Tan Dun's Cultural Evolution Composer Tan Dun grew up in Mao's China. As a boy, he saw his parents sent away for so-called "re-education." He describes his musical coming of age under China's Cultural Revolution.

Tan Dun's Cultural Evolution

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(Soundbite of music)


Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2000, but its score, combining eastern and western traditions, won an Oscar and a Grammy for composer Tan Dun.

He grew up in Mao's China and his parents were sent away for re-education when he was boy.

As part of our series Musicians in Their Own Words, here's how Tan Dun describes his coming of age during China's Cultural Revolution.

Mr. TAN DUN (Composer and Conductor): Every family was broken in the Cultural Revolution and every child has no parents being with them. I was raised up, myself - from seven years old to 15, I was living by myself. But, fortunately, I was so fascinated by music.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. DUN: I was so intoxicated only by music.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. DUN: I was a very, very wild child. I was barefeet, running up mountains, following funeral bands, wedding bands, shamans and the Buddhist monks, watching them make organic instruments.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. DUN: So, one day, I see somebody from far distance coming to my rice field. At that point, I already walked 11 hours and my back cannot really be straight up. He said, I'm in the secretary of communist of Peking Opera. I want to find Mr. Tan Dun. I said, what's up?

They said, unfortunately, our Peking Opera went to perform revolutionary opera, but in the middle of a big lake the orchestra boat was sunk, so only actor and actress boat was left. We need urgently to find the good musicians in the region to replace this orchestra.

I was so shocked, because my teacher was in this boat. She is the concert master. She's beautiful violinist. So I went back to the city. And, I think, after a week, and Mao Tse Tung died and the Cultural Revolution finished.

Old professors went back to the conservatory from feeding pigs, cleaning the bathroom, and I said, maybe I should get my college education now. I want to go to Beijing to study classical music.

(Soundbite of music)

Bach's music is very important to me. After Cultural Revolution, when you heard Bach, it's almost like a medicine - spiritual medicine, because you are standing on the ruins. Everything's been destroyed. Family has been destroyed. Culture been destroyed. And nobody allowed to touch anything Western or ancient. And suddenly you heard Bach.

(Soundbite of Bach's “St. Matthew's Passion”)

Mr. DUN: It's like a medicine curing everything you were suffering. I see my Water Passion as an answering of Bach's St. Matthew Passion.

(Soundbite of “Water Passion After St. Matthew”)

Mr. DUN: The water representing the tears, the resurrections, the circling, incarnations. My instruments, all transparent. You're dipping the water cups into the transparent water basin, so you have this bumping - a very powerful sound.

(Soundbite of “Water Passion After St. Matthew”)

Mr. DUN: And the orchestration is, oh, so constructed according to the water gestures. For example, if you have water splashing ptschu, ptschu, ptschu, the violin could be splashing the bows and the fingers on the strings.

(Soundbite of “Water Passion After St. Matthew”)

Mr. DUN: Bach's St. Matthew Passion, you see, the big choral part...

(Singing) Ee, la, la, la, la, le, la, le, le, le, lu-u, le, lu

Mr. DUN: Every time this chorus actually gets lower and lower and lower, as Bach always described that Jesus had suffered. My core affection of Water Passion describes also Jesus suffered, but it's according to His wish.

(Soundbite of “Water Passion After St. Matthew”)

Mr. DUN: It's like a Buddhist idea to describe your suffering as a beautiful thing, as a contribution to the people.

(Soundbite “Water Passion After St. Matthew”)

Mr. DUN: So I think east and the west, in my mind, it's one home of ours.

(Soundbite of “Water Passion After St. Matthew”)

INSKEEP: That's the composer Tan Dun, part of our series, Musicians in Their Own Words. You can learn more about Tan Dun and his organic music at npr.org.

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Linda Wertheimer.

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