Music filled the packed McKay auditorium on the night of Jan. 25 as Chinese musicians of different ages performed songs to celebrate the lunar new year of the Chinese culture. Each performance inspired great applause from the audience as they performed as part of the Hummingbird International Music Festival. Students from the Asian American Cultural Exchange Academy (AACEA), as well as the Central Conservatory of China performed.
Alden Transfiguracion, a freshman from the Big Island majoring in secondary education, said, “I feel like I learned so much about Chinese culture just by listening to this concert and watching the students perform. Some of them are so young and already so talented with the lute. Makes me a little jealous.”
Students from the academy ranged from elementary school to professors. The concert was made possible through a partnership with the BYU–Hawaii Music and Theatre Departments.
Prior to the concert, BYUH Professor Darren Duerden, who specializes in teaching percussion, gave an announcement. In it, he said, “This performance has been in the works for literally months. It’s been a wonderful experience to have Chinese performers of all ages here with us.”
Duerden also reminded the audience the performance was to be a rather quiet one. He advised anyone who had to get up to do so quietly.
In anticipation for the concert, Jaylea Ho, a sophomore from Hong Kong majoring in TESOL, shared her love of Chinese New Year. “Where I am from, tradition and cultural celebration bring people together. I love Chinese New Year because all my relatives and friends can come to visit and it strengthens our relations.
“Living in a village near Hong Kong, I always loved the lion dance. My family would give the paper lion red envelopes for good luck and set off firecrackers in front of our house.”
The lights went down in the auditorium, leaving only the stage visible. Zheng Zihao, one of the performers came onstage to announce the first performance. She spoke to the audience in Mandarin first, and English second. The first performance was by Zhou Ziyan, a child bass drum prodigy from China. With five drums and two drumsticks at his disposal, Ziyan wasted no time, drumming as rapidly as humanly possible.
His eyes darted back and forth while he shifted his body around to play the whole drum set, never losing focus. He played the Dragon Boat Song, a piece which Zihao said “Represents the joyous occasion of dragon-boat racing on the day of the Dragon-Boat Festival in May.”
Ziyan finished the nearly six-minute piece, appearing calm and collected to the very end. When he finished, he received an uproar of applause and cheers from the audience as he took a bow.
The announcer thanked the audience in both languages and proceeded to announce the next song would be performed on a guqin, a traditional Chinese string instrument. A guqin is a long flat instrument with approximately seven strings. It normally has a range of about four octaves, making it quiet, according to MetMuseum.org. Since the times of Confucius, it has been known as “the father of Chinese music.”
Chen Zichu, an older student from the Conservatory, stepped forward, laying his guqin flat on a table. The auditorium was silent as he plucked the strings carefully and delicately. For five minutes, the room was silent. Only the sound of the guqin’s fragile strings could be heard. The song was known for representing the beauty of the Chinese landscape.
It began slow at first with only a few notes at a time. Gradually, his hands moved faster across the instrument, making more complex sounds. Again, he received a great deal of applause from the audience after he finished and walked offstage. Several more people performed on the guqin, with the only sound from the audience being a baby squealing.
The next group was composed of five young children from the Zhejiang province; three girls and two boys. Their entrance onstage was met with a collective “aww” from the audience members as they took their seats. Three girls played the pipa, also known by its western name the lute. A boy played his bass drum, and the other beat on a metal box as a drum.
The group performed the song “The Odd Goose,” which again brought them great amounts of applause.
Amelia Chen, a sophomore from Hong Kong also majoring in TESOL, said, “That was my favorite performance. It shows us just how much talent and energy children have. It showed me how much potential I have as a person. I like how they use different instruments in this show. It shows outsiders that Chinese music is more diverse than they might think.”
Several more renditions took place, including five middle school-aged girls playing the pipa. The guqin was also played several more times. “The guqin,” Zihao said, “has always held a high level of prestige in the four Chinese cultural activities. The other three include Chinese chess (mahjong), calligraphy, and painting. There are many symbols in these instruments.
“The top part of the pipa is round, meant to represent the sky. The bottom part of it is black, representing the Earth.”
The final performance was by one of the most famous guqin players in all of China; Zhao Jiazhen. The doctoral supervisor of guqin at the Central Conservatory of Music, Jiazhen was also a recipient of an award from the National Cultural Heritage Administration in China. She has also experimented with using the guqin in film and TV music.
Jiazhen took the stage dressed in a regal traditional dress, accompanied by Li Congnong, a percussion professor from the Conservatory. Congnong played the ipu, a traditional Hawaiian instrument made from a gourd, normally used for hula dances. The announcer said it “was their way of honoring the place that had so lovingly hosted them.”
The two played their final song, once again to a silent audience. The delicate strumming of the guqin was paired with the calculated beat of the ipu, adding a different sound. This performance earned the loudest applause. As the rest of the musicians came onstage, they received an enthusiastic standing ovation from the crowd.
Reflecting on the concert, Oyandari Zorigbaatar, a freshman accounting major from Mongolia, said, “it really helped me see how many Chinese instruments there are, and how they all have a meaning to them. The kids were so cute and so talented.”