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Histoire de la marionnette

Music and Repertory

Le chef d'orchestre jouant du xiao gu
The conductor playing xiao gu
Music and song play a vital role. Musical styles and the instruments can change from one company to the other according to the master's taste or predominant fashions, but at the base we find the same percussions as in Bei Guan music and in Chinese Opera.

The small drum, xiao gu, conducts the orchestra. The leader imparts his instructions to other musicians through the rhythm as well as by gestures. Other percussions are the pan, sort of elongated clappers, the da gu or large drum, the po, small cymbals, the wen lou, the literary cymbal and the wu lou or martial cymbal, and to end with xiao lou or little cymbal producing a number of special effects.

The sona, a sort of Tibetan oboe, singularly reminiscent of the Breton euphonium, and sometimes the flute are the principal wind instruments.

Among the strings there are several different styles of folk fiddles borrowed from Peking Opera, from nan guan or from bei guan music, as well as the yue qin or folk lute.

If the principal musical styles are the bei guan, the Peking style and the luan tan, certain popular airs have been known to slip in; there was even a show whose recurrent musical theme was a Japanese tango from the 30s.
The orchestra is placed in a horseshoe shape behind the puppet theatre, with the conductor on the right of the public, so that he can see the puppet master behind the theatre structure, also on the right.

The music is pre-set, that is to say, there is a different melody and rhythm pertaining to each situation, more or less, but in order to consistently play the right music at the right moment, without the benefit of rehearsals, a very long experience is necessary.

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