Anyway I've been reading a wonderful dissertation, which I will review when I finish reading it, called "Martial Gods and Magic Swords," by Avron Boretz. The Daoist scholar Paul Katz recommended it.
Today I just want to talk about one of his footnotes. In a discussion about the relationship between wen (civil, scholarly, cultural) and wu (military, martial) he mentions that the drum is wen and the cymbal is wu. That really got me thinking.
The drum establishes order, it is steady and precise. The cymbal is an explosion of sound, it breaks the air and shatters the peace. When I teach kids or perform, I use the drum for stepping, and the cymbal for sudden kicks.
The large gong is, of course, used for bowing, but it is also good for transitions or even moments of transcendence.
The wood-block (called a fish in Chinese) is used for accenting orders or commands, it is often answered by the performer with a stomp of the foot (leading into cat stance or monk stance). It is a high sharp sound. Wood-blocks are used for chanting invocations, and by Buddhists for chanting sutras. The same wood-block sound was traditionally used in formal arguments and teachings to accent an important point that had just been made.
"The Dao which can be named is not the true Dao!" "PAAHK."
The flutes and reed instruments mimic the human voice.