Trans-Pacific Melodies: music from China

Tonight’s performance by China National Orchestra and Carolina International Orchestra was amazing. The repertoire is below.

1. Festival Overture (节日序曲), composed by Shi Wanchun.
2. Moon Reflected in Erquan Spring (二泉映月), composed by Hua Yanjun.
3. Swan (天鹅), composed by Liu Dehai.
4. Listening To the Wind (听风醉月), composed by Wang Ciheng and Wang Shi.
5. Three Stanzas of Plum Blossom (梅花三弄), ancient music.
6. Silk Road (丝绸之路), composed by Jiang Ying.
7. Percussion Concerto (夜深沉), composed by Chen Yi.
8. Autumn Night (秋江月夜), composed by Hao Weiya.
9. Fishermen’s Melody (渔舟唱晚), Chinese classical.
10. Folk Song from the Changbai Mountains (长白山歌), composed by Feng Xiaoquan.
11. Folk Dance of the Yao Nationality (瑶族舞曲), composed by Mao Yuan and Liu Tieshan.

3, 4, and 8 were really nothing special. But Silk Road was such a blast! The sound of the Chinese flute (Dizi, 笛子), combined with Erhu (二胡) and Pipa (琵琶) , painted a vivid picture of the prosperous businesses on Silk Road. And you as a listener is right in the picture. How amazing!

I also refreshed my memory about traditional Chinese instruments and saw some new ones. For example, Konghou (箜篌) has a very nice, gentle sound. I have never seen this ancient instrument before, but it surely fits the melody of Three Stanzas of Plum Blossom (梅花三弄). Only if the performer didn’t miss that one note!

I was very surprised that the performance was ended with Nv Ren Hua (女人花), a pop song performed by the famous Hong Kong singer and actress Anita Mui (梅艳芳). It turns out that Dizi and Erhua go perfectly with the melody. I have found Erhu a very versatile instrument throughout the performance. Getting back to work now!


Hwang Yau-tai and his chorus

Hwang Yau-tai is a well-known composer. He passed away in July last year. A detailed biography is available here. His songs are sentimental and expressive. He also composed many songs for schools.

Among his chorus works, two songs stand out: To Forget (遗忘) and Azaleas in Bloom (杜鹃花). Azaleas in Bloom was composed in 1941 during the anti-Japanese war. It tells a story about a young couple. The man is going to fight in the war. The girl wishes the best to her lover, and hopes he will come back with victory. By that time, she will send the azalea flower to him as congratulation. In the context of anti-Japanese war, the young couple cares more about the country than about themselves. The song doesn’t have any heaviness brought about by the war. Hwang indicated his best wishes for his motherland in the song.

To forget (遗忘) is one of the most memorable songs for me, as I’ve performed the song with my choir. I found two versions outstanding. One is by Chinese University of Hong Kong Students’ Choir (here), and the other is by Kaohsiung Chamber Choir (here). The lyrics were written by Chung Mei-yin. After Hwang received the lyrics, he didn’t know how to express the complicated emotion in the words. After ten years, when Hwang was travelling on the train, he suddenly had inspirations for the song and composed the melody. I don’t think we should limit the interpretation of the song to love between men and women. It can refer to pursuit of your dreams, family, friends, and many complicated feelings. I feel incapable to translate those beautiful words. For those who can read Chinese, here I show you the Chinese lyrics:

 遺忘 遺忘…
這纖小軀體 又怎載得起如許沉重憂傷
人說愛情故事 值得終身想念
但是我啊 只想把它遺忘 遺忘 遺忘

隔岸的野火在燒 冷風裡樹枝在搖
我終夜躑躅堤上 只為追尋遺忘
但是你啊 卻似天上的星光
終夜繞著我 終夜繞著我 終夜繞著我 徜徉


Huang Tzu(黄自) and two of his artistic songs

Huang Tzu is one of my favorite Chinese composers. There is warmth and romance in his songs. “Three Wishes of the Rose” (玫瑰三愿) is a typical example of his artistic songs. The song expresses the author’s love towards the rose and his wish for the beauty to stay. The lyrics and my english translation are as follows:

玫瑰花、玫瑰花!The rose, the rose!

烂开在碧栏杆下,Flourishing along the handrail in the garden,

我愿那妒我的无情风雨莫吹打;I wish the ruthless storm who envy my beauty do not hurt me;

我愿那爱我的多情遊客莫攀摘;I wish the emotional tourists who love me do not pick me;

我愿那红颜长好不凋谢,I wish youth stay forever and never die;

好教我留住芳华。To let me keep my eternal beauty.

In his other songs, Huang also shows his sympathy for the beauty of the nature. The Words of the West Wind (西风的话) is a chorus composed by him. I interpret the song as a tribute to the momentous beauty. The song is filled with nostalgic emotion. There is no clearcut climax. It is the peacefulness that makes this song special. Listening to this song, I always think about the lotus lake along which my family and I walked. The scent of lotus flowers is the fragrance of summer. Though written decades ago, Huang’s melodies are still widely received by modern audience, because his songs express the eternal theme of love and peace.

For more information about the great artists, please refer to this wiki link.