I am grateful to Cherie Hughes and Roberto Limón for all their work in preparing these songs--there were some very tricky bits and they had no other performances to refer to for help!
I will start with the song "Listening to a Monk from Shu Playing the Lute" on the poem by Li Po (701 - 762), one of the most famous poets of the Tang Dynasty in China. He was also famous for two other things: as a calligrapher and as a drunkard! I have prepared a clip with a painting of Li Po reciting poetry followed by the only example of his calligraphy extant, then a painting of a performance on the pipa, the Chinese lute that was so popular during the Tang Dynasty. Next is a photo of a pipa from that era and last another painting of a pipa player.
Here is the poem in the translation of Vikram Seth:
The monk from Shu with his green lute-case walked
Westward down Emei Shan and at the sound
Of the first notes he strummed for me I heard
A thousand valley's rustling pines resound
My heart was cleansed, as if in flowing water.
In bells of frost I heard the resonance die
Dusk came unnoticed over the emerald hills
And autumn clouds layered the darkening sky.
In my setting I incorporate some sounds and ornaments of the pipa and I try to have the music simply respond to the poetry. In order to suggest the sound of the "bells of frost" I have used a technique stolen from John Cage--I have 'prepared' the sixth string of the guitar and the resulting odd, bell-like sound you will hear as the first and last notes of the song.