Tea in Music

Tea is involved in all sorts of creative and  artistic pursuits – music in particular. Who hasn’t heard the song “Tea for Two” over and over again, whether on its original reference or as Mary-Kate or Ashley sings it on re-runs of  Full House? There is tea in music to be found.  That very song “Tea for Two” was featured in the musical No, No Nanette! with many characters doing tap numbers actually holding tea sets.

Stepping away from “Tea for Two”,  Tea is often mentioned in popular music, from Sting’s “Englishman in New York”to Nirvana’s “Pennyroyal Tea” . Tea has also inspired many mood albums including  Sharon O’Connor’s “Afternoon Tea Serenade” featuring a recording of classical chamber music.

This idea of tea in music is thought to have been started by   Lu Yu, an 8th Century Chinese scholar who wrote “The Classic of Tea,” the first known book on the subject. In this passage Lu Yu describes how to prepare water that is perfectly for tea. Interpreted in many ways, his advice is centered on both the visual and the aural:

“When the water looks like fishes’ eyes and gives off but the hint of a sound it has reached the first stage. When it chatters like a spring bubbling with pearls strung together, it has reached the second stage. When it leaps like majestic waves resounding with their thunder, the water is at its peak. To heat it longer, the water will boil itself out; do not use it.”

This description has a percussion to it, an inherent musicality. Tea music dates back hundreds of years, most probably with tea pluckers who often sang, and still do, to keep their energy and spirits up while doing the same repetitive motions, plucking leaves again and again. One famous Japanese song is “Cha-Tsumi” that translates, in part, to:

“In the weather beautiful,
Our peasant girls pick leaves while singing,
Their noise a joyful sound, free of care.
‘Pick all you can, young maids, for if you
Do not, we Japanese will have no tea!”

So whether you hum a familiar tune while drinking tea, melodies appear in your mind, or whether you’re just rocking out to music while you drink – know that there is tea in music and you are part of that tradition. Tea for one or two – with tea you’ll make great music.

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