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Music from afar thrills audiences and preserves cultural heritage
From:Shanghai Daily  |  2017-10-30 01:29

JIN Zhihong is on a musical mission.

The director of the Xuhui District’s Intangible Heritage Office, wants Shanghai residents to appreciate the multitude of traditional music in China by listening to it being played live.

Jin and the other three officials in her office have invited folk musicians, mostly from remote mountainous villages in western China, to perform in Shanghai venues once a month.

Professors and experts from music institutions have also been invited to come to the city to discuss the culture and history of musical heritage.

The project, titled “National Music and Elegant Rhythm,” is part of the city’s government’s efforts to protect and preserve cultural heritage.

In the past two years, Jin’s office has organized over 70 “concerts plus lectures” at Meilong Cultural Center, Tou-Se-We Museum, and elementary and middle schools in Xuhui.

Many Chinese traditional folk songs and music have long been marginalized in contemporary culture. Some are verging on extinction. “These traditional arts are touching and inspiring, but many of them are little known,” Jin said. “They deserve better.” Her enthusiasm originated when she took up lessons on the guzheng, or Chinese zither, as a child.

The series has been focusing on the music along ancient Silk Road routes in western regions of China. Among the performances to date are drum music from Xi’an in Shaanxi Province, “flat string” music from northwestern Qinghai Province, the harmonica from the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region and the “tanbur” from the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

Next month, the office will invite masters of “hua’er,” a listed art of multiple nationalities, including Han, Hui, Tibetan, Dongxiang, Sala and Yugu, to present a music festival at the Meilong cultural center.

Organizing such events isn’t easy. Jin and her colleagues must arrange everything from transport and accommodation to meals and venues for the artists. Many of the participants have never been outside their remote home regions, let alone flown in a plane.

“When Jin first broached the idea of these folk concerts, we thought it was a mission impossible,” said Ding Hui, an official in charge of transport and accommodation. “But we have managed somehow to make it work.”

Indeed, it did look pretty daunting when Jin printed a list of all the music-related national intangible cultural heritage and told her colleagues that she planned to invite them one after another to the city.

It proved to be a challenge to track down some of the artists who maintain a pretty low profiles thousands of kilometers from Shanghai. Finding them and then slotting them into Jin’s monthly plan required a lot of schedule juggling.

Leading professors who do research in such traditional arts were helpful. Qiao Jianzhong, president of the Chinese Council for Traditional Music and a professor at the Xi’an Conservatory of Music, became an important supporter and ally for Jin’s team. He helped them find many minority artists in western China.

“Traditional music is an art that people won’t forget after hearing it,” Qiao said. “So, to bring the ‘primitive’ music from western China to Shanghai has a great impact. This project helps these musicians understand that their musical skills are valuable and appreciated.”

He said he hopes Jin’s initiative will be duplicated in other parts of China.

Nearly all the concerts so far have played to full audiences of diverse listeners, she said.

During one of the performances, a singer from Nujiang made an impromptu speech to thank Jin’s team for the rare opportunity to perform in Shanghai. Jin said she burst into tears backstage.

Her office plans to compile all the video, photos and written archives into books and disks.

Tickets for the monthly concerts are available free via the WeChat account “Culture Xuhui” on whxh2014.