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Let the music play

Updated: 2012-11-26 16:46
By Mu Qian ( China Daily)

Let the music play

Chen Ziming poses with a Peruvian woman and her son when he visited the country to explore its traditional music. Photos provided to China Daily

A twist of fate changed Chen Ziming's music career path. Now at 80, he remains one of the most ardent advocates of world music in China. He shares his thoughts with Mu Qian.

At 80, Chen Ziming plans to explore North America and Oceania, the two continents that he hasn't set his feet on in his study of world music.

Let the music play

Chen, a professor at the Central Conservatory of Music and president of World Music Society of China, has been to nearly 30 countries. He has also done extensive research on traditional music of many parts of the world, especially India and Latin America.

"The world is made up of many different cultures, and the study of world music is very important in safeguarding the cultural diversity of China and the world," says Chen, who is also the chief editor of Chinese Encyclopedia's Asian, African and Latin American music sections.

Related: Bringing the tune of Kunqu Opera to the world

This wasn't how he felt when he was a youth. Then, Chen used to believe that Western classical music is the only form of musical art. Born into a Westernized family in Suzhou, Jiangsu province, he learned how to play the violin as a child and had a low regard for local music like pingtan (a form of narrative music).

It was a twist of fate that changed his career and thought. In the political movements of the late 1950s, he was denounced as a "rightist" and deprived of his post as the secretary-general of Communist Youth League of the Central Conservatory of Music, and sent to labor in a farm.

After a year and a half of labor, he went back to the conservatory but by then, he could only get a job as a common worker with duties such as cooking and instrument repairing.

It was a blessing in disguise. As he developed his expertise in instrument repairing, he grabbed a chance to transfer to the conservatory's Institute of Musicology as an instrument reform researcher.

Chen was among a group of music workers who at that time were trying to reform Chinese instruments so that they would be suitable for performance in large-scale ensembles.

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