Po­ems set to song bring China’s an­cient lu­niso­lar cal­en­dar to life

China Daily - - WEEKEND LIFE - chen­nan@chi­

The 24 So­lar Terms, a tra­di­tional Chi­nese cal­en­dar that sum­ma­rizes dif­fer­ent sea­sonal phe­nom­ena, have in­spired many artists in­clud­ing singer Gong Linna and her hus­band.

he 24 So­lar Terms, a tra­di­tional Chi­nese cal­en­dar that sum­ma­rizes dif­fer­ent sea­sonal phe­nom­ena, have in­spired many artists from chore­og­ra­phers, painters to com­posers. The mu­si­cal cou­ple, Chi­nese singer Gong Linna and her hus­band, Ger­man com­poser Robert Zol­litsch, are no ex­cep­tion.

With the help of their friend, Jing Yuan­hua, who teaches Chi­nese lan­guage at Ren­min Uni­ver­sity of China, the cou­ple have se­lected 24 tra­di­tional Chi­nese po­ems and turned them into 24 songs.

From Au­gust 7, on the day of li qiu, or the Be­gin­ning of Au­tumn, they have al­ready re­leased four songs, in­clud­ing Be­gin­ning of Au­tumn based on Song Dy­nasty (960-1127) poet Liu Yong’s poem, Shao Nian You, and Au­tum­nal Equinox, or qiu fen in Chi­nese, which is in­spired by the poem, Qiu Ci, by Tang Dy­nasty (618-907) poet, Liu Yuxi.

“The 24 po­ems we’ve se­lected are not just well-known tra­di­tional Chi­nese po­ems, there are also some less well-known ones. With the mu­sic, au­di­ences un­der­stand these po­ems fur­ther and learn the ro­ta­tion of the 24 So­lar Terms, a great part of Chi­nese cul­ture,” said Gong in Bei­jing re­cently.

The 24 So­lar Terms are viewed as “China’s fifth in­ven­tion” in in­ter­na­tional me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal cir­cles. Each of the 24 points on the tra­di­tional Chi­nese lu­niso­lar cal­en­dar matches an as­tro­nom­i­cal event or sig­ni­fies a nat­u­ral phe­nom­e­non.

In Novem­ber 2016, the 24 So­lar Terms were added to the UNESCO’s Lists of the In­tan­gi­ble Cul­tural Her­itage of Hu­man­ity.

Ac­cord­ing to the cou­ple, each of the 24 songs com­bine tra­di­tional Chi­nese in­stru­ments, such as the bam­boo flute, xiao (ver­ti­cal Chi­nese flute) and sheng (a tra­di­tional Chi­nese wind in­stru­ment) with con­tem­po­rary mu­si­cal el­e­ments.

“The an­cient Chi­nese peo­ple in­vented the 24 So­lar Terms to guide farm­ing. But be­cause the cli­mate change, it also in­flu­ences the mood of the peo­ple. That’s why we have so many tra­di­tional Chi­nese po­ems in­spired by the 24 So­lar Terms,” says Jing, who is also the ed­i­tor of Gong’s se­ries of singing teach­ing ma­te­ri­als. “Tra­di­tional Chi­nese po­ems are must-reads for stu­dents, but few peo­ple read Chi­nese po­ems af­ter leav­ing school. With mu­sic, it can be eas­ier to re­mem­ber and un­der­stand the po­ems.”

“The 24 songs show­case the ver­sa­til­ity of my voice. Like my hus­band’s com­bi­na­tion of in­stru­ments, I also mix dif­fer­ent singing styles into per­form­ing the 24 songs, such as tra­di­tional Chi­nese opera and pop mu­sic,” says Gong.

The idea of re­leas­ing 24 songs based on the 24 So­lar Terms re­sulted from the ear­lier project of turn­ing an­cient Chi­nese po­etry into songs by the cou­ple in 2015, ac­cord­ing to Gong, who was born in Guiyang, the cap­i­tal of South­west China’s Guizhou prov­ince, Gong started learn­ing Chi­nese folk singing at a very young age and en­rolled at the Chi­nese Con­ser­va­tory of Mu­sic in Bei­jing at age 16.

Zol­litsch has used such ex­per­i­ments in their al­bum, Tang Song

Dong Xi, a dou­ble CD which was re­leased three years ago. With Gong singing and Zol­litsch com­pos­ing, they used more than 15 Chi­nese po­ems from an­cient po­ets such as Li Bai, Du Fu and Bai Juyi as lyrics.

The Tang and Song of the ti­tle re­fer to the two Chi­nese dy­nas­ties that are fa­mous for their po­etry, and the mu­sic in­cor­po­rates both Chi­nese and West­ern in­stru­ments. The ti­tle of the other CD, Dong Xi, means “East West” as well as the Chi­nese phrase mean­ing “a thing”, it fea­tures pop and elec­tronic mu­sic in the songs. The first song of the al­bum is Jing

Ye Si (Thoughts on A Quiet Night), taken from the fa­mous poem of the same ti­tle by Li Bai (701-762).

Zol­litsch says he first read the poem in the 1990s and so far has seen more than 300 trans­la­tions of it.

Zol­litsch, who grew up in Mu­nich, Ger­many, and came to China on a schol­ar­ship to study guqin (the Chi­nese seven-stringed zither) in Shang­hai in 1993, says he wants to en­liven Chi­nese mu­sic and bring back clas­si­cal po­ems to mod­ern so­ci­ety.

“The Aus­trian com­poser Franz Schu­bert was a pi­o­neer of turn­ing po­ems into mu­sic, which en­abled the po­ems to be pop­u­lar till now. It could be a sim­i­lar act to turn tra­di­tional Chi­nese po­ems into songs, which can be ap­pre­ci­ated by to­day’s au­di­ences,” says Zol­litsch. “Pop mu­sic dom­i­nates the mu­sic scene in China. We want to in­tro­duce some­thing dif­fer­ent.”

Be­fore set­tling down in Bei­jing in 2009, he re­searched tra­di­tional mu­sic in the In­ner Mon­go­lia and Ti­bet au­ton­o­mous re­gions, while col­lab­o­rat­ing with a num­ber of Chi­nese mu­si­cians. The cou­ple met in 2002 and mar­ried in 2004.

In 2009, Gong re­ceived rave re­views af­ter she re­leased the song

Tan Te (Dis­turbed) on­line. Com­posed by Zol­litsch, the song uses sounds rather than words to con­vey dif­fer­ent emo­tions and moods.

This July, the cou­ple left Bei­jing and moved to the Dali Bai au­ton­o­mous pre­fec­ture in Yun­nan prov­ince, hop­ing to get closer to na­ture and fo­cus on mu­sic. They also plan to launch a mu­sic ed­u­ca­tion cen­ter there and teach chil­dren to sing songs in­spired by tra­di­tional Chi­nese po­ems.


Gong Linna per­forms in a con­cert, ti­tled Cloud River Moun­tain, July this year, as part of the an­nual Lin­coln Cen­ter Fes­ti­val. at the Ger­ald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay Col­lege in

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