has a rich content and a great number of bands and songs. It is absolutely a phenomenon in the development of Chinese ancient music, and even international folk music.
There were three different schools of Xi’an drum music, namely the monks, the Taoists and the common people. Legend has it that the school of the Taoists was passed down from the Taoists in the City God’s Temple. The school of the monks was formed by a monk named Mao, and it was played by monks and the common people. One branch of the school of the monks was made of mostly farmers, and they mixed traditional folk music into its style, so that they gradually formed their own style of performance, and so the school of the common people came into being.
Xi’an drum music is mostly played with a Chinese bamboo flute. There are two ways of performing drum music: sitting (mostly performed indoors) and standing (performed in street parades and temple fairs). The music is often performed from the fifth lunar month to the seventh lunar month (approximately June to August). People played drum music in order to celebrate harvest.