Along the Silk Road / Tomoko Sugawara
Ancient and Modern Music for the Kugo

Kikuko Masumoto
1. Archaic Phrase for Kugo  [6:13]

Stephen Dydo
based on Chinese Tang Dynasty-era compositions
2. The Waves of Kokonor  [2:10]
3. Wang Zhaojun  [6:21]

Qotb Al-Din Shirāzi
4. Qawl  [3:52]
Ozan Aksöy, bendir

Robert Lombardo
5. Haikugo I  [1:52] • 6. Haikugo II  [1:38] • 7. Haikugo III  [2:11]

Amir Mahyar Tafreshipour
8. A Night in Shiraz  [4:01]

Robert Lombardo
9. Shakugo I  [2:46] • 10. Shakugo II  [3:45] • 11. Shakugo III  [3:07]
Robert Dick, alto flute

12. Cantiga de Santa Maria, No. 249  [4:32]
Ozan Aksöy, darabukka & bendir
13. Cantiga de Santa Maria, No. 213  [3:49]
Ozan Aksöy, bendir

Tomoko Sugawara: kugo
Robert Dick: alto flute
Ozan Aksöy: bendir, darabukka

Along the Silk Road
The story of the Ancient Harp

The Silk Road was a trade route that connected Rome to Chang'an, Gyeongju, and Kyoto — the Chinese, Korean, and Japanese capitals, respectively. It flourished principally between 200 and 1000 A.D., a period when angular harps were the only type of harps. Unlike European ones, it had no pillar between the sound box and the horizontal rod. It had an L-shape, whereas European harps, with their solid frame, looked like an inverted A-shape. The latter resulted in a strong body which could support strings with high tension, i.e., strings with a loud sound.

The instrument played by Ms. Sugawara is a reconstruction of an angular harp shown on a reliquary box from Kumtura (figure 1), a site on the Silk Road. The box, collected by the Otani expedition in the early part of last century and deposited in Tokyo National Museum, is considered to have been made during the sixth or seventh centuries. The reconstruction is 104 cm high (including a 16 cm long tail at the bottom) and has 23 gut strings of graduated thickness (figure on the front cover). The intricate structure near the joint of the body and the horizontal rod is sometimes shown only faintly on paintings, but it is clear on the fragmentary harps that survived in the Shōsōin Treasure House at Nara, Japan.

The harp can be tuned to various modes but on this CD the scales mostly follow the white-key scale of the piano. Only five tracks deviate: track 4 has several 1/4-tones as explained in the program notes; tracks 5 and 7 have f tuned to f♯; track 8 has E tuned to E♭ and A tuned to A♭; track 9 has G♯ and E♭ as well as G♮ and E♮; track 10 has E♭ and E♮.

Fig. 1, Angular Harp painted on a reliquary box
during the sixth or seventh centuries
probably at Kumtura, Xinjiang, China.

Let me outline the history of angular harps using approximate dates. They first appeared 1900 B.C. in Mesopotamia, and they were last seen 1700 A.D. in Istanbul. During their 3,600-years of life, angular harps changed little and were the sole type until the European Δ-shaped harp (variously called “pillar harp” or “frame harp”) emerged about 800 A.D. The angular harp was the longest living type of instrument ever invented. With its many strings (over 20), it was a kind of “grand piano” of antiquity.

From Mesopotamia the harps spread in many directions. They reached Iran more or less instantaneously, and spread to the Near East gradually over the following centuries. The first evidence in Egypt came half a millennium later, 1450 B.C., where they may have been called benet, a name well attested for arched harps but probably also used for angular harps. But the Greeks (calling them “trigōnon”) resisted until 500 B.C., and Rome followed a few centuries later. Much later the Silk Road became a conduit of harps when Buddhists brought them eastward (figure 2). They first appeared in China in 550 A.D., and in Korea and Japan about 700. It was the same instrument in all three regions but the name differed: konghou, gonghu, and kugo. China valued it greatly, particularly during the Sui (581- 618) and Tang (618-907) Dynasties, but in Japan and Korea their success was more limited. Eventually, the popularity decreased in China and by 1100 they had largely disappeared from East Asia.

In West Asia, angular harps remained popular until the seventeenth century. Iran, which had had the harp from an early time, adopted the Muslim faith in the seventh century A.D., and its old and highly developed musical culture spilled into many regions of the Islamic world. Popular stories about angular harp players — royal or not — were incorporated into epics published in numerous books between 1300 and 1600. The texts were sumptuously illustrated and angular harps (here called chang) were often a subject. These books provided a large corpus of harp illustrations (one is shown on the front cover of the CD case) which allow us to study construction details as well as geographic and historical connections.

At this time, angular harps were strongly associated with Islam while the European harp belonged to Christianity. Europe rebuffed Islam militarily— with one exception, Spain, which fell to Muslim forces around 800 A.D. [sic]. Coming from North Africa they overran Spain and began to penetrate into France but were pushed back. By 1250 Muslim forces controlled only the southern half of Spain. King Alfonso X (1221-1284) ruled the northern half, principally León, Castile, and Galicia [sic]. He was an enlightened monarch involved in several humanistic projects. Two are important for the history of angular harps: (1) publishing a large collection of Christian songs — the Cantigas de Santa Maria and (2) issuing a book of games (Libro de los Juegos). The former contains over 400 songs about the Holy Virgin. The texts are Christian, but some tunes are considered to have Islamic origins. The book of games shows several examples of chess boards, and a Berber player of the angular harp stands next to one. Indeed, some Cantigas may have been played on angular harps.

As already stated, the angular harp died out 300 years ago. Earlier it had been one of the most prominent participants in four millennia of music history. Most of its music has disappeared, but some of the samples rescued here give an inkling of the wide range of sound it could produce. May it continue to reveal its many secrets.

Fig. 2. A Silk Road orchestra dated 850 AD., from Khocho (Gaochang), Xinjiang, China.

The Program

The program on the CD includes three types of compositions: modern compositions (tracks 1, 5 to 11), ancient Chinese tunes from the Tang dynasty (tracks 2 and 3), and ancient Islamic tunes from Persia (track 4) and Spain (tracks 12 and 13). The ancient compositions were written in societies where — and when — angular harps flourished.

1. Archaic Phrase for Kugo
by Kikuko Masumoto
The composer Kikuko Masumoto writes: “In the summer of 2007, Professor Lawergren told me that some modern composers have begun to compose for the kugo. He asked if I would like to write a piece that would show the qualities of the kugo to modern audiences. As a response, I wrote Archaic Phrase.
Before that year I knew little about the kugo and had only seen the instrument in a museum. Since it had disappeared in the twelfth century, I did not know what kind of music was played on it. I then decided to use an ancient phrase still played on the wagon. The latter is an ancient zither indigenous to Japan and still used in Shinto music. The kugo and the wagon are both string instruments. I took a famous phrase played by the wagon in the Shinto ceremony and gave it to the kugo. It is the beginning phrase of the piece.”
The piece was composed in 2007 and is dedicated to Ms. Sugawara.

2. The Waves of Kokonor
by Stephen Dydo
This, and the next, piece arose in a multi-stage process. First, the tune was conceived in China during the Tang Dynasty (618-906) and appeared as tablature notation in Japanese manuscripts shortly thereafter. In the 1970s, some of the tablatures were transnotated into Western staff notation by a team of scholars at Cambridge University, UK. Dr. Laurence Picken was the supervisor of the team, and his first PhD student, Rembrandt Wolpert, published a number of transnotations (“A ninth-century score for five-stringed lute,” Musica Asiatica 3 [1981] 107-135) based on a manuscript held in the Yōmei Bunko library in Kyoto.
The Waves of Kokonor, however, was published collectively by the team (R. Wolpert, A. Marret, J. Condit, and L. Picken, Asian Music 5 [1974] 3-9). The tune is still in the Japanese Togaku repertoire, but the team members found that the tempo has slowed down four to eight times during the last millenium. They suggest that the tune would originally have been repeated, each time with increasingly complex ornaments (jia hua “adding flowers”). In the final stage, the tune was adopted by the composer Stephen Dydo, who added flowers and expanded the tessitura to span the full range of the angular harp. He states the theme once and follows with a variation using expanded counter-melodies and harp ornaments.
Mr. Dydo explains his procedure: “Years ago I became fascinated with the very special music of the Tang Dynasty, which is so different from that of the later dynasties. After having immersed myself in the compositional materials as revealed by the very detailed manuscripts, I sat down to compose pieces for ancient and modern instruments using those methods. I did not attempt to recreate a possible (ancient) performance, but rather used ancient compositional devices to generate music of my own. It was my great good fortune to meet Ms. Sugawara and develop a kugo style based on the development procedures evident in existing manuscripts for the qin, lute, flute and mouth-organ.” Dydo's composition was dedicated to Ms. Sugawara in 2006.
Kokonor is the Turkic name of the largest lake in China, situated in the Qinghai (“Blue Sea”) Province. The melody is likely to have been a folk-song during the Chinese Tang Dynasty (618- 906). Circumstances suggest it originated further west in the Turkic-speaking region now called Xin-jiang Uigur Autonomous Region, a Central Asian part of the Silk Road. The great Tang Dynasty poet Li Bo (701-762), who hailed from the Kokonor region, liked to dance to this tune when tipsy. Three centuries later it appeared in the Japanese novel The Tale of Genji when the hero danced to the tune. Genji's dancing partner was To-no Chujo who looked “like a mountain fir growing beside a cherry-tree in bloom.” It was an impressive spectacle and, adds the author Murasaki Shikibu, “all the princes and great gentlemen wept aloud” (in Arthur Waley's translation).

3. Wang Zhaojun
by Stephen Dydo
The tune is included in Dr. Wolpert's article on the ninth-century score for five-stringed lutes mentioned earlier. Again, Mr. Dydo's elaborations of the tune were dedicated to Ms. Sugawara in 2006.
Wang Zhaojun is known as one of the Four Beauties of ancient China. In 33 B.C. she entered the harem of Emperor Yuan, who gave her as a present to the leader of the Xiongnu tribe. Her tribulations have become a legendary subject of art, literature, and music.

4. Qawl
by Quṭb al-Dīn al-Shirāzī (1236-1311)
The melody is taken from Owen Wright, The Modal System of Arab and Persian Music, A.D. 1250-1300, (1978), pp. 233-244. The harp is tuned to D, E, F☨, G☨, A, B, C☨ — where the sign ☨ raises the pitch a quarter-tone. Only the first part of the tune is used. It survives as a vocal part with percussion, but Persian illustrated books show that singers usually were accompanied by a small ensemble, such as a flute, lute, harp and drum. Wright has shown that medieval Iranian music had drums parts, and he supplies a written percussion part. It is played by the Turkish percussion master, Ozan Aksöy, on the bendir. On the recording both instrumentalists add improvised elements.

5, 6, 7. Haikugo I, II, III
by Robert Lombardo
The composer states “I wrote Haikugo after I received a video tape from Bo Lawergren of a performance on the angular harp by Tomoko Sugawara. I was fascinated by the instrument, and after corresponding with Ms. Sugawara, I decided to compose these three little pieces for her. The challenge for me was to find a way to create something interesting for an instrument with a limited range and tuning possibilities. For the first and third pieces I decided to use a white-note scale but with an F♯.
By limiting myself to a single scale, I found ways to shift pitch centers and create a feeling of harmonic movement within each piece. When I returned to the original scale in the third movement, I incorporated harmonics to bring a new color to the work. I think that my lyrical writing lends itself to composing for this ancient instrument. It is a great pleasure for me to dedicate these pieces to Ms. Sugawara.”

8. A Night in Shiraz for solo chang
by Amir Mahyar Tafreshipour
Mr. Tafreshipour writes: “This is my first composition for the angular harp, known as chang in Iran. The piece has a consistent melodic feel throughout, partly due to the limitations of the tuning and range of the chang; it also gives a mesmerizing sound effect. There are two distinct sections (both repeated), one melancholy and the other dance-like. The duality reflects the contrasting hours of an evening in Shiraz.
This work was commissioned in Amsterdam in 2008 by Professor Bo Lawergren from New York, and the harpist Tomoko Sugawara from Japan, and it was premiered by her in New York. I now live in Tehran and teach at several universities in the capital and in Shiraz, but I travel widely to give workshops and lectures. My compositions incorporate Western and Eastern sounds and nuances.”

9, 10, 11. Shakugo I, II, III
by Robert Lombardo
This is a modern work written for Ms. Sugawara, to be performed on the Kugo with an alto flute, here played by Robert Dick, or a shakuhachi. The composer writes: “As I become more familiar writing for the kugo — having now composed three pieces for the instrument — I am discovering more compositional possibilities, particularly in the area of tuning. In this regard, I found that by using — in the case of Shakugo — G & G# and E & E b in different octaves, of course, I could enrich the melodic and harmonic possibilities of the instrument. I am grateful to Ms. Sugawara for her continued help in giving me a better understanding of the fascinating ancient harp.”

12. Cantiga de Santa Maria, No. 249
by Alfonso X of Spain (1221-84)
The Cantigas produced by the Christian King Alfonso X of Spain are songs that praise the Holy Virgin, but some of the tunes, Iberian scholars maintain, show Muslim influences. It is hardly surprising since Muslims had then ruled parts of southern Spain for eighth centuries — although they were now in retreat. As if to confirm the influence, an Islamic angular harp (chang) is illustrated in the Book of Games, also commissioned by Alfonso. Most likely, the chang would have played tunes similar to those in the Cantigas. Ms. Sugawara improvises on the tunes with Mr. Aksöy accompanying her on the bendir.
The lyrics of Cantiga de Santa María no. 249 tell the story of a master builder who worked on a church, Holy Mary of Almazán, at Castrogeriz. Many builders had come and gone, and all charged a fee, but this man wanted nothing beside mercy and favor from the Virgin. As a stonemason, he skillfully squared off stones and laid them in rows on the highest part of the structure. One day he slipped and fell from the very top. While plummeting, he called for the Holy Virgin Mary, and she interceded. His head was bruised, but She protected him and he was unhurt (see Alfonso X, King of Castile and Leon, Cantigas de Santa María, translated by Kathleen Kulp-Hill, 2000).

13. Cantiga de Santa Maria, No. 213
by Alfonso X of Spain (1221-84)
The lyrics concern Don Tomé who transported wine and grain to distant parts of Spain, and whose business often required him to stay away from home. His wife became unfaithful, but Tomé suspected nothing. One day she was found stabbed to death, and the villagers accused the innocent Tomé for the deed. Fearing they would kill him, he fled to the city of Terena where he found the Benevolent Virgin in a church and asked her to have mercy on him. She was pleased with his innocence and ardent prayers. Outside the church the angry villagers caught up with Tomé, and a man threw a lance at him but it hit a sturdy tree, and the lancer tumbled into a deep gully. Seeing the fall, the villagers realized that Tomé was innocent and asked for forgiveness in the name of God and His Mother.

— Bob Lawergren

The historical notes on the kugo have been provided by Bo Lawergren who often accompanies Ms. Sugawara's live performances with amusing anecdotes and illustrations of the kugo.
Bo Lawergren grew up on the island of Gotland, Sweden, surrounded by its rich history and profuse archaeological material. Often he heard stories about his paternal grandfather, a noted Swedish country fiddler active a century ago. Although drawn in many directions, Bo Lawergren ended up with a PhD in nuclear physics from The Australian National University and was a Professor of Physics at Hunter College of The City University of New York from 1970 to 2003 when he retired. Youthful interests reawakened around 1980 and he began research in Old World Music Archaeology. Because of the wide array of seminars, libraries, and colleagues available in New York City, he found it possible to catch up on archaeology of many parts of the world. Professor Lawergren's numerous publications on the kugo, Music Archaeology and Physics are posted online at: www.hunter.cuny.eduiphysics/faculty/lawergren/publications

Further Reading
Bo Lawergren, “Angular Harp Through the Ages: A Causal History,” pp. 261-281 in A.A. Both, R. Eichmann, E. Hickmann, and L.-Ch. Koch (eds.) Studien zur Musikarchäologie VI, Deutsches Arcäologisches Institut, Orient-Abteilung, Orient-Archäologie, 22 (Randen 2008).

Bo Lawergren, “Harp (çang),” Encyclopaedia Iranica, ed. E. Yarshater 12: 1 (New York 2003) 7-13.

Bo Lawergren, “Harp (ancient),” pp. 881-888 & 894-896 in volume 10 of The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, eds. S. Sadie and J. Tyrell. Second edition (London 2001).

Bo Lawergren, “Harfe” pp. 39-62 in vol. 4 of Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, ed. L. Finscher (Kassel & Stuttgart 1996).

The Composers
Stephen Dydo holds a DMA in composition from Columbia University where he also studied Chinese music with Chou Wen-Chung. He has played the qin-zither in the US, England, Europe and China and has studied sacred music in Western and Buddhist rites. Currently, he is adopting Tang dynasty music for modern performance. Among the many awards are the Bearns Prize and two Fulbright Fellowships. His music has been played worldwide.

Robert Lombardo, a Professor Emeritus at Roosevelt University in Chicago, is the son of Sicilian immigrants to the USA. He received his BM and MM in composition from the Hartt School of Music and a PhD from The University of Iowa. His principal composition teacher was Arnold Franchetti. Lombardo is a prolific composer who has written more than 200 works. Six works for the mandolin were recently issued on a CD (Albany Records). About it Bernard Jacobson wrote in Fanfare Magazine: “...Fastidious in its emotional precision and intensity, and often arresting for the sensuous beauty it achieves, Lombardo's style is an intriguing amalgam of fairly comprehensive chromaticism with strong tonal influences from his Sicilian ancestry.”

Kikuro Masumoto was educated at the Toho Gakuen School of Music, one of Japan's most prestigious music institutions. In 1986 her chamber opera “Assaji-ga-Yado” was awarded the Special Prize for Dramatic Arts by the Ministry of Cultural Affairs. Her book on the Japanese Gagaku is considered one of the best surveys. She taught at the Toho Gakuen School and was named Honorary Professor upon her retirement.

Amir Mahyar Tafreshipour has undergraduate degrees in composition from the Academy of Music in Esbjerg, Denmark (2001); Trinity College of Music, London (2003); and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London (2004). In 2003 a piano piece of his won first prize at the Biennial Competition for New Music at Tehran University, and Trinity College gave him the Silver Medal for outstanding achievement. The BBC Symphony Orchestra commissioned his harp concerto and
Sioned Williams premiered it in London (2006). Currently he is teaching at the Azad University music faculty in Tehran and Shiraz.

King Alfonso X ruled the northern half [sic] of Spain during the thirteenth century while the southern part was under Islamic rule. At court he thrived surrounded by scholars, musicians, translators, and other intellectuals. He, himself, received the epithet El Sabio (The Learned). Among his courtiers were Christians, Muslims, and Jews who, probably, helped him put together the Cantigas and the Libro de los juegos.

The Musicians
Tomoko Sugawara (angular harp) was born in Tokyo, Japan, where she began playing the Irish harp at age twelve and took up the grand harp at sixteen. Ms. Sugawara graduated from Tokyo University of Fine Arts where she was a student of Ms. Sumire Kuwajima. She began playing the kugo in 1994, and in 2007 she collaborated with Professor Bo Lawergren and luthiers Bill and Catherine Campbell to design the unique instrument she plays on this CD. She has performed both on the concert harp and on the kugo in many major international venues, such as the World Harp Congress, Prague; Meiji University; the New York Qin Society; the Fifth Symposium for Music Archaeology, Berlin; Columbia; Princeton; and Harvard Universites. She was awarded a Fellowship from the Asian Cultural Council during 2007-2008 and a grant from the Rohm Music Foundation in 2007.

Along the Silk Road is Ms. Sugawara's third recorded release. The first, titled Spring, features her solo work on the concert harp; her second CD, recorded in 1998, was a duo improvisational collaboration with the saxophonist Sanshiro Fujimoto titled East Meets West. The first and third release are available online at:

Robert Dick (alto flute) has made profound contributions to the development of the flute and its music. He is known worldwide as a flute visionary and a leading voice in the instrument's new repertory. In his role of soloist, composer, teacher, author and inventor, he has performed his music worldwide, and his books The Other Flute, Tone Development through Extended Techniques and Circular Breathing for the Flutist are classics in the flute world. With equally deep roots in old and new classical music, in free improvisation and new jazz, Robert Dick has established himself as an artist who has not only mastered, but redefined the flute.

Ozan Aksöy (bendir and darabukka) is a master musician and ethnomusicologist based in New York City. He grew up in a musical home in Turkey where his father taught him the saz and the baglama (long-necked lutes). Early on he developed an interest in the multiethnic musical traditions of his native country and studied the nay and kaval (flutes). He served as an arranger, composer and performer in the group Kardes Türküler, which toured Turkey and Europe playing the traditional music of Anatolia, Caucasus, and the Balkans. (The bendir is a circular frame drum. The darabukka is a goblet-shaped drum with a single drum skin; it is also known as a dumbek.)


We are greatful to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for use of the cover image as excerpted from The Seven Portraits of the Quintet of Nizami Gift of Alexander Smith Cochran, 1913 ( Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Appreciation also to Professor Rembrandt Wolpert for the use of his transnotation of Wang Zhaojun. He holds degrees in Sinology, Mongolian Studies, Musicology and Computer Science from Munich, Cambridge, and Otago Universities and currently works at the University of Arkansas as Professor of History.

PRODUCED BY Tomoko Sugawara
RECORDED AND MIXED BY Jay Mark at Jay Mark Studios, NYC
MASTERED BY Alan Tucker, Foothill Digital, NYC
EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS Bo Lawergren, Tomoko Sugawara & Jana Herzen
PHOTOGRAPHY Karl Giant MAKE UP ARTIST Christopher Ritchey
Ms. Sugawara's harp was constructed by luthiers Bill and Catherine Campbell.
The compositions are published by Silk Road Editions (2009).
To learn about Ms. Sugawara's live performances please visit her artist page at