Research: Tang Dynasty Music and Culture

I’ve already mentioned that this last short story had me researching into Tang Dynasty poetry, the imperial exams, short story tradition, and student life. Can you believe all that for 15,000 words? I know readers will always say they wish short stories were longer, but for me, there’s something beautiful about opening up a time capsule and getting just a glimpse. Like one of those crystals you hold up to the light to watch the refraction of its many faces onto the wall.

A short story can’t capture everything, but neither does a full length novel. Nor a whole series of novels, for that matter. To me, a short story is that rare stone, cut in a specific way by the author, in order to catch the light just so.

But I digress! One of the areas of research I touched upon was the music of the Tang Dynasty. Specifically, the pipa. The pipa is a stringed instrument similar to the lute. The name is said to come from the sounds it makes “pi” “pa”.

I discovered there are two styles of pipa music: lyrical and martial.

Here is where my research gets muddy. There’s huge interest in reviving Tang Dynasty style music. Some sources indicate that the popular song “Ambush from All Sides”, which is featured in The House of Flying Daggers, was written in the Tang Dynasty. Other sources indicated that it was written in the classical Tang Dynasty style, but appeared much later. Now, does appeared mean appeared in print? Or that it was composed at that time?

A gold star if anyone can point me to a definitive source.

In them meantime, these two popular pipa songs gave me great inspiration for the mood of my latest short story.

The harder, martial style: “Ambush from All Sides” (aka Ambush from Ten Sides)

The softer, lyrical or civil style: “Falling Snow Decorates the Evergreen”