Chinese Music| 6 min read

China’s vast arrangements of music open up a new world of sounds to foreigners.

The music of China dates back to the dawn of Chinese civilization. It gained its existence from the Central Asia region. Chinese vocal music is sung in solo with a non-resonant voice, accompanied with solo instruments or with a bowed stringed instruments cymbals, flutes, gongs, and drums.

The vocal songs are expressed in rhythmic music. Chinese instruments are either played solo, or collectively in large orchestras (as in the former imperial court) or in smaller ensembles (in tea houses or public gatherings). Normally, there is no conductor in traditional Chinese music, or use of musical scores or tablature whilst in performance.

Music was generally learned orally and memorized by the musician(s) beforehand, then played without aid, meaning total accuracy and teamwork was required. But nowadays, music scores can be used, or a conductor if the number of musicians is large enough for that need. The musical instrument that is famous of this area are the Bamboo pipes and qin and made out of materials based on hide, bamboo, wood, silk, gourd, metal and stone. Bowed strings, woodwinds, plucked strings and percussion are the basic instrument that constitutes the Chinese orchestra.

Some names of traditional Chinese instruments: Erhu (Chinese fiddle), Pipa (Chinese lute), Dizi (Bamboo flute), Yangqin (Chinese dulcimer), Guqin & Guzheng (Chinese zithers), Xun (clay vessel flute), Hulusi & Bawu (Bamboo pipes), Suona (Chinese trumpet) etc.

Today, the music continues a rich traditional heritage in one aspect, while emerging into a more contemporary form at the same time. Beijing’s various musical performances opens up a world into Chinese culture.

Peking & Local Operas

China boasts more than 300 forms of traditional opera, of which Peking Opera is the most popular. It took shape in the early 19th century in Beijing, hence the name. Peking Opera is a unique art combining drama, singing, music, dancing and martial arts into one. There are more than 1,000 works in the repertoire, developed over 200 years. In the 50 years since the founding of New China, the state and people have paid great attention to Peking Opera. A lot of new works have been staged, with themes ranging from historical stories, modern revolutionary war and socialist construction to everyday life. At the same time, a group of outstanding Peking Opera actors and actresses have emerged, including Mei Lanfang, Cheng Yanqiu, Ma Lianliang, Zhou Xinfang, and Du Jinfang. To develop the quintessence of Chinese culture, many artists and opera fans have done a lot of work to promote this genre, even attracting foreign audiences.

At the same time, the other local operas have made reforms continuously, on the basis of keeping their basic traditions. Some of the local operas have become very popular in recent years, such as Yueju (Shaoxing Opera from Zhejiang), Huangmeixi (from Anhui), Chuanju (Sichuan Opera), Yuju (Henan Opera), and Yueju (Guangdong Opera). Tibetan opera has a religious tinge and is imbued with Tibetan ethnic folklore. It is bold and unconstrained and is becoming more and more popular both at home and abroad.

Karaoke is a Japanese word, which literally translates to ’empty orchestra’. Imported from Japan in the 1980’s, this form of entertainment has spread throughout Asia, especially in China, Taiwan, Korea etc. Karaoke involves people singing along to instrumental versions of well known songs. At Karaoke bars there is a screen where the lyrics appear, changing color as the words of the song should be sung.

Karaoke now is one of the most popular ways to spend social time amongst the Chinese. Karaoke plays an important part in Chinese social relations, private and business culture. Karaoke can solidify good business relationships, help entertain business contacts and can bridge cultural differences.

There are karaoke houses, or more commonly known as “KTVs” all over China, some of which rival the looks and feel of a huge movie theatre in the West. You will get a private, insulated room that has distorting speakers, two microphones, a television, a large central table, and couches lining the walls. Chinese karaoke rooms are the best places for having a multi-purpose night in China as you can experience singing, eating, drinking, playing games and getting familiar with the Asian entertaining culture all under the one roof.

National Centre

National Centre for the Performing Arts: colloquially described as The Egg, it is an opera house in Beijing. The completion of China’s National Centre for the Performing Arts is a historic accomplishment, demonstrating the country’s strengths and marking a new chapter in the country’s development. Back in 1958, Chairman Mao and the Central Party decided to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China with the construction of a range of majestic public buildings, one of them being the National Centre for the Performing Arts. Premier Zhou Enlai finalized the site of the Centre. In July, 2007, the construction of NCPA was finally completed.

Following the mandate of “For the People, For the Arts, For the World”, the Centre is devoted to becoming the national epicenter for the performing arts, a grand platform for international cultural exchanges and a vanguard of arts education as well as an important foundation for the creative cultural scene in China.

Chinese Pop Music

The main form of music in China are of the boy-band girl-group variety. There are a lot of overseas-born Chinese artists who are incredibly popular. Much of the music comes from Taiwan, Hong Kong and southern mainland China. Popular artists include David Tao, Jackie Cheung, Jay Chou, S.H.E and Yi Lin Jolin Tsai.

If bubblegum pop and glowsticks aren’t your cup of tea there is an independent music scene.

Live music can be heard at Houhai and Sanlitun.

Beijing’s biggest music festival is Midi Fest, a 4 day extravaganza of rock, electronic, folk and hip-hop music.

Music can be purchased at….

Maybe Mars. Great way to experience the sounds of the Beijing music scene.

Rachel Yoon

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