I enjoy listening to music, and have a particularly liking for instrumentals. My early favorites were the Shadows, who provided music accompaniment to many a Cliff Richard song, and the Ventures. Later on I caught on to symphony music performed by the likes of Mantovani and James Last. Then I migrated to the more contemporary music of Richard Clayderman and Kenny G. But I’ve never cultivated a ear for classical music and the most I did was to hum along to the tune of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.
My liking for Chinese music started actually earlier. Back then my favorite group was the Stylers from Singapore who has a wide range of repertoire: from traditional to popular tunes, coupled with some English hits in between. Through the years I have also collected tens of CDs on Chinese traditional music, some solo performances based on yangqin (hammered dulcimer), erhu (spike fiddle), pipa (Chinese lute), and guzheng (zither) [ I never knew the English terms for these Chinese music instruments until last night] and others, chamber music.
Also, I prefer the warm comfort of home to listen to audio CDs and have almost never attended a live performance of instrumental music. Of course those trips to DisneyWorld and Splendid China where live performance is part of the admission deal do not count.
So last weekend I came to know about a performance by a Chinese music group at USF. That was followed by announcements in this week’s newspaper where we learned that it was going to be an instrument group from Taiwan, Chai Found Music Workshop.
At first we thought Chai Found is short for Chai Foundation since Chai is a popular Chinese last name. It was when we were at the venue, the Music Recital Hall at USF, and read the program sheet (partly shown above) last night that we realized they are actually phonetic translations of two Chinese words that have nothing to do with a typical Chinese last name nor foundation.
It was a six-person performance divided into two halves of five performances each separated by a 10-minute intermission.
Of the ten, I’ve only heard of one of them (Black clouds in the Sky) before last night. Two were composed by USF faculty. The audience was varied, about half comprising student-age patrons (a good guess would be USF students, seeing that the admission only cost $4/= a head for students). I would say close to half (my wife estimated the total turnout to be more than a hundred) were non-Asians as far as I can tell, which perhaps says quite a lot about the appeal of Chinese music, or maybe just any good music regardless of the ethnic qualifier.
That precisely fulfilled the aim of the Chai Foundation Music Workshop, it being “to perform and promote Chinese Music within and beyond the Chinese part of the world". In that regard, the group has quite a credential, having “played numerous concerts of Contemporary Music at festivals in the US, Europe and Asia. [The phrases in quotation marks are taken verbatim from the Program sheet.]
The spontaneous applause after each performance bore testimony to the fine performance by the group of music talents, each handling a different instrument that in combination produced a well-orchestrated ensemble of sound and melody.
However, from my personal perspective, I did not seem to be able to be “in tune” with most of the performances, primarily because I don’t know the tunes. I’m one who needs to know the tune and be able to hum along before I can appreciate the performance. So “falling in love at first listening” does not apply to me as far as music goes.
Frankly, a couple of the performances sounded like discrete notes strung haphazardly to my untrained ear. It just goes to show that music appreciation, of the serious kind as opposed to the popular genre, does require some level of understanding of the fundamentals of music on the part of the listener to enjoy the concord rather than be distracted by the apparent discord.
Fortunately, it was a live music performance, which afforded the opportunity for visual appreciation of the total immersion by the performers, each with his/her own manifestation of blending in body and soul with the music: eyes half-closed, head shaking in unison, hand motion, foot tapping, etc.
For me, seeing these performers so absorbed, seemingly lost, in delivering the maestro-like rendition of the auditory delight made last night a night well-spent.