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A grand endeavor

Former music journalist helps popularize ethnic Dong's choral heritage, Cheng Yuezhu reports.

By CHENG YUEZHU | China Daily | Updated: 2024-04-20 10:22
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Ethnomusicologist and music curator Mu Qian (right) and the Yandong Grand Singers toured five American cities.[Photo provided by Yang Wenliang/For China Daily]

The festival's lineup also included the Eva Quartet from Bulgaria, who specialize in Bulgarian folk polyphonic singing. After seeing the Yandong Grand Singers' performance, Eva Quartet's manager referred the choir for concerts in Germany's Leipzig in 2015.

It started a chain reaction and, over the years, the artistry of the Yandong Grand Singers became more globally recognized — a music festival organizer saw the Leipzig performance of Yandong Grand Singers online and contacted Mu to invite the troupe to perform in the US.

In preparation for the troupe's US tour, Mu was commissioned by Dutch record label Pan Records to record an album, so, after 12 years, he returned to Yandong in 2019.

"I had listened to many recordings of the Dong Grand Songs, all recorded in studios. Personally, these recordings, produced in an industrialized setting, sever the connection between the music and the land it grew out of, and many subtle details are lost in the process, so I hoped to record the album in the environment where the singers live," Mu says.

He and the singers experimented with different settings, including at the singers' homes and the village's various venues, before deciding on making the records on a bridge with pavilion structures in Yandong's Tongguan village.

The bridge's location ensures an environment undisturbed by the noises of construction and transportation, and its semi-open structure allows for a natural amount of reverberation. The surroundings were so tranquil that occasionally, natural sounds such as rainfall, the flowing of the river and chirping insects can be heard on some tracks.

In contributing to the research and promotion of the Dong culture, Mu took an academic approach to the album, adopting both transcribed Dong language and English for the liner notes and lyrics, which offers the audience a comparative listening experience.

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