Wednesday, February 02, 2005

(M) January 25, 2005 - Classic vs Modern, Chinese Classical Orchestra

An interest in blow jobs led me to one of the most exhilarating experiences in my life – playing the Di Zhi (Chinese flute) for a wonderful 2 years with University Malaya’s Classical Chinese Orchestra.

Attending their concert for the first time this year after many years brought back fond memories. They have grown leaps and bounds, I thought, beaming a little with pride.

The orchestra was initiated by a small group of twenty students in 1967 who were members of the Chinese Language Society at the university. They were led by Mr Ng Chun Poh, a lecturer from the Mathematics department of the Science Faculty. Ng, a competent Erhu player, was both teacher and conductor to the small group.

As the years grew, the orchestra was recognised by the Cultural Centre of University Malaya and came under its wing in 1981. Besides the annual concert and Music Camp, their activities have extended to playing for other university events such as Orientation Night and Tanglung Festival. With its member base growing as well as its activities, the Chinese Cultural Society was formed last year (2004) to manage the orchestra better.

In the early years, the orchestra faced with many challenges. Not only did they not have proper place to practice, they also could not afford to purchase all the instruments that makes up an orchestra. Over the years, they’ve held concerts to raise funds, and have now managed to acquire most of the musical instruments. They now possess a complete range of string, woodwind and percussion instruments.

The availability of these instruments has many important consequences. First, more students have the opportunity to learn and they can select the instrument of their choice. Secondly, it allows the orchestra the flexibility to perform many more pieces that would otherwise not be possible with a limited range of instruments. This, of course, contributed to the growth and maturity of the musicians.

The Orchestra was certainly aware and took full advantage of this in their offerings in this years’ concert themed Classic vs. Modern.

The night began with the full-scale orchestra presenting four Chinese classical pieces: Mo Li Hua (Jasmine Flower), Muk Min Sin Ge (New Shepherd Song), Yit Jek Siow Niu (A Little Bird) and Ping Guo Fung Nien (Abundance of Apples).

For the first song, the musicians were probably not warmed up yet as the sounds from the Erhu was evidently slightly off-tune. Nonetheless, the gentle bounce that came with the plucking of the Erhu and the most beautiful sounds coming from the Yang Qin lead made this an overall pleasant piece.

In the second piece the Di Zhi was initially drowned by the excited Erhus but a soloist of the former instrument who managed to produce the sound of a horse neighing, more than made up for it.

The third song was festive, just like the upcoming Chinese New Year. The two Yang Qin players managed speed and accuracy well especially towards the end of this lively piece.

And the fourth song sees an interesting Di Zhi trio, each player with a flute of different key.

The Orchestra then retreated leaving behind the Strings - that comprise of a Cello lead, 2 Bass, 2 Yang Qin, a handful of Pipas and Ruans, and Erhus – to tackle two Western pieces. It was interesting to hear how the Classical Chinese instruments tackle pieces from a different tonal system from theirs.

They did not do so well with Danzez De Panama. The lack of collective precision of the Erhus made the sound drag unnecessarily. Canon, a safe choice, was opened by the Yang Qin and a Cello, and was later joined in by the other string instruments. The sharper sound of the violins was replaced by the more mellow Erhus. The net effect was quite beautiful.

The piece that truly impressed was Ching She (Emotions). It sounded as if it came out directly from a Zhang Yimou movie! A movie score in nature, the musicians successfully carried the storytelling and cinematic elements to great effect.

The last three pieces presented a different style altogether – Chinese Opera. This time, the Percussion and Woodwind team came out in full force in Wu Shou (Wu Shu), Chin Teow (Opera Tune) and Lan Hua Chau (Lan Fah Grass).

Although there is still more work to be done to hone the skills of the student musicians, kudos to the conductor, Stephanie Lem, who challenged them to attempt versatility and perfection with bravado.

(The author deliberately joined the Classical Chinese Orchestra to de-banana-nise herself. She is still half ripe….)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nicely laid out ... don't think I can write such with all the 'BIG' words and all ... lol - Wanie.

Here is Celestino's