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The zither comes hither

Last Updated on 2021/01/28

(China Daily) About a year ago, guqin (Chinese zither) player Sun Ying and singer Yang Huahua met by chance at Modern Sky, one of the country’s largest record companies, in Beijing, where both were working on their own recording projects.

They started to musically improvise for fun. And this unexpectedly turned into a new project.

On Jan 12, Modern Sky released their album, Fantastic Telling, blending guqin with vocals.

The album features seven songs the two musicians adapted from some of the most famous traditional Chinese pieces, including Feng Qiu Huang (A Love Story), Qing Ping Yue (Peaceful Melody) and Qiu Feng Ci (Autumn Wind Song).

“All the guqin pieces in the album are very familiar to me since I’ve played them many times,” says Sun, who started to play guqin with veteran musician and educator Zhao Jiazhen in 2001.

“But Yang and I wanted to experiment with something new to offer listeners a fresh perspective of the guqin.”

In 2004, she enrolled in the middle school affiliated with the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing and earned top scores.

In 2010, she studied guqin at the conservatory, where she earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in 2014. She has taught guqin at the Tianjin Conservatory of Music since 2018.

The elegant instrument and beautiful sounds appealed to Sun when she was a child. She first encountered the zither at Zhao’s home.

“I’m drawn to the guqin. First of all, it’s beautiful. Second, it generates calm and relaxing sounds,” she says.

“Many people know the guqin as an ancient instrument. But it can be modern and expressive.”

The image of an ancient Chinese man chanting poems while playing the musical instrument with more than 3,000 years of history in a bamboo forest has been portrayed in many martial arts movies and novels. The beautiful sound blends with nature. This is also how Tang Dynasty (618-907) poet Wang Wei (701-761) described the guqin in his poem, Zhu Lin Guan (Bamboo Grove Pavilion).

Sun says guqin performances and singing typically share the same melodies. But she tries to arrange the music to give the instrument a more contemporary role in her adaptation, to literally strike a chord with today’s audiences.

The guqin is new to Yang, who’s known for performing with pop singers and rock bands. As she improvised with Sun, she gradually fell in love the instrument, which she says produces deep and meditative sounds.

They considered adding more instruments but ultimately decided against it.

“We want to present the guqin and vocals with simplicity,” says Yang, adding that she has adjusted her singing style to match the instrument’s “narrative and natural” sound.

Yang started studying vocals as a child and enrolled in the China Conservatory of Music to study opera singing in Beijing in 2012.

Both Sun and Yang signed on with Modern Sky’s new label, L, or Lyu in Chinese, referring to discipline and regulation, which promotes music based on traditional Chinese instruments.

According to the new label’s manager, Guo Yihuan, who is also the album’s producer, L aims to “jump out of the box to seek a new world built on contemporary musicians’ understandings of traditional instruments, giving these ancient instruments new life”.

The album was released at an event that Modern Sky hosted in Beijing in November that reviewed its achievements in 2020 and revealed its plans for 2021.

Source: By Chen Nan | China Daily | Updated: 2021-01-25 07:43 

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