Zhonghe Shaoyue was the Chinese ritual music used in Ming and Qing dynasties (1368 -1911) for offering sacrifices to the Heaven mainly practiced in the Temple of Heaven and other occasions for celebrations at court such as imperial wedding.
“Zhonghe” here refers to “Medium Harmony”, a highest level of self-cultivation according to Confucianism. “Shaoyue” in Chinese means “Beautiful Music”. The “Beautiful Music of Medium Harmony” originated from Yayue (elegant music), which started as early as in Zhou Dynasty (1046BC – 256BC) and used as imperial music till Yuan Dynasty (1271AD –1368AD).
The instruments for “Zhonghe Shaoyue” are mainly made of eight meterials, including mental, stone, string, bamboo, clay, wood, gourd, leather, chime bells and chime stones. They are combined to produce and highlight the Confucian idea of “the sound of metal and jade” which is regarded as the perfect music.
In Ming and Qing dynasties (1368 – 1911), while emperors attended the worshipping ritual in Temple of Heaven, the road to the main hall was lined with top officials and court musicians holding various musical instruments. They were playing Zhonghe Shaoyue, the court music was used when the emperors made sacrifices to the Temple of Heaven and in other spectacular occasions. It’s a slow, big and austere procession with Zhonghe Shaoyue.
The Divine Music Office was the highest academy of Zhonghe Shaoyue. It was located in the northwest of Temple of Heaven. It went through a 2-year revamp and reconstruction and was open to the public in 2004. The office is a two-yard and three-hall complex. The main hall is named Ni Xi Palace.
The famous Zhonghe Shaoyue Enssemble is located in Divine Music Office at the Temple of Heaven. Its advisors and art directors are renowned experts on court music. It has gathered many seasoned musicians. Now Zhonghe Shaoyue Ensamble has a challenging task of keeping and carrying on the traditional Zhonghe Shaoyue.
At the time of my writting, the performance of Divine Music of Zhonghe Shaoyue doean’t have a fixed timetable. They have been trying to normalise the performance of the imperial music. Next time, you may be lucky enough to enjoy the beautiful court music on your visit to Temple of Heaven.
Singing at Zhonghe Shaoyue performed at Divine Music Office in Temple of Heaven