Master Musician

By Park Gayoung

(原文链接:http://www.globaltimes.cn/beijing/people/2010-11/588375.html )

When Master Rushan was invited to play the guqin, (Chinese zither), for students at Dulwich International School in Beijing on October 26, he requested a stage in total silence. The room was covered with black curtains in every direction.

The soft glow illuminated only the guqin stand and a giant wooden panel carved with an ancient musical score standing in the back. Before he started plucking the seven-string instrument, audience members were asked to take deep breaths for few minutes, to empty their mind and sprit.
Rushan, a South Korean Buddhist monk believes thats how you can appreciate the sound and sprit of the guqin the most.

After first studying the instrument in Taiwan, Rushan came to Beijing to study for a PhD in Philosophy at Peking University. The school asked him to stay on as a guqin teacher. Now he teaches five classes at Peking University and one at Capital Normal University. Teaching the guqin has made returning home a difficult option.
He firmly believes in the ancient traditions of the guqin, thought to be over to 3,000 years old. Hes opened a salon called Rushishanfang or "What Ive Heard Mountain Cottage," a reference to the first line in a sutra, Buddhist equivalent of "Let there be light."

He used to have a room in a temple in South Korea and named it Rushishanfang but now its gone as his absence grew longer. His fellow monks in South Korea dont believe that he plays a Chinese traditional instrument and often ask why he doesnt come back. He thinks destiny brought him here. Here Master Rushan explains his love for the guqin and what inspires him to play and teach the art.

Why is it important to have such a peaceful atmosphere when you play the guqin? 
Playing the guqin is like Zen meditating to me. The silence helps me empty my mind so I can fully concentrate on the process. More important is that its a better way for the audience to appreciate the real sound and culture of the guqin. The sound is quiet and deep and it doesnt travel far. It was beloved by scholars and literati as the mean of self-discipline and usually played in two situations - in nature and for your close friends. So if you want to appreciate the true tone and cultural background of the instrument, its better to have the same atmosphere in which ancient scholars would play.

How did you learn it?
It was my sixth year in Taiwan. I was studying Chinese philosophy in a graduate school. I went to many traditional Chinese music concerts because I love Chinese traditional culture. Although I never played any kind of instrument, I did paintings and calligraphy. I never felt like learning an instrument until I first heard the sound of the guqin at the National Theater and Concert Hall in Taiwan. I thought this must be the most representative sound of the Chinese traditional culture and sprit. I found a guqin master immediately and started learning it. As I learned more about its long history, I became more fascinated by the instrument. After I came to Beijing in 1999, I met five guqin masters. They had all different styles and each played different pieces sometimes other masters couldnt play.

How important is the guqin in Chinese culture?
In Chinese culture, music is very important. Both etiquette and moral standards and music were emphasized. They didnt neglect music in education. Therefore, music - especially the guqin with such a long history - is indispensable in understanding Chinese culture.

One of the greatest things about the guqin is we can play music from 3,000 years ago. We are not talking about some hundreds of years. Besides, each piece conveys some values. For example, the one I played today - White Snow - was composed by Shi Kuang 2,700 years ago. And it conveys the moral purity of snow in the sounds of bamboo under a fragile white blanket.

Youre a foreigner who is known as a guqin master and teaching researchers and students at Peking University. Are people surprised? 
They used to be but not any more. And it shouldnt come as a surprise. Think about other Western instruments such as the violin or cello widely played by non-Westerners. We dont see it as a surprise, do we? Those instruments are played by anyone regardless of your nationality. I dont think its a big deal.


You have a guqin salon. Why did you open it?
It was around 2007. My students and some people suggested opening a guqin salon. I hold to the most traditional way of the guqin. Some people wanted to learn that. We have classes every day and students come to practice here anytime they want. Every Wednesday we hold an open concert.

Are there many guqin salons in Beijing? Is it getting more popular?
I believe there are many. Its become more and more popular since 2003. When I first came to Beijing, in 1999, playing the guqin wasnt that popular. It became a big deal after UNESCO proclaimed it as one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. I think there are more and more foreigners curious about the instrument, too. Last year I took a group of US college students to a mountain and practiced the guqin for 15 days.

Who are your students? How do you teach them?
I think they seek peace of mind by coming here. Theres no competition here and you can earn the refinement and peace of mind by playing the guqin. Most of the students are financially stable and they seek for peace.

How do you distinguish yourself from other guqin players?
There are so many great players with different styles. In my case, I just try to hold on to the very traditional style and understand the ancient scholars principles of aesthetic appreciation of those days.

There are many young guqin players who try to marry Chinese traditional music and that of the West. Is this a good development? 
I think its a natural process of the development of anything. Its a crossover and radical from the current point of view but who knows, it would become classical in a hundred years. And thats how it should be. Chinese music has evolved that way.