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Art Silverman

Gu Zheng Lessons on Sunday Morning

Today I learned to appreciate the beautiful sound of a harp-like instrument called the Gu Zheng.

We didn't set out to do a music story for "All Things Considered," but we got one. In spades. Our intention this morning was to simply find a place where only-children and their parents might be approached to talk about their lives. We got a lot more.

Chengdu music students

Three players of the Gu Zheng at a private music school in Chengdu. The little girl in the front is 6 1/2 years old, the girl in the middle is six, the one in the rear is ten. Photo by Art Silverman, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Photo by Art Silverman, NPR
Chengdu music teacher

Music school owner Long Dejun. Photo by Art Silverman, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Photo by Art Silverman, NPR

At the Long Yun Gu Zheng Training Academy we were treated to performances and practice. We wound up at this private school after some disappointing experiences trying to obtain permission to interview kids at public schools. Luckily, our trusted guide and loyal listener Xiaoyu Xie is not only a Chengdu native, but a musician. This school is run by an old family friend named Long Dejun. And without advanced letters, grilling on our purpose or numerous phone calls we were invited to swing by at 9 am Sunday.

We managed to talk to several students about the pressure on their lives as "singletons," or single children. And we found a father, a mother and a grandfather to reflect on the topic. Even Long Dejun, who has to teach so many only children, spoke to the subject. She felt the busy schedule they keep is good discipline.


Chengdu music pupil extraordinaire

Advanced pupil Jiang Xingyi played a composition called "Fantasy" for us on the Gu Zheng. Photo by Art Silverman, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Photo by Art Silverman, NPR

We got treated to a very modern composition for this stringed instrument by Jiang Xingyi, a 17-year-old with a modest manner and enormous talent. She ripped through a selection that had a wide dynamic range and quick changes. She even used the casing of the Gu Zheng to tap out drum beats.

(We'll let you hear some of the music in our stories, and once I figure out the procedure again, I'll post examples here. For now imagine the music by looking at these pictures.)

Chengdu music pupil

Even the very young learn to play the very old stringed instrument. Photo by Art Silverman, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Photo by Art Silverman, NPR

I should point out that we also got treated to what might be termed that "last refuge of a radio producer." Yes: the students performed the theme to All Things Considered, albeit in the traditional Chinese five-tone scale. Without the 4th and 7ths the tune is recognizable, but clearly Eastern.



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Erhu (Chinese violin), guzhen (Chinese guitar), pipa (Chinese lute) and yangqin (Chinese hammered dulcimer) are famous Chinese musical instruments which can date back more than a thousand years ago.

Sent by Song Qiuying | 1:33 AM | 5-12-2008

I just came up the idea about five-tone when I see Mr Silverman closes the blog entry with it. There is a popular Chinese idiom called "cannot complete with five-tones(????????????)", which means one cannot sing very well. However, ancient Chinese inventors of the idiom didn't know before Bach's Well-tempered that there're actually seven tones. Isn't that funny? I heared several pieces written only in five tones, some of them are nonetheless very good ones.

Sent by Wecan Wong | 2:02 AM | 5-12-2008

I hope the quakes didn't cause any problems

Sent by Kong | 5:54 AM | 5-12-2008

I've just heard the terrible news that a great earthquake broke up last night in Sichuan province, the central point of which was very close to Chengdu. Are you all okay? How is everything going there?

Sent by Wecan Wong | 6:55 AM | 5-12-2008

Yeah, I am also interested in finding out the fates of the people the NPR/ATC crew in Chengdu has had contacts thus far. Of course, it's more important to report on the broader public. But if it's possible, one or two follow-up stories might be great!

I believe this NPR Chengdu blog is already a success. Eagerly look forward to further reporting from you guys/gals.

Sent by GEN. Flicker | 1:01 AM | 5-13-2008

I understand the earthquake news takes precedence, but I hope you do broadcast these older stories at some point. Or maybe an earthquake story that incorporates this kind of material, like a before and after.

Hope these kids survived. If the music was as good as you say it is, it'd be such a waste.

Sent by Janus | 10:34 AM | 5-14-2008