By: Michael Hegedus
On January 28, my mentor at Guizhou Normal University, Dr. Sun Pengxiang (孙鹏祥), performed a full-length recital at the Guangzhou Opera House, which included Western art music, Chinese folk songs, and two works we wrote in collaboration. Sun wrote the melody for the new compositions based on the ancient Chinese poems 静夜思 Jing Ye Si “Peaceful Nighttime Reflections” by Li Bai and 游子吟 Youzi Yin “The Journeyman’s Chant” by Meng Jiao.
When Dr. Sun asked me if I could perform the songs with him, I was ecstatic. And that was before I realized that the concert would be held at the Guangzhou Opera House, one of China’s largest music venues. The brand-new opera house, like much of the architecture in its surrounding district, is extremely futuristic – a spaceship-like beacon of the future, designed by Iraqi-born architect Zaha Hadid.
Weeks before the concert, Sun brought me the songs and asked if I could complete their arrangements for piano. I enthusiastically agreed, and we immediately started brainstorming ideas at the piano. I improvised phrases as he sang to see which musical gestures best fit the meaning and mood of the poems. This was perhaps the most collaborative writing effort I have ever undertaken with a performer, and I am quite pleased with the results.
As a composer, I am interested in the process of adapting melodies, particularly folk melodies, to craft arrangements that at once capture the essence of the original music and attract new audiences. During the past few months, I have also been studying folk melodies from Guizhou’s ethnic minority communities and arranging them in a similar fashion. The process of music arrangement is part of my master’s thesis entitled From Mountain Top to Center Stage: The role of Non-Profit Organizations in Preserving, Adapting and Developing Ethnic Minority Song in Guizhou, China.
Although my exposure to the music of Guizhou ethnic minorities has been limited to just a few months, I aim to continue using collaboration as a means to capture the spirit of this music. That way, there will be more arrangements and performances of songs that local performers are proud to claim as their own.
[Listen and compare the two versions of 静夜思 Jingyesi – the first is one of our improvisations while collaborating, and the second is the live version from the performance.]
Jingyesi improvisation while collaborating
Jingyesi live performance