Reflections: Two weeks in Guizhou • 回顾贵州暑期实践

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.

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some recent stuff (CD album)


Me: “Hi, I’m Ji Heng, I’m doing my Masters in Composition right now at RCM.”
New acquaintance: “Oh, composition! What kind of music do you write?”

Not sure about other composers, but I’ve always found it especially tricky to describe the ‘kind of music’ I write. On one hand I don’t want to start blabbing away about the compositional concepts I’m interested in, but on the other hand I also hope to give my new acquaintance an accurate yet understandable description of my music. Consequently, I find myself at best vaguely tongue-tied, at worst just dismissing my work (on which I do spend considerable time and effort) as ‘music without key signatures’, ‘bleep-blob-bleep music’, or even ‘music you wouldn’t listen to’ (which, I’ve realised, sounds more condescending than self-effacing).

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Writing about writing…

It’s been almost six years since my previous post—six long years of silence haha. So many events and experiences—National Service, undergrad Music course at Cambridge, various internships… too many to be listed here publicly—have happened in and around my life since then. From time to time, it did occur to me to post some thoughts, especially in my third year at Cambridge when I was taking the Music and Philosophy course, and my assumptions (regarding music and aesthetics) were being boggled, challenged, and reshaped. The spirit was willing but the flesh was weak; nothing has been produced. Until now.

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Poème Symphonique: A Retrospect

” … How should I present this project to my schoolmates such that they can get a meaningful experience out of it?
Wait… should I even be doing this project, when I’m not doing well in Chemistry, and I’m in such a lack of time, busy with A-levels preparation, music prac and all my CCA stuff … “

These were the thoughts circling in my mind as I was desperately, frantically asking schoolmates (through Facebook, Raffles WUTW bulletin, e-mail, SMS, phone calls, word-of-mouth & whatnot?!) if they had clock-wound metronomes they were willing to loan me for the Poème Symphonique project…

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Mature and grow in style

Every music student should recognise the importance of growing and maturing in musical style — be it in their playing, thinking or writing. This is definitely not to say we have to throw away our youthful thoughts and start being old-kok-kok, all chim and complicated in our musical expression. In fact, we should make it a point to develop a youthful musical style that holds a salient level of mature thought.

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