Chinese ensemble dazzles during musical celebration
The Confucius Classroom at Central Carolina Community College welcomed the Chinese New Year with festive Chinese music and colorful paper lanterns as the North Carolina-Research Triangle Park Chinese Music Instruments Ensemble performed Sunday at the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center.
Titled “Among the Lights” and held on the day of the Chinese New Year Lantern Festival, this musical celebration featured a five-member ensemble playing traditional Chinese instruments and peppering their performance with descriptions of the instruments and songs.
“I loved every minute of it,” said Gerald Featherstone of Pittsboro. “There were really some virtuoso players up on stage. I just wish it had lasted longer.”
Composed of dozens of musicians, the NC-RTP Chinese Music Instruments Ensemble formed 12 years ago when part-time musicians in the RTP area were drawn together by their love of and familiarity with traditional Chinese music.
Sunday's ensemble was composed of musicians Yuequin Chen, on the zhongruan, a guitar; Jiuping Pan, on the erhu, a violin; Tong Li, on the pipa, a lute; Xiaochun Lu, on the dizi, a flute; and Jennifer Chang, on the guzheng, a zither.
Ling Huang, visiting professor for the Confucius Classroom at CCCC, joined the musicians by providing two narrative interludes during which she explained the customs and symbols of the Chinese New Year.
The performance opened with three traditional folk songs performed by the whole ensemble. This first set included the jaunty “Be Lofty Step By Step”; the softer “Purple Bamboo Tunes”; and the rousing “Golden Snake Dance,” which begun with rhythmic tapping on the body of the guitar-like zhongruan and moved to a cheeky call-and-response among the instruments before building to a dramatic finish.
The greater part of the concert was devoted to solo performances by each musician. Chang introduced and presented a brief history of each instrument while each musician demonstrated the fingering and playing styles.
“It is so nice, especially for children, to see the different types of instruments in other cultures,” said Lauren Winkens of Sanford, a clarinetist for the Lee County Community Orchestra and a licensed educator of the Kindermusik program, a young child music and movement curriculum.
Wilkens, who attended the event with her son, Texas, added, “The harmonies of the songs may be different, but it is still the same language of music, providing the same emotion of joy.”
The solo performances opened with Yueqin Chen, a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She played two pieces, the first a unique arrangement of a Bach composition and the second an intense, trilling contemporary Chinese piece called “The Song of Mountain.”
Accompanied by Chang on the guzheng, Pan on the erhu performed “Beautiful Evening,” an earnest, floating melody that was followed by Li’s performance on the pipa of “White Snow in the Spring Sunlight,” a galloping melody Li told the audience should be reminiscent of last week's beautiful snowfall.
Next, Lu played the soft, ethereal tune “A Trip to Gu Su” on the dizi, which is often referred to as the Chinese bamboo flute for the bamboo reed that is integral to the instrument's clear, sweet sound.
Chang on the guzheng completed the round of solos with a traditional seasonal song — featuring a three-part arrangement depicting a scene of festival. The song's delicate opening symbolizes the drawing back of a curtain to a view of ladies dancing, and its gain in volume and driving speed represents the bursting of young boys onto the scene. The full, romantic richness of the song's conclusion signifies all companions dancing together.
Buffering the solo musical performances were Huang’s narrative interludes, in which she spoke to the audience about the significant aspects of the Chinese New Year, such as timing, customs, foods and family reunions.
During these interludes, photos of Chinese New Year lanterns, foods, and décor were projected onto a large screen, vividly setting before the audience images of the annual holiday.
Huang explained the origins and significance of the Lantern Festival, a lively celebration of the first full moon of the new lunar year that officially marks the end of the multiple-day observance of Chinese New Year.
This new year of 2013 Huang introduced as the Year of the Snake (or “little dragon” as a snake is thought of in Chinese culture). She distributed bookmarks as gifts to audience members born in the various years of the snake (2013, 2001, 1989, 1977, 1965, 1953, 1941 and 1929).
Huang also offered the children in the audience red packets, symbolic gifts of money (in this case, a coin) wrapped in red paper. Traditionally during Chinese New Year, red money packets are given to children by adults as wishes for good luck and long life.
To conclude the event, the ensemble performed two pieces: “Blooming Flowers and the Full Moon,” a festive Chinese New Year song with a lilting cadence, and the American folk song “Oh, Susanna,” with a light-hearted and airy opening that produced a collective chuckle from the audience before it moved into a quiet, imploring refrain and then finishing with a plucky, up-tempo finale.
After applause and a few questions from the audience, Huang summarized the general sentiment of the event with her parting remarks:
“It was a privilege on this day of the Lantern Festival to enjoy traditional Chinese music from brilliant musicians,” she said.
In partnership with the North Carolina State University Confucius Institute, the CCCC Confucius Classroom promotes an inter-cultural exchange of language and culture through a range of educational and outreach activities, including hosting cultural events and offering both curriculum and continuing education Chinese language courses.
For more information about the Confucius Classroom, visit www.cccc.edu/confucius. For more information about the ensemble, visit www.unc.edu/∼xiaochun/RTPChinesemusic.htm.