Over the past two weeks (4 – 14 July ’18) I had the privilege of being part of a Shanghai Conservatory of Music trip to Guizhou, China, as a visitor from Royal College of Music. The purpose of the trip was primarily to expose post-graduate conservatoire students to village music-making cultures (so that such awareness might rub off on their academic and creative work), and secondarily, to facilitate the exchange of music-making practices and sensibilities between village and conservatoire musicians through holding joint ‘volunteer service concerts’ in various villages. A significant portion of this article has been submitted for an upcoming memorabilia publication by the Shanghai Conservatory; I am posting it here with the addition of photos, as well as well as more extensive thoughts regarding composition.
I set out for Guizhou knowing that this would neither be my first time in China nor touring a Chinese village, having previously visited Zhouzhuang (in Jiangsu), and a Bai village in Dali. Nonetheless, I was excited about meeting and hearing the musics of the Dong and Miao people in this province. It was with such anticipation that I arrived, ready to learn more about these ethnic minority groups—their ways of life, beliefs, customs and traditions—and experience their music-making activities. After all, this was why I signed up for the trip—a big reminder to self that the classical contemporary realm (within which I mostly operate) is, really, not all there is to Music.
Particularly memorable was the interview we conducted on the second day of the trip with Madam Wu, a teacher and cultural descendant of Dongzu Da-ge (the ‘Grand Song’ genre of the Dong people) in Sanlong Dong village. As Madam Wu introduced us to Da-ge and demonstrated its numerous story-telling, festive, and love songs along with her eight-woman choir, I was struck not only by its heterophonic lyricism, but also the familiarity and genuineness with which the ladies sang. When our local guide Mr Lu spontaneously picked up a pipa and began crooning an antiphonal love duet, the ladies responded readily in song, even candidly guiding him at points where he was less confident of the lyrics. At that moment, it occurred to me that what I was witnessing was not a performance. It was a snapshot of a tradition-rich village culture—to which music-making was intrinsic—into which an outsider like myself was being graciously allowed.
It was with this realisation that I sought to appreciate the many other snapshots gleaned from our subsequent visits to the different Dong and Miao villages. These snapshots include being treated to piquant rice wine at an unforgettable changzhuoyan (‘long table banquet’) along to a drinking song piped by Huanggang Dong village ladies, being roped into a humorously enacted match-making song by Xiaohuang Dong villagers, joining a jaunty village dance accompanied by lusheng in Fanpai village, and witnessing an elaborate Zhaolong yishi (‘summoning the dragon’ procession) replete with the obligatory downpour and a slow march by villagers young and old in Langdeshang Miao village. And as I observed the adorably innocent Langdeshang village children imitating the adults’ singing, I knew this was something that was going to remain with me for life, especially as a corrective when I become overly obsessed with ‘sit-quietly-and-listen-to-the-work’ concert hall music-making.
Throughout the trip, it also struck me just how vital and valuable songs are to a villager’s upbringing, core values and collection of lore—not merely by virtue of their prevalence in a villager’s lifestyle, but more so because the songs also serve as aural ‘records’ for values and beliefs that an earlier generation hopes to preserve for later ones, given that both the Dong and Miao vernacular do not possess written characters. These values and beliefs are indeed the essence (jingshen, or ‘spirit’) of a villager’s ontology. With the growing concern that the younger generation of both ethnic minority groups are not fully inheriting their villages’ cultural heritage (primarily because of their absence from the villages as they study or work in cities), the task of documenting these songs—thus preserving at least a part of the ethnic minority culture—becomes increasingly urgent as the elderly cultural custodians age day by day. There is slight consolation in the fact that many of the villages have been institutionally appointed as shifancun (‘demonstration villages’) with the intention of promoting and sustaining their cultural traditions through ethno-tourism. Nevertheless, I am uncertain about the extent to which the ‘deep cuts’ of these traditions can be preserved in this manner—I wonder how a two-hour-long shuochang (‘speak-sing’) Miao song might be faithfully re-presented as a tourist-friendly attraction?
In this light, I understand the organisational intent behind a trip as such—to expose music students (myself included, albeit a visiting one) to these gradually moribund music-making cultures, such that we are made conscious to the exigencies of preservation work, and that some of us might get involved in this noble undertaking. I appreciated how holding ‘volunteer service’ concerts in the villages allowed conservatoire music-making attitudes to rub shoulders with village sensibilities in very immediate, tactile, and eye-opening ways. I am also deeply thankful to have been able to meet and interact with the teachers and students from Shanghai Conservatory on this journey. It was truly wonderful to be hosted by these kindred spirits who are welcoming to the foreign, curious about the unfamiliar, and palpably passionate about their craft, and their country.
I am, furthermore, grateful that composition students have been brought on board. The wide variety of village music-making I have encountered is very fertile ground for compositional exploration; there is plenty of material to be re-imagined in new contexts for my future pieces, especially as I continue to relate to, and negotiate with my Chinese ethnicity (as a Singaporean). Moreover, being included in the larger ongoing ethnographic effort implies, I think, the expectation for these pieces (arising from the collected material) to fulfil a certain socio-cultural function—that is, to sustain and revive the ‘folk’ by re-imagining aspects of village music-making in new creative contexts. In this, I am particularly reminded of the ways in which folk material has been captured and elaborated with contemporary sensibilities in Luciano Berio’s Folk Songs (1964) and Voci (1984) (yes, here goes the Berio fanboy). For future pieces ruminating on this trip, then, I intend to explore the notion of preservation—not merely of the musical content, but also of village music-making sensibilities (e.g. improvisation, extra-musical movements). I think this trip has been truly fruitful—the insights gleaned could possibly constitute sufficient ‘aesthetic fuel’ for the next couple of years before I run dry, at which point I would have to go back again.
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过去的两个星期（4/7 至 14/7）我很荣幸地能够以伦敦皇家音乐学院访客的身份参与上海音乐学院（上音）到中国贵州的研究生暑期社会实践。此实践主要目的是要让学院研究生深入少数民族民间生活开展采风调研活动，使研究成果在研究生的各自领域中产生辐射效应。此外，实践也通过在村里办志愿服务音乐会，制造机会让 “学院性质” 的演奏家与民乐演奏家彼此交流音乐意识。此文章原文已投稿于上音即将出版的实践活动报刊，在这里我添加了一些照片及对于作曲的想法。
虽然在这次的暑期社会实践之前曾参观过周庄镇（江苏省）及在大理白族自治州里的其中一座白村，但我启程前往贵州时还是相当的兴致勃勃，期待到访侗族和苗族村寨，与村民见面，体验他们的各种民族音乐活动，并对他们的生活方式、习俗及传统有更深入的了解。这也毕竟是我起初报名参加此旅程的目的——平时常在现代古典音乐圈子内 “打转” 的自己必须扩大眼界，看到音乐天涯原来是多么的广阔。
这样的领悟深刻地影响了接下来几天到访各个侗寨及苗寨的行程，使我能以赏识的心态看待不同村寨各自的写照。其中包括在黄岗村享用长桌宴时被唱着酒歌的侗族村女们敬上了两杯米酒、在小黄村被 “卷入” 一场滑稽又浪漫的「行歌坐月」、在反排村与大家跳起以芦笙伴奏的村民团结舞，以及在郎德上寨观看神圣隆重的招龙仪式（当时当然也下了一场大雨）。当时看着郎德上寨村里老少绕着鼓坪游行，又看着纯真可爱的孩子们模仿大人唱歌的气势，我心想这眼前的这一幕必定终身难忘。尤其是在我过度陷入于古典音乐框子里，处于 “见树不见林” 的状态的时候，想起这一幕有助于自我抽离，让我以更开阔的角度看待音乐。
在这次实践过程中，我也领会了歌唱是对村民的教养、核心价值观及民间故事来得多么的重要、可贵。可这不仅是因为歌唱在村民的生活方式已根深蒂固。歌曲本身的内容记载了村寨民族拥有的价值观念与信仰——这一切都是晚辈希望传授给后裔的民族精神，对村寨人民的文化身份极为重要。侗、苗两族都没有书写文字，歌唱因而成为精神传授的主要管道。随着传承人一代逐渐老化，加上年轻一代一般都移居到市区求学公干而无法完全接承民族村寨文化遗产，针对这些歌曲的采风及收集工作将会越来越急迫要紧。文化当局已把不少村寨定为「示范村」，通过吸引 “文化游客” 把村寨村寨民族的一些传统习俗发扬光大（及因而维护保存）；此现象令人相当庆幸。但我仍存疑惑：这些文化习俗中较为 “重厚” 的一些内容（如约两小时长的说唱苗歌）如何能以妥当的方式呈现于旅游看点？
我因此了解了主办此届实践行程的用意——让音乐学生们（我虽是访客，但也包括在内）接触这些逐渐失传淡化的民族音乐文化，好让我们领会采风、收集及保存工作的紧迫性，也期待我们当中会有人以后愿意从事这番重任。在村寨里办志愿服务音乐会能让音乐学院文化直接与民乐文化 “碰撞” ，从而显出的动态是我能立刻感觉得到的，令我大开眼界。我也深感欣慰在这次的旅程中有机会与上音的师生们互动交流，与这群志趣相投、愿意迎接不熟悉的、好奇求知、爱业爱国的朋友们一起同行。
此外，作曲系的学生能加入这次的实践也是让我感到无比庆幸的。这两个星期体验到的各种民乐活动都成为了非常 “富饶” 的 “作曲土壤” ；收集到的音乐题材都能让我在接下来写的新曲子中引起想象力，也有助于我对自己新加坡华族身份的自我考察。况且，由于参与了这样的社会文化工作，因此我觉得他人对我接下来引用民乐题材写的作品都难免会存有一定的期望。作品要尝试把民族文化中的一些音乐活动放置在新的情境里，发挥想象展现全新的体现，以此手段将文化发扬。意大利作曲家 Luciano Berio 的 Folk Songs (1964) 及 Voci (1984) 都如我以上所说的，把民族音乐题材采收，并且以现代作曲手段加以发挥。（对，又是我这个忠实粉丝打广告的时候了…）在接下来回顾此行程经历而写出的作品中，我打算探讨「保存」此概念对民族音乐题材以及民乐文化意识（如即兴演奏、音乐以外的肢体动作等）的艺术含义。我觉得这次的实践旅程对我获益不浅，从中得到的心得可能足于让我写个好几年的作品… 到 “口渴” 的时候，就再回贵州一趟吧。