Posted by: Lotus Light | July 16, 2011

Musical moments

Er hu player

Chinese people LOVE music.  Karaoke is so popular that on almost every street there are a couple of karoake places with rooms for one person to sing along to rooms large enough for a decent sized party. Unlike Australia, where we sing in a bar, karaoke here is a private pastime that friends do together. If students are locked out of their dorms, they head to the karaoke bars because they can continue the fun and then fall asleep on the sofas.

It is common to hear people singing quietly to themselves as they go about their work.  The gate guards while away time singing as we pass by. MP3 players are permamently glued to ears for many young people.  Early morning and late evening the gardens around me are filled with people practicing their musical instruments or singing. This focus on music is also seen on TV with so many channels dedicated to talent shows.

A walk near the main city wall gates at night will see many groups of local people, singing, playing and enjoying tehmeelves.  Some are singing revolutionary songs, others enjoy the traditional local opera.  My farmer painter friends are members of a  local village opera group and frequently when I visit they gather the group together for a jam session.  Zhou Gege  is self-taught, not only on the er hu but also on the yangqin.  Spending an afternoon listening to the music, watching the dancers, sometimes having a go on the instruments and eating hearty village food is a is great way of relaxing and learning about ‘real’ China.

All across China a cultural renaissance is taking place. During the revolution, much of the traditional music was replaced with revolutionary music, inspiring the people to take up arms and support the revolution.  Today there is a revival of this for the 90th anniversary of the Communist Party.  Red Song competitions are being held across China – although talking to my friends, this ‘revival’ is not inspiring the patriotism and fervour for the Party as was hoped, and many of them laugh at the irony of extolling revolution while now being afraid to make even minor criticisms of the party in public. As well, The Central Government is now encouraging and supporting the expansion of the arts and new theatres, art galleries and art precincts are springing up. Xi’an is no exception. Not only are new theatres being built, but historical theatres are being renovated and given a new lease of life.

The People’s Theatre in Main North St, Xi’an (陕西人民剧院, 东大街) is one theatre that has benefitted from this policy. Established in 1954 this ‘grand old dame’ has been given a thorough facelift and is now North-West China’s most versatile theatre with the largest stage. The Y40,000,000 cost of the renovations can be seen in the bas relief wall decorations, the new comfortable seating, the lighting and technology available to stage anything from full-scale operas to rock concerts. The exterior has retained its heritage look, but the inside is a totally different look.

The Shaanxi Philharmonic ( 陕西省乐团) is currently presenting an audio-visual Oscar Movie Classics Concert with show tunes from Gone with the Wind, Love Story and Titanic, among others. Accompanying the famous pieces are scenes from the movies, a couple of which bring back nostalgic memories of a youthful romantic evenings at the movies.  The tears from Love Story, the sheer romance of Gone With The Wind….   Ah, those were the days!   The Orchestra motto ‘The heart may be limited, but music is unlimited’ reflects their hopes for the future..

The same evening as I attended the Shaanxi Phil, I also went to a local bar to see my favourite guitar player – Ali!  Ali is a dynamic player. Born in Xinjiang he sees himself as the ‘old man of rock’ in Xi’an, having been here playing and encouraging young musos for the last 10 years.  Ali plays, organises rock concerts and works with young bands to start them on the path to fame and fortune. He composes and arranges as well as plays and sings.  And for stage presence and audience control – there is no-one better.  He can have an entire audience banging, singing and waving in time just by waving his arms at them.

Music seems to be very important in China and the vast majority of Chinese people sing well.  I often wonder if it is because of having to learn to listen to tones to learn to speak.  It seems to me that musicians learn Chinese more quickly than those of us who are tone deaf and have been frequently advised NOT to give up the day job!!

What ever the reason – I am happy to be surrounded by music!!

Ali

Bass guitarist - XiaoHe

Ali and XiaoHe

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