The Confucius Institute in Hanover, German holds a Chinese guqin song concert

[Source]    the Confucius Institute in Hanover [Time]    2015-07-10 17:08:04 

On the night of June 25th, the “Serene Style: Chinese Guqin Song Concert (Stiller Stil: Guqin-Konzert mit Gesang)” was held in the State Museum of Lower Saxony, Germany. The event was hosted by the Confucius Institute in Hanover, Germany. Ms. He Yi, famous young soprano and artist of the Nanxun Guqin Song Ensemble, sang soulfully while playing the guqin (a plucked seven-string Chinese instrument) gently. The silent audience was deeply intoxicated in the beautiful music.

After the concert, some listeners went to share their feelings with He Yi. Some even wrote letters of thanks to the Confucius Institute. Blust, an art broke said in the email, “Thank you so much for organizing such a brilliant concert, and that’s the best music I’ve ever heard of in years.” Some ethnic Chinese in Germany also spoke highly of the event. Among them, a twenty-something said, “I thought guqin music would be too slow in rhythm for my liking, but after this concert, I find it really pleasant and soothing.”

After the concert ended, Chen Xikai, a volunteer from the Confucius Institute in Hanover, made a short interview with He Yi in order to know more about her ideas about culture behind the concert.

Chen Xikai: How did you start to work on guqin songs and the spread of this art?

He Yi: It all began twelve years ago. I loved guqin very much, so I started to learn the instrument. One of my friends happened to be majoring in guqin, and I had her teach me. At that time, I spent much more time playing the guqin than singing guqin songs. I used to sing guqin songs in the same way as I normally vocalized, but I felt it was difficult for the songs to fit in with the music, so I stopped trying.

When I graduated from college, I went on tour of the US, and lived abroad for quite a long period. During my stay in the US, I met many Western musicians and spectators, as well as musicologists working on music theories. I found that they still had certain expectations from Chinese music and were very willing to understand it. However, their understanding, especially for the general audience, was usually limited to no more than a few songs— Jasmine Flowers and the like. As for those researchers, it would be fabulous if they delved deeply into this field and got in touch with something original and authentic. However, in my opinion, that can only show the rural side of China instead of the whole picture. These researchers would go to very remote mountain areas in search of Chinese music, which shows their earnest efforts in its exploration. However, in my eyes, there is a serious lack of music with “philosophical” significance, which is not necessarily rooted in rustic charm. This kind of music is elusive to foreigners, for even in China, the people engaged in it are few and far between, let alone those who communicate it to the West.

When I spotted this gap, I came to think of those guqin songs I picked up in those days. Guqin songs were one of the trappings of Chinese literati, and it would be very meaningful if I could make something out of them. So I just did it. About three years ago, I encountered a great deal of difficulty in the very beginning. Firstly, you can say that I was working on a “new” musical genre, because there were no audio-visual materials for reference left by our ancient musicians. What I only could do is to imagine what guqin songs were like on the basis of the descriptions in the literature. Even though I have been singing guqin songs for three or four years, I still have no way to know exactly how our ancestors performed this art. But I would be more than content if my performance could be affecting enough to give the audience a vague idea about the elegant style of ancient musicians.

Chen Xikai: How do you deal with the relationship between traditional and modern Chinese music, and that between Chinese art music and its Western counterpart?

He Yi: I will discuss this question along with what we just talked about. I’m living in a modern society. Although I incorporated a lot of ancient musical elements—such as Kunqu Opera and chanting—to enrich my performances of guqin songs, my production cannot be considered as authentic in real sense, because it has modern aesthetic standards and my own way of understanding written all over it. It is not like Kunqu Opera, a “living fossil”, which has survived into present times by having been passed down orally from generation to generation. By comparison, guqin songs are a lost art, so my rendering is technically a mixture of tradition and modernity. I’ll take it as a success if my guqin music can titillate the imagination of the public about the life of the ancient literati. That is my view on the relationship between the traditional and modern Chinese music.

Now let’s move on to the relationship between Chinese and Western art music. I often compare them, and I combined them together in yesterday’s concert. They have much in common, in that, on the one hand, both of them are (were) performed by highbrow artists, and appreciated by high-class audience; on the other hand, they are both restrained in style and poetic in lyrics. But Chinese and Western art music are also different in some ways. Chinese art music emphasizes on linearity and melody, out of which rhythm and charm are born; Western art music lays more stress on changes and “problem solving”, switching from consonance to dissonance, vice versa, and back and forth. In the process, the music is flowing in a “wave” fashion. However, that is not the case for Chinese art music: it is smooth without much twists and turns, just like a cup of tea — Only when you taste it slowly can you realize its true meanings. To my way of thinking, Western music is about the process of producing and resolving contradictions—It is just one of its musical features, although this may not necessarily hold true for all the cases. In conclusion, Chinese music and Western music bring about different aesthetic experiences.

Chen Xikai: Do you deal with foreign audience in a different way than you do with Chinese audience? If so, what are the differences?

He Yi: To be honest, before I had come on tour of Europe, I was worried that they might not be able to understand my music. They had limited experience in appreciating this genre, and they couldn’t understand Chinese lyrics and had to rely on the translators. In response, I tried to explain to them as best as I could during my introductory speech. However, I was even more anxious about whether they would accept it or not. Anyway it is about ancient poetry and guqin—things from thousands of years ago. Nowadays people are living such a fast-paced life that it might be hard for them to accept slow music like this. Even in China, the genre is not readily accessible to the general audience. However, it turned out that foreign audience accepted it quite well, and my worry was misplaced. I found no so much difference between Chinese and Western audience, and I did not encounter the situations where foreign audience did not understand the music. Every time when a concert ended, some of the foreign listeners would come up to me to share their feelings. They kept saying that they were touched and moved. Even though they did not understand what the lyrics meant, they still had an inkling of the artistic conception thanks to the explanation by a local commentator.

As for the adjustment I’ve made, when playing for foreign audience, I tried to arrange songs in an order that could create contrasts. For instance, Ode to time has a somber mood, while Ode to the Humble Hut is about men’s ambitions. Some songs are more feminine— Autumn Wind Tune is somewhat melancholy, while Oriole singing is sweeter and higher-pitched. I alternated one style with another. After all, the conflicts and changes within a single song are not so obvious. I believe in this way I can create more contrast among the songs.

(An abridged transcript of the interview with Ms, He Yi)


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