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Songs of Change

Choreography by Benita Bike
Music by Dean Wallraff
Sung by Mike Stevens and Mei Zhong


Mary Troy, Rebecca Pringle and Susan Skryzcki in Songs of Change, 1993

 

Songs of Change is a 6-movement modern dance based on the ancient Chinese Book of Changes, or Yi Jing (I Ching). The book describes 64 different life situations, and the ways in which they can change into one another. For this dance, we picked 6 of the situations and depicted its mood in music and dance.

The text for each movement was the main text from the Yi Jing for each situation (hexagram), and was sung in Mandarin Chinese using modern pronunciation. An English translation for each movement is given below, followed by a summary of the feeling of mood of the text. The music for each movement is available for download below, in MP3 format.

1 — Difficulty at the Beginning
Difficulty at the Beginning works supreme success.
Furthering through perseverance.
Nothing should be undertraken
It furthers one to appoint helpers.

Clouds and thunder:
The image of Difficulty at the Beginning.
Thus the superior man
Brings order out of confusion.

The state of teeming, chaotic profusion when Heaven and Earth have been formed and everything else is struggling to be born from them, in between them.

The music uses a scale in which the octave is divided into 8 equal parts (instead of the normal western 12).

2 — The Well
The Well. The town may be changed,
But the well cannot be changed.
It neither decreases nor increases.
They come and go and draw water from the well.
If one gets down almost to the water
And the rope does not go all the way,
Or the jug breaks, it brings misfortune.

Water over wood: the image of the well.
Thus the superior man encourages the people at their work,
And exhorts them to help one another.

The stalk of a plant bringing nourishing water up from within the earth, symbolizing the inexhaustible dispensing of nourishment from nature or from the wellspring of the divine within us. The well is our deepmost inner unchangeable human nature.

The musical scale used in this movement is made up of the overtones of the bass note.

3— Grace
Grace has success.
In small matters
It is favorable to undertake something.

Fire at the foot of the mountain:
The image of Grace.
Thus does the superior man proceed
When clearing up current aftairs.
But he dare not decide controversial issues in this way.

The beauty of simple form with no ornament: clarity within, quiet without, the tranquil beauty of pure contemplation, the beauty of the forms existing in the heavens, beauty of the spheres.

The scale used here comes from dividing the octave into 5 equal parts, an approximation of the 5-toned "pentatonic" scale used to simulate eastern music.

4— Oppression
Opression. Success. Prerseverance.
The great man brings about good fortune.
No blame.
When one has something to say, it is not believed.

There is no water in the lake:
The image of Exhaustion.
Thus the superior man stakes his life
On following his will.

Exhaustion and oppression — hard times: inferior people are in control and one must bide one's time. It calls for steadfastness and character.

The same 8/octave scale is used here that was used in the first movement.

5 — Treading
Treading upon the tail of the tiger.
It does not bite the man. Success.

Heaven above, the lake below:
The image of Treading.
Thus the superior man discriminates between high and low,
And thereby fortifies the thinking of the people.

Conduct in dealing with a frightening or a stronger person or force — one must have balance, confidence, cheerfulness and humor, and must proceed slowly and harmoniously. Then the stronger will acquiesce and not hurt the weaker, because the contact is in good humor and harmless.

The scale for this movement divides the 3:1 interval (an octave plus a fifth) into 23 equal parts. An interesting feature of this scale is that it doesn't contain any octaves.

6 — Enthusiasm
Enthusiasm. It furthers one to install helpers
And to set armies marching.

Thunder comes resounding out of the earth:
The image of Enthusiasm.
Thus the ancient kings made music
In order to honor merit,
And offered it with splendor
To the Supreme Deity,
Inviting their ancestors to be present.

Thunder as a prototype for music, to rouse the masses by being in harmony with their inner nature. It releases tensions, unites and elevates the people, resulting in a condition of harmony and happy contentment throughout the kingdom.

The 5/octave scale used in the third movement is brought back here.

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