There are three types of vocal music performed at the Imperial court:
Saibara: Accompanied vocal court music, it draws from traditional folk music. The text is short and simple with a earthy tone, often describing scenes of life.
Rôei: Performed with or without accompaniment, rôei is more a recitation than a song, in spite of the fact that it is often referred to as 'graceful songs'. The text usually consists of a pair of seven-word lines from a familiar Chinese poem rendered in a combination of Japanese and Chinese.
Kagura-uta: Often labeled as 'God's songs', kagura-uta is the repertoire of sacred vocal music associated with the mikagura (court dance related to the shinto cult). It is composed of 26 chants including, among others, Niwabi, Achime, Karakami, Hayakarakami, Komomakura, Sazanami, Senzai, Hayauti, Hoshi, Asakura, Sonokoma ...
In all three cases, the melodies are built from the succession of melodic patterns, each one characterized with its own shape.
1. Melodic patterns used in rôei and kagura-uta songs
A long note followed by a short glissando to its upper neighbor-tone rapidly returning to the initial pitch. This pattern is never repeated in a sequence.
A long note followed by a short glissando to its lower neighbor-tone rapidly returning to the initial pitch. This pattern is never repeated in a sequence.
Pattern with no name
According to the singer with whom we worked, ISHIKAWA Ko, this pattern essentially came about as an ornamentation, hence, it does not have a specific name. Its contour involves a sustained-tone that comes down a tone and immediately jump up a fourth followed by an ascending second.
A sustained-tone followed by two fast descending thirds before jumping up a fourth, ending a tone lower than the initial pitch.
A sustained-tone followed by a short accelerando with two descending thirds leading to a melismatic motion that closes on a pitch a fourth lower than the initial tone.
A sustained-tone is pulsated three times by its lower neighbor-tone, this motion always starts slowly and then accelerated.
A sustained-tone is pulsated four times by its lower neighbor-tone, this motion always starts slowly and then accelerated before slowing down again. It is only used at the end of a piece.
A sustained-tone followed by a glissando up a minor sixth, after resting on that tone another glissando goes down a fourth.
2. Melodic patterns used in saibara songs
A sustained-tone pulsated with one accentuated lower neighbor-tone.
Similar to yuri except that the neighboring motion is limited to two instead of three.
The saibara's equivalent for yuri.
3. Short analysis of the melodic patterns used in the beginning of Senzai
Senzai is a song from the kagura-uta repertory: it is composed of 9 phrases. Although it would traditionally be accompanied by the kagurabue, hichiriki, wagon, and shakûbyoshi, it is presented here unaccompanied in order to focus solely on its melodic structure.
Typically, the melodic structure of gagaku songs is modular, since the sequencing of various melodic patterns creates the melodic lines. A Western transcription of Senzai's first phrase is analyzed in Example 12 to illustrate that point.