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Japan Travel Guide

Japan Classical and theatrical music

Classical music can be segmented into gagaku (court orchestral music) and shomyo (Buddhist chanting). Gagaku came from China 1500 years ago as Confucian ceremonial music of the Chinese court. Similar to a chamber orchestra, gagaku ensembles include as many as twenty instruments, with flutes, oboes, zithers, lutes, gongs and drums. Gagaku is now played only as bugaku (dance music) or kangen (instrumental music), at the Imperial court and at a few Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples.

Unlike Western classical music, themes aren't stated and repeated. Instead, the rhythms are based on breathing and the result is a form that sounds avant-garde - sometimes discordant, sometimes meditative. Less is more in gagaku.

Japan's most famous theatrical form, No, was synthesized in the fourteenth century from religious pantomimes, folk theatre and court music. No, which combines oratory, dance and singing in a highly stylized manner, is still performed and continues to influence both Japanese and foreign theatre and music. There are solo singers, small choruses singing in unison and an instrumental ensemble of fue (bamboo flute), the only melodic instrument other than the voice, two hourglass drums and a barrel drum.

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