China: Time To Listen
Ellipsis Arts (PO Box 305, Roslyn, NY 11576, 800.788.6670, email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
I keep telling myself how fortunate I am to be
living at this time. The music of the rest of the world is becoming more and more
available. This is no more true than with the music of the oldest and most populous
culture on earth China.
Ellipsis Arts has done us a favor by collecting the work of
professional and talented Chinese artists together on this set of three CDs packaged
with an informative booklet. There is much here to be heard, and Ellipsis Arts puts it at
our fingertips. A Westerner listening to this music for the first few times may find it
simple and like a lullaby. This is due in part to the relative passiveness of the acoustic
instruments, as compared to the forcefulness of Western instruments. This passiveness
imparts a subtlety to Chinese Music found rarely outside China.
This history of Chinese Music is important because of its complexity.
Every Asian listener is hearing this music through the filter of their culture. Chinese
musical tradition is ancient and, up until recently, very structured and purposeful. Then
came two historical disconnects which changed Chinese traditional music in momentous ways.
Originally, Chinese music served the purpose of the soul. Melodies
played on the pipa, flute and drum evoked the energy of ones heart, and brought
grace to ones life. The ancient Chinese Court Philosophers Laozi and Mozi downplayed
music in general, feeling it added little to ones own life or productivity.
Confucius disagreed and felt that a people could achieve a universal harmony through
music. Confucius also believed that music should be used to worship a deity, praise a
benevolent ruler, or simply to celebrate everyday life. This opened up the creation of
music for special occasions, such as weddings, coronations, and funerals. The music was
also used to record events. The fact that no singing was used is part of the amazing
genius of early Chinese music to portray the feelings of an event.
Pitch and timbre were linked to life forces or energy - Qi. Qi was
thought to produce twelve pitches that corresponded to the months of the year, as well as
the Chinese Zodiac. The Chinese people have derived great strength and wisdom from their
musical culture, and this compilation is a testament to the dedication of the artists who
Sounds of Our Stories
The first CD tries to evoke the wonderful
expansiveness of Chinese instrumental music. Most of the music is peaceful, airy tunes
reminiscent of Chinese watercolor paintings of tiny people and huge landscapes. Songs such
as "Ode to the Autumn Wind" and "Xiang-Yu removes His Armor" do more
than provide a setting. They tell an entire story. And like some orchestral western music,
these tunes can move the listener along in the story itself. The CD features mostly
popular folk and modern tunes from the entire country. In this way, one can discover what
it is like to feel Chinese, growing up listening to these tunes.
The second CD called is much more varied and, for my
money the most entertaining of the three. The percussionist troupe "Thundering
Dragon" perform two awesome pieces featuring many different drums, cymbals, gongs and
chimes. This CD features exotic sounds from the many peoples who make up Chinas
nationalities. Dolqun Sapar and Abuqasim Qadir playing Islamic rhythms from the west,
throat singers from Mongolia, and traditional dance tunes of the Yi minority related to
the Tibetans are all here.
Spirit and Wisdom
The third CD expands the horizons of traditional
music to todays mixture of cultures. Sisi Chens marvelous playing of the
yangqin, Wu Man on the Pipa, and Li Xinchens shuang guan playing illustrate the high
degree of competence in a new breed of Chinese musicians. Indeed, even the occasional
melodramatic synthesizer does not seem out of place. Tibetan music is presented by Dadon,
a leading singer-songwriter of pro-independence Tibetan pop music. One after another, like
a good travelogue, the music does not get tiresome or annoying (I noted the lack of
Chinese Opera, of which I still have not developed a taste).
A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this album go to The
China Youth Development Foundation (http://project-hope.cydf.edu.cn)
(Information for this article came from Ellipsis Arts and http://www.bigskymusic.com/b-world.htm)
Other Chinese Music Pages
Chinascape is one of my original favorites providing music files and artists resumes, it
seems to be oriented to the Chinese Diaspora.
As always, this and other World Music reviews can be found at www.rootsworld.com
Copyright©WWUH: January/February Program Guide, 1999