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Report of Chinese Traditional Music Program

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 by youth volunteer Cian

At Chinese Traditional Music Program on September 6th in 2019, as people started to fill in the room, they were greeted with music by the musician Kerry Leung on the Er Hu (二胡) and the musician MengHua Guan on the Gu Zheng (古筝).

As the event started, Barbara from Waubonsee College greeted everyone by introducing herself and Jing from UCA IL. Jing gave an introduction to UCA IL and its volunteers. The crowd applauded and were excited to hear the concert.

Kerry began with an explanation of the event by teaching everyone a basic greeting in Chinese: “Wan Shang Hao晚上好” or good evening. He told us that music is a universal language; it’s like a bridge between cultures. He then played a piece for us called “My lovely hometown 谁不说俺家乡好” on the Er Hu, an instrument meaning “two strings.” After his solo piece, he introduced us to MengHua, who played a classical piece called “Dream in the red chamber 红楼梦选曲” on the Gu zheng, along with Kerry on the Er Hu. All of the audience were amazed with the sound of the two instruments together and were truly captivated by the beautiful and calming music of Kerry and MengHua. The piece further showed the complex and diverse sounds of the two instruments by displaying melodies only possible on classical instruments.

As the audience applauded the beautiful song, they both took a bow. Kerry then changed to the PiPa (琵琶) a four stringed instrument, along with giving us a brief history of the instrument. He played the American folk song “home on the range 牧场之家” to show how the instruments presented today are not only made to play Classical Chinese songs, but can be truly used as a “bridge between cultures” to play whatever is required by the musician. The audience smiled as they heard a familiar song in a new sort of tongue.

After the song, he continued his speech on the history of the PiPa, explaining how the Yi people who made it lived. Kerry then played a more traditional Chinese song called “Melody of the Yi people 彝族舞曲” to show more of the instrument’s roots. The feel of the song he played was far different than “Home on the range 牧场之家,” truly showing how the PiPa was not the same as a western guitar or ukulele and has its own unique features. Perhaps one of the most unique features of the instrument is the ability to bend the pitch in a very controlled manner.

After Kerry’s piece, MengHua talked more about her Gu Zheng (古筝), which is also known as the Chinese Zither. The instrument has its origins beginning more than two thousand years ago. The pentatonic scale is used for the instrument, because the fourth and seventh notes are not used too much in Chinese traditional music. She played ”High mountain and flowing water 高山流水,” a song which resembles friendship. The audience was captivated by the music, possibly another new experience for them. Many of them took videos of MengHua’s playing.

MengHu went on to talk about Chinese culture, speaking about how people admire the beauty of the Moon, with many traditions and songs built around it. She then played the song “Moon Chasing 彩云追月” on the Gu Zheng about the Moon. The song included many beautiful arpeggios and strums on the instrument. It has a sense of beauty and mystery with it.

After a quick thank you to the city of Aurora from Jing, we moved on to the rest of the show.

Kerry later showed off the instrument “Di zi” (笛子) a flute type instrument. He played “Fantasy journey in GuSu 姑苏行,” a slow paced piece with quick arpeggiation. The piece was, like the Gu Zheng, played in a pentatonic scale, giving it its iconic Chinese sound. As the song moved on, the tempo increased, with more arpeggiation being used in the song, creating a more energetic feeling. Towards the end, it slowed down to the same slow and calm feeling from the beginning of the song.

Next, the musician XiMu Liu came up to the stage and sang one of Jing’s favorite pieces “Alive 万物生.” The piece is a conversation between the spirit and nature. The song started with a slow dance and and picked up with background drums being used. A fan was used to accompany the physical movements of the songs. Like most of the music played previously, XiMu sung the song while including slight pitch bends, adding the same iconic flavor to the song. Later in the song, there was a short break where XiMu presented a fan dance and then finished the song.

Kerry finalized the evening by playing a song with MengHua and XiMu. They used all of their instruments to play a song called “Melody of Shepherd 牧羊曲.” The piece opened with the Di Zi and Gu Zheng, with XiMu later singing in Chinese. The piece was slow and relaxed, creating a peaceful feeling in the room. Each instrument was vital to the final piece and gave its own touch to the feeling of the song.

With the final five minutes, a question and answer session was opened with many interesting questions being answered ranging from the construction of the instruments to the method of playing.

Overall, the concert brilliantly showed itself as a bridge between cultures. The three musicians used their talents to not only teach us about Chinese culture, but allow us to experience it first hand.

Special thanks to UCA IL volunteers: John, FeiFei, Cian, and Jing!