NYQS Meeting, 08 September 2007

BC, Matthew Flannery, Rebecca Flannery, Peter Reis, Peiyou Chang, John Thompson, Marilyn Wong
Jung-Ping Yuang, Prof Chou Wenchung, Mingmei Yip
Elaine Sheng, Bo Lawergren, Stephen Dydo.

The New York Qin Society had its first meeting of the fall season at 5:00 pm on Saturday, September 8th at Greenwich House Music School, 46 Barrow Street, in Manhattan. We were fortunate that we had the opportunity to host Dr. Chou Wen-chung, the renowned composer and retired Columbia University music professor. He has long been an authority on the relationship between classical Chinese music, especially that of the qin, and contemporary Western music.

Later there were performances of qin pieces by NYQS members, John Thompson, Stephen Dydo, Peiyou Chang, Mingmei Yip and Jung-Ping Yuan.

Prof. Chou Wen-chung's talk:

  In the past, I was too young to see the difference between Chinese and Western culture, and thus unable to consider myself whether as a Western or Chinese composer. However, sometimes I also thought so much about the differences that it became confusing. 

  My first music experience: I was born 12 years after imperial China was overturned and colonialism was very much alive then. Still a kid, one time I heard music from a courtyard. A banquet was going on when gaolian wine was served, folk songs were sung and instruments were being played. I realized that music was related to happiness and enjoyment.

  Later I moved to one of the concessions. One day when I went shopping for toys, I spotted something interesting--a violin--and I brought it home. My brother was taking violin lessons and so I became his student. He played violin and trumpet in Western/Chinese orchestra as well as in marching band. I bought a mandolin in a pawn shop and began to teach myself how to play. However, since my playing was always out of tune, it annoyed a lot of people.

  In 1948, I studied medieval western music while wondering how Chinese medieval music would sound like. Later I studied counterpoint at Columbia University and Manhattan School of Music. Out of curiosity, I arranged Bach's fugue into pentatonic scale music. I think that the tonic and dominant in Western music sound artificial and are theoretically constricting.

  Qin music: For me, the qin, having a long tradition and being played both in orchestra as ceremonial music and as solo instrument, its music is probably influenced by Indian music, especially its fingering. Qin music was much refined after the Song dynasty, however, nothing much was done after that. During the Ming, qin music started to revive. An early example was when Prince Zhu Quan traveled to recover the heritage of Song by collecting hundreds of Song tablatures (out of thousands which existed toward the end of the dynasty). This he collected in Shenqi Mipu, which is still used today.

  To me, qin music has amazing aesthetics and technique. It covers all which is neglected by Western music and which can't be done on a western instrument. The first time I heard qin music was from a radio in my father's office when the National government considered qin music decadent.

  I think that silk strings should be used in order to bring out both resonance and dissonance. There is no such thing as pure music since Confucius' time. Music is something which evolves; it is the vitality of any culture. When the qin was played with zheng as bass in a yji, this upset Chinese composers, because they gave up their legacy.

  Indonesian music's counterpoint can put Western music to shame. In fact, counterpoint is universal, not monopolized by the West. In my opinion, Chinese music does not have theory, because they don't need theory.

    Mingmei Yip

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