1. About me: Your new Admin
2. Book: Impressions of a Pipa Player
3. Featured performer(s): The TENG鼟 Company
4. The Unconventional Side of the Pipa
5. Feedback and Requests: By you, the group members!
1. New Admin! : XueXinLing
Hello everyone! As you would have seen in ‘s previous blog post, I am the Pipa-Club’s new co-founder. I look forward to bringing a little more activity and discussion into this group, as well as perhaps attempting to bridge the gap between the pipa and English speakers with this blog as I realize that there isn’t that much material out there in English for the pipa. Although my standard of Chinese is not very satisfactory, I do what I can to bring information about the pipa across to ya’ll.
So, a little blurb about me: I’m a Singaporean who is pursuing a diploma in Arts Business Management. Although I am Chinese in ethnicity, I am very Western with regards to language use, mindset, and interests. I love a thick book, literature, musicals, and Western-oriented arts in general until the pipa came along and threw a spanner into the works…and now a new interest, Chinese orchestral music, has surfaced.
My infatuation with the pipa began in a very small way- when I watched my lecturer, Dr Samuel Wong, who teaches me in the Music in the Performing Arts module, do a little demonstration for us on his pipa. At that time, he demonstrated some techniques for us and played a civil and martial piece on the pipa. I was amazed at the technical skill, and fascinated. I still remember that after the lesson was over, I went over to the pipa he’d left resting on the table to touch one of the strings. “How interesting!” I’d thought, but that was all at the time.
Fast-forward to one fine day, something like a month later, I’d read about a performance that The TENG鼟 Company was going to put up at the opening of the Singapore Heritage Festival. Against my intrinsically western interests- I gave it a chance and went out on a limb to attend the performance. What followed was me being absolutely blown away at how the Chinese instruments- especially the pipa, could inject fundamentally Chinese flavour and sound into the pieces they played without making it sound the least bit traditional. Here was something different- something that went against the norm and broke all my preconceived stereotypes about Chinese music. I was hooked.
So I started listening to Chinese orchestral music- and surprise, surprise! It was much more diverse than I ever thought it would be. The pipa stood out to me among the instruments, and after a period of time reading up about it through a couple books, also written by my lecturer, I contacted my friend who used to play the pipa and met up with her to see and hold the instrument in a personal space. That day, I made a rash and unthinking decision- I bought that pipa.
Now, I’ve had that pipa for two weeks. And I love this instrument, even though I still have no idea how to go about actually playing it! Right now I’m just experimenting with sounds and technique, but I’ll eventually get lessons in time to come.
If you'd like to see my stumble through the beginnings of my musical journey with the pipa, you can read my blog at lyra-lovett.livejournal.com/ . I keep my pipa practice notes there as well.
2. Impressions of a Pipa Player: Profiles of the World’s Most Premier
Written by Samuel Wong Shengmiao (now Dr. Samuel Wong) and published in 2003 in collaboration with Beaumont Publishing and Ngee Ann Polytechnic (My current institute of schooling).
The pipa has few precious resources in the English language aside from academic papers in musicological studies. This is one that is truly a work of labour and emotion. The book contains the history of the pipa and profiles of 21 of the world’s premier pipa players, presented in a series of creative injections where pipa techniques, concepts, playing methods, repertoire and songs are revealed in the telling of Samuel’s musical journey and discovery of the pipa, intertwined with the presentations of profiles of pipa players through interviews conducted with them by Samuel himself. This book also contains a detailed bibliography and index, and for the first time, a listing of pipa symbols and techniques explained in English.
I found this book very useful- for one, it’s in English, which makes it far more accessible internationally to readers as compared to Chinese. It’s what brought me quickly up to speed with regards to background knowledge of the pipa, and everything about it. Both an enjoyable and educational read, I refer to it often when I come across youtube videos of famous pipa players and want to find out more about them. Wikipedia, however well informed it seems to be, doesn’t deliver the depth and inside knowledge about the players and their impression of the pipa. The listing of the technique symbols and the accompanying English description is a lifesaver when you don't really have a teacher to demonstrate the techniques for you.
Here I present a short excerpt of the chapter "Force, Forcefully", from the book:
The technique felt like a clamp around my lungs. The restraints on the lun were so tight. I very much wanted to burst out and play freely, but I knew that freedom in the pipa came first with proper control. I gritted my teeth and tried another lun cycle – slowly. Every technique in the pipa required so much channeling of energy from different parts of your body. First was tan-tiao, then it was gun and now lun. I needed a greater improvement in the force that I played the pipa with. The sounds that I produced now were always too soft. I did not want to produce sounds like the zhongruan player.
The training that I received on the pipa really tested my patience. Patience, I trusted, could resolve my lack of power in playing.
I was neither pipa connoisseur nor critic, but I knew that I was right to some extent.
– Samuel Wong, 2003, Impressions of a Pipa Player
In this, you can see how his narration gives the book his personal touch, as well as still covering pipa playing rather comprehensively, all woven into one coherent work. This is just a very small part of an over 200-page work, and I guarantee that this is a lovely read, and not just some other piece of stale academic writing. Just as a note- I will be using this book for reference rather often in future blog posts, especially with regard to pipa players.
I have an extra copy of this book for sale if anyone wants one, and it is going at the low cost of 5 USD + shipping and handling. Pictures at: i237.photobucket.com/albums/ff… This book was from the initial print run that was a limited 1000 copies, so it is 8 years old and has lived a previous life as a library book- but other than the usual wear on the edges and the seasoned pages from lots of reading, it’s otherwise fine, though there are slight stains on the hardback cover as well as a slightly damaged portion where I had to rip out scotch tape and stickers from library administration use. This, however, is not visible because the book is covered with an artistic dust jacket, newly plastic-wrapped for preservation purposes. Just drop a note to XueXinLing if you’re interested.
Otherwise, if you’d like a shiny new book, it’s available here www.selectbooks.com.sg/getTitl…
3. The TENG鼟 Company
The word 鼟 “TENG” is the most complex character in the modern Chinese dictionary today, meaning an inconceivable sound. Made up of award-winning Singaporean Chinese instrumentalists, they strive to promote and provide for the outreach, education and awareness of Chinese instrumental music to the world. The main people spearheading the company include:
- Yang Jiwei, Executive Director and sheng笙 player
- Dr Samuel Wong, Artistic Director and pipa琵琶 player
- Gerald Teo Rengui, Business Associate and Cellist
- Lim Yi Benjamin, Composer-in-Residence and Guitarist
With their unique combination of instrumentalists, their aim to spur and deepen the interests of Chinese music among the masses indeed transcend all cultural and language barriers. Due to the nature of their ensemble blend- most of the pieces they play are either completely new and composed for their playing purposes, or heavily reworked pieces that has a different dimension, yet retaining the familiarity of the original.
This www.youtube.com/watch?v=xzVEz9… was the performance I first watched them play in- The 2011 Singapore Heritage Festival opening concert “Oh! What a Night”. In this they collaborate with Maniam and perform the Kallang Uproar, a local composition by Dr Kelly Tang.
Listening to the piece, there is a distinct upbeat brightness brought about by the handdrum beats, the pipa and the sheng, during their respective solo sections. The whole ensemble ties the song together extremely well at the parts where they band together, where none of the instruments dominate one another, but rather all of them meshing together and harmonizing as a cohesive whole. Throughout, the pipa was clear and distinct; I was able to pick out its sounds from the rest, and it’s wondrous how well it blends with the other instruments to produce something that sounds Chinese- and yet not like any Chinese music I’ve ever heard before. It's amazing how, when you look at each instrument- how all of them have the capacity to stand on their own as solo instruments, and yet in a combination that no one would expect- they sound just lovely together.
A short excerpt of their playing at the Singapore Blog Awards 2009 www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lapbi2…
A contrast between ordinary Chinese Traditional music and their music www.youtube.com/watch?v=P0G5d6…
凤凰展翅 The Phoenix Spreads Its Wings – Sheng and Pipa www.youtube.com/watch?v=ti9l5L…
The unconventionality of The TENG鼟 Ensemble is what makes them special.
In addition, they have also published a book, “Qi: An Instrumental Guide to the Chinese Orchestra”, again, authored by Dr Samuel Wong Shengmiao. Offering a comprehensive coverage of the instruments in the Chinese Orchestra, their makes, history, repertoire and spirit, it offers discovery to the newly initiated, support for a practitioner, and insight to the professional.
Again, this is one of the few English resources for Chinese Instruments, and it is incredibly informative, comprising of photographs of Chinese instruments and their techniques, listings of renowned recent repertoire and performers, a comprehensive index section and more. It is currently running on its second reprint, after the first successfully sold out internationally.
For more information about the book, ensemble and company as a whole, you can visit their website at www.thetengcompany.com .
Disclaimer: Respective parts of this section of the blog post have been quoted from The TENG Company website. I am not affiliated with, or own The TENG鼟 Company and its related media.
4. The Unconventional Side of the Pipa – Videos!
In this post I bring you more videos of the pipa, and here I will attempt to show you the unconventional side of the pipa. Hopefully, you’ll see that the instrument is not as traditionally Chinese as it makes itself out to be!
- A modernised version of The Ambush From All Sides 十面埋伏 , at the 2009 Singapore National Day Parade. Played by my lecturer, Dr Samuel Wong.
- An Irish music piece Planxty Fitzgerald, by Turlough O'Carolan, played as a pipa-guitar duet by Liu Fang and Michael O’Toole. It’s amazing how well suited the pipa is for this piece!
- Super Mario on the pipa! This is exactly what it is- just watch and be amazed.
- Bad Apple – a remix with Japanese Instruments. If you’ve heard the original song, this is a refreshing new take to it- turning the modern into the traditional, for once, instead of the other way round. This piece involves the biwa, the Japanese cousin of the pipa. The string section comes in at around 30 seconds.
Go here and click the play button: nicosound.anyap.info/sound/sm1…
Original version of the song here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=240Vq6…
5. Feedback and Requests:
Hey you. Yes, readers of this post, I’m talking to you!
We admins are friendly- we don’t bite! Feel free to comment and get a discussion going on the blog posts we have up- We check them regularly and will make sure that we’ll answer any queries or reply to any opinions you may have about the information in our blog posts.
We are also taking requests! Do you want to see a particular song, performer, video or otherwise featured in our future group blog posts? Do you want to post your own review of youtube videos, or share any information you have about the pipa? You can either reply to our blog posts or drop a note to XueXinLing or Kythana . You could be featured as a contributor in our next blog post!
Thank you for reading- and comment away! We’d love to hear from you!