Friday, February 15, 2008

Chai Found Revisited

We learned of this year's Chai Found Music Workshop at USF from a local monthly magazine catering to the local Asian community, The Asia Trend Magazine. Since we were nicely serenaded by the same group a year ago (having made the trip from South Tampa then), we filled the event on our working calendar and waited for the day to arrive. And it did, on Tuesday. This time it was a short drive from our home just across USF, and the party, augmented by one, CE (a pleasant surprise indeed).

Before the evening, I got caught in a traffic snarl, the gridlock along the Interstate precipitated by the evening downpour. I was debating whether to take the local road but decided to stick to my usual route. But I would not be so sure the next time around when it pours.

Anyway, I still had time for dinner, a home-cooked one, and arrived at the venue, Music Recital Hall in USF, with some minutes to spare. I actually spent about 15 minutes before that searching for the location on the Internet because the USF campus map that I have does not indicate the venue; perhaps the map only shows buildings and this Music Recital Hall is a facility in one of the buildings.

I remember last year it was held at the Fine Arts Building but could not recall whether the theater that we were in was called the Music Recital Hall. Googling it only yielded the USF address along Fowler. I told wify that we just had to try our luck at the same place and hope for the best. Then drilling deeper while Internet sleuthing, I found a reference to a room, FAH101, FAH being the acronym for Fines Arts. So, it is the same place as last year. Wonder why the organizer did not bother to put FAH101 in parentheses after the venue, which would have saved me some anxious moments.

I brought my pocket-sized camera along, but heeded the answer from the lady in the ticket booth when I sought confirmation that there was to be no photography . It was a nearly packed house, and the same troupe as last year marched on to the stage, all six of them, resplendent in traditional Chinese garb. Each played on one different traditional Chinese instrument: erhu (spike fiddle), dizi (bamboo flutes), pipa (Chinese lute), yangqin (hammered dulcimer), guzheng (zither), except for one lady who played two: daruan (bass banjo) and liugin (piccolo lute).

The group consists of two gentlemen and four ladies, shown here in a picture scanned from the program book. The man on the right is Mr. Huang Chen-Ming, the director who plays the erhu with gay abandon. And Mr. Wu Chung-Hsien, the flute player, comes equipped with a bagful of flutes by his side on stage. The lady sitting on the left is Ms. Liang Yen-Ping on double duty with the Daruan (shown here) and liuqin. The lady next to her is Ms. Lin Hui-Kuan, who plays the pipa. The two ladies standing from left are Ms. Lin I-Hsien, holding the guzheng, easily the largest piece of the instrument, and Ms. Lee Shu-Fen, her hands resting on the yangqin.

Themed A Merger of Tradition and Modernism, two of the ten performances also featured a mix with western instruments, a bass clarinet paired with liuqin, and another featuring a family of percussion instruments: drums, cymbal, and vibraphone (I actually looked this up after the fact) with pipa. These two “merged” compositions are the works of USF Music faculties. I can only describe them to be bold attempts that sounded contrived, lacking harmony, to my untrained ears.

If you click on the image, you would be able to see the two
merged" compositions, being the last two before the intermission. I think it's easy to tell which one refers to the earthquake-inspired composition as described next.

Perhaps it is understandable, I mean the apparent lack of harmony, for the second composition, which according to the preamble given by the faculty member concerned, was to capture the chaotic moment, shattered peace, and the subsequent reconstruction effort in the aftermath of the 1999 earthquake in Taiwan. The pipa rendition certainly played to the gallery, emitting discordant notes of urgency and pending disaster, reminiscent of similar moments of music accompaniment in Chinese movies portending and symbolizing looming danger. But the percussionist deserves credit too for his spontaneous display of juggling different sticks and striking different surfaces seemingly at random to the extent that papers (his music score notes actually) were sent airborne. I'm sure some in the audience must have found it hard to suppress a chuckle or two in what was supposed to be a serious music appreciation session.

The remaining eight performances were by the troupe themselves, comprising Taiwanese folk songs and sizhu (literally silk and bamboo) music. I have to admit that they are all beyond my repertoire of Chinese music, which is admittedly a rather narrow one. Somehow it's that much harder to be enthused by music that one is unfamiliar with. Put in others words, one needs to grow into a song by listening to it a couple of times. Then immersion will truly be the case.

The highlight of the event, to me, was the encore performance, which came after the audience were up on their feet accompanied by thunderous applause. Why? Because I know the song. It's an oldie that I have heard numerous times growing up. My English translation of the name of the Chinese song is The Night Brings the Fragrance, but it is really a name of a flower that emits scent at night.

That was our second attendance at the Chai Found Music Workshop, which was every bit as enjoyable as the first one, our non-familiarity with the music of the night notwithstanding. And we await the opportunity for a three-peat come next year.
Since I was mindful of the dispensation against photography, I did the next best thing: getting one from the website of Chai Found Music Workshop, surely of much better quality than my amaterish work would have been should it be the case.

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