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Shan Sheng Hui
(Festival on Mt. Tian)
is a lively song,
a part of the zu guo chu chu shi chun tian or Spring
Suite, by Gu Guanren, but with a strong tribal flavor
to it that makes it very unique among Chinese orchestral pieces.
It symbolizes the festival held on Mt. Tian (Mt. Sky) where the
Chinese minority tribes congregated and danced the night away.
Both fast and slow melodies are woven together into a music that
does not lose its ability to make the listener dance along with
pai gu (drums) provide a thunderous introduction, aided by the
cymbals, before the whole orchestra enters in C major, two-four
time. The orchestra has a whale of a time, and from personal
experience, performers get a “high” just from playing this
section alone. It is just too infectious to be resisted.
dazzling solo by the xiaodi (piccolo) is heard, with
accompaniment by the plucked-strings, cellos and double basses.
The strings then enter in a harmonized repetition of the xiaodi
melody. A brief comment about the harmony of the strings. Taken
individually, the gaohu, erhu and zhonghu parts sound quite
strange. We used to call it the “puke-inducing portion”, in
fact. But, when taken as a whole, the harmonized effect is
breathtaking. We fell in love with it in the end. The cellos
have a great time “singing a duet” with us too. “he wo men
dui chang”, as my conductor used to say in Chinese.
liuqins (high pitched plucked-strings) then come in with a
bright, sprightly representation of the melody before the
orchestra enters again with a repeat. This is followed by a two
bar transition where the beat changes from two-four time to
five-four time. The cellos provide marvellous rhythm, with their
pizzicato on the first and fourth beats respectively.
erhus (violins) enter in A major with a lovely dancing melody,
quite a big change from the boisterous atmosphere earlier, but
no less sprightly for that. The dizis join them, and then the
zhongsuo (saxophone) takes over the solo role, with
plucked-strings helping it with background melody. The strings
enter again, reinforcing the melody. My conductor told us this
section was supposed to represent couples dancing. First, the
sweet and melodic erhus (tribal maidens) perform, then the
deeper and huskier zhongsuo (tribal lads) take over to woo the
rhythm now changes to three-four time and the key signature
changes back to C major. The xiaodi and plucked-strings take
over center stage again, with a lively variation of the main
melody. Then, it is time for the strings to take over with the
same melody, followed by the whole orchestra, with suonas being
the most prominent. Note the cellos providing a strong pizzicato
in the background.
is a four-bar bridge, with the same melody repeated at different
octaves by different instruments. This leads into a wild
percussion solo that has to be seen with one’s own eyes to be
suonas break into song again, with a two-two beat in an A major
variation of the main melody. All the while, the strings are
playing a running series of notes. Six notes in one beat, to be
exact. Since three notes in one beat are termed as triplets, I
guess they should be termed as sextuplets? From personal
experience, we had a great deal of fun trying to keep up with
the strange beat, since this was the first song we encountered
that required sextuplets.
beat changes to two-four time in A major, then back to two-four
in C major again, before the song ends with a note of finality.
I really like this song! Most of us had great fun rehearsing and
performing it, and I hope that Internet listeners enjoy it too!
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Guanren is a contemporary composer from Shanghai. He's very
famous throughout the Chinese orchestra circle for his wonderful
pieces and his works are in very great demand. I don't know much
about him, but I do know that he was still writing pieces in the
90s. I absolutely love what he composes. So far, I've played Tian
Shan Sheng Hui, Jun Ma Ben Chi and Ji Guan Yu,
a piece to commemorate Guan Yu, the famous Chinese hero in Romance
of the Three Kingdoms. He is the embodiment of bravery and
loyalty, according to the Chinese.
Unfortunately, though Ji Guan Yu is a great song, I don't
think there are any CDs of it because the piece was commissioned
by my orchestra, and we only made taped copies during our
concert. No CDs. It's a really great song. Very sad, noble and
steadfast at the same time.
Come to think about it, this is the sad thing about Chinese
music. We have all this great music, we play it in
concert-houses, but we don't record it. Arghh! People who don't
get to listen to it are missing out on A LOT.
As a side note, I visited the temple dedicated to Guan Yu when I
was touring in China. It's wonderful. Chinese culture is
Gu Guanren has also arranged pieces such as Tibetan March,
which was originally a Tibetan folksong, and composed Hua
Mulan, a really stirring orchestral piece with solo pipa. I
have heard it on CD and I absolutely loved it.
Chinese music now, most of the orchestral pieces composed by
famous composers have a theme to them, a storyline, if you will.
Ji Guan Yu starts off with temple bells, has a
fast-paced section showing the heat of battle, and has a segment
where the Chinese gong sounds out and the music dies down to
signify the moment when Guan Yu died, before returning to the
opening bars of temple bells again where the common people are
worshipping at his temple, mourning his death.
The music of Dong Hai is about a trip out to sea, the
storms, and the trip back again. Hua
Mu Lan describes a girl who 1 dresses as
a male to take the place of her ailing father in the army. There
are battle sounds and everything. It's a very long and famous
folktale, with lots of plot twists. Maybe one day, if I can find
the song, I'll write a long commentary on it.
There are also pieces like Chang Di Sui Xiang, which I
also performed before, that tells of the troubles and sorrows
that the Yellow River inflicted on the common people during its
In school, we had to watch a video of how the PLA (People's Liberaton Army)
risked life and limb to shore up the banks of the raging river,
how the soldiers stood steadfast for hours at a stretch in
waist-deep water, working desperately to ensure the people's
safety. The common people are extremely grateful to the PLA for
their yearly efforts, and when rehearsing the piece, I could
feel the way that the piece was extolling and celebrating the
bravery of the PLA.
This then, is the direction that Chinese orchestral music is
currently taking. The music is no longer about mere technical
virtuosity, no longer about just melodies and chords, but the
songs are like musical poems, each one telling a story, a
plotline, telling of how the people felt and how they rejoiced
or suffered, lived or died...
Shan Sheng Hui
(Festival on Mt. Tian),
this is the original orchestration and the only version of it,
as far as I can tell. Granted, other orchestras may have
slightly different tempos, and the solo drum and xiaodi portions
trills and ornaments in different places, due to the flexibility
of Chinese music. But on the whole, the piece is usually
performed the way the composer wrote it.
Usually, guzheng songs are more traditional than most.
Throughout history, the guzheng has always been featured as a
popular instrument among scholars. To be regarded as an educated
man, a person had to have "qin qi shu hua". Translated
literally, it means "musical instrument,
chess, books, drawing". And the qin referred to is usually
the guzheng. As such, the guzheng has a very large repertoire of
traditional chinese music.
Instruments like the pipa were developed at a later date, so
their repertoire is not as large.
The best thing about Chinese music is that it is usually
eminently singable. This is especially so for the main melody,
and I'll find myself humming certain parts when on the road. I
don't know, I find Chinese music to be full of emotion, and I
love singing along to it.
For example, the 'zhu ying yao hong' part. I love the part where
it goes "la so la do la do la so mi
so la, do re mi so mi re do la do so la mi". In
Western notation, it would be something like "A G A
C A C A G E G A, C D E G E D C A C G A E."
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