Predicting the fate of a person through musical vibrations

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We know that palm reading, fortune telling, divination using words or oracle bones and so on can predict the fate of a person but it is rare to hear that the fate of a person can be predicted through the rhythm of music.

This story took place during Emperor Dezong time of the Chinese Tang Dynasty.

Song Yan contributed two volumes of musical composition to the Emperor. After Emperor Dezong looked at the volumes, he was impressed and invited Song Yan to the palace. Both of them sat face to face and happily discussed about the music. Musicians from the Xuanwei Court and the Palace were also called in to participate in the discussion.

A few days later, a performance was held during which the musicians played the pieces of music. At the end of the performance, the emperor asked Song Yan; 「What are the strengths and weaknesses of their performance this time?” Song Yan kept quiet and did not say a thing. Some of the musicians laughed at Song Yan and even ridiculed him.

This made Song Yan angry and he then answered the emperor in a serious tone; 「Although the musicians performed well, it is not appropriate for some of the musicians to perform again」.

Emperor Dezong was curious and he asked; “Who are the musicians?」

Song Yan pointed to a musician playing the pipa and said; “This person has committed a serious crime that is unethical and cannot be forgiven. He will be facing the law soon, therefore, it is not appropriate for him to perform in front of the emperor」.

Song Yan then pointed to another musician who played the flute and said; 「This person『s soul has already left his body and is now wandering in a cemetery. Such a person cannot serve the emperor」.

On hearing this, Emperor Dezong was shocked and secretly ordered his men to monitor these two musicians.

Not long afterwards, someone lodged a case with the authority against the musician that played the pipa. According to the case, the musician『s father hanged himself for no reason and this was about six to seven years ago. The musician was arrested and put on trial. He finally pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to death.

The musician that played the flute died after losing his appetite for more than ten days and was consumed with worry.

After these incidents, Emperor Dezong respected Song Yan even more and conferred titles on him. He invited Song Yan to the palace many times. Each time the emperor asked Song Yan to check on the performance of the musicians, there was a lot of uneasiness among the musicians and they kept quiet and dared not look at Song Yan. On seeing this situation, Song Yan was afraid that disaster might befall him. Finally, he went into retirement due to physical illness.

(This article is an extract from “Taiping Guangji”)

Translated by: Chua BC
Edited by Helen

宋沇聽音律知命運

我們都知道看相、算命、占卜、測字、摸骨等,能推算人的命運,但從演奏的樂曲中能聽出一個人的命運這就不多見了。而唐朝就有這樣一則故事。


唐德宗年間,宋沇進獻樂書二卷,唐德宗讀後十分讚賞,於是詔見宋沇進宮。德宗與宋沇兩人對面而坐,談論音律談得非常高興,又指派宣微院和宮內教坊的樂官參加討論。


幾天以後,德宗皇帝讓樂工們演奏,一曲終了詢問宋沇:「這次他們演奏有甚麼長處與錯誤的地方?」宋沇好半天也沒說出甚麼來,在坐的樂工很多人都譏笑宋沇。


宋沇看到樂工們譏笑他,怒容滿面,嚴肅地回答德宗皇帝說:「演奏得雖然很精彩,但是演奏的樂工中有些人並不適合再演奏了。」


德宗皇帝驚異地問:「都是哪些人?」宋沇即指著一個演奏琵琶的樂工說:「這個人犯下大逆不道的罪刑,不久就會受到法律制裁。因此,不適宜在皇上面前演奏。」又指一個吹笙的人說:「這個人的靈魂已經出竅了,現正在一片墓地上閒遊。這樣的人也不能在皇上身邊侍奉。」德宗皇帝聽了後大為震駭,命令主管人暗中察看這兩個人。


不久,彈奏琵琶的樂工,同事告發他,六、七年前他父親無緣無故上吊死了,如今已被拘捕並認罪伏法。另外,吹笙的樂工整天憂愁不吃飯,過了十多天,果然死了。


德宗皇帝更加敬重宋沇,當面賜予他,還屢次召見宋沇進宮與自己對坐暢談。每次皇帝命令宋沇考核樂工們演奏時,樂工們都惴惴不安、斂聲屏氣,不敢正視宋沇。宋沇看到這種情形,恐怕招來禍患,於是以身體有病為由引退了。(《太平廣記》

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