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Music that takes the high ground

By Zhang Kun | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2021-07-15 07:33
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Tang Shengsheng (center) performs with the Amne Machin music group from Golog at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music Opera House. CHINA DAILY

The sound of music from the Tibetan plateau captivated the concert audience at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music Opera House on July 3.

Presented by the Song and Dance Troupe from the Golog Tibetan autonomous prefecture of Northwest China's Qinghai province, together with musicians from the SCM, the concert was the fruit of the conservatory's cultural assistance to Golog, the source of the Yellow River.

It was not just the music that was of interest, but the instruments as well. A 56-year-old Tibetan artist, whose name in Mandarin means peace, introduced his two-stringed instrument to those attending. With an ox head on top, the sound box at the bottom was made from ox horn and covered with lambskin, and its strings were made of horse-tail hair. "We used to play music on the pasture, and folklore has it that the animals would be touched by the music," he says.

Today few people can play that music, and even fewer can make the instrument known as niujiaoqin, or ox horn fiddle. It is recognized as an item of Golog's intangible cultural heritage, and Peace, or Heping as he is called by musicians from the SCM, is an official inheritor.

Tang Shengsheng, a composer and music teacher with the SCM, was fascinated with the folk music in Golog, and decided to adapt her previous creation, a piece on the piano named Origin of the Yellow River, for the local instruments. She brought together Heping and 11 other musicians from the Golog Song and Dance Troupe, who play traditional folk instruments, including a flute made of the bone from the eagle's wing, the Tibetan Dharma Drums, which have a history dating back to the ninth century, and a conch trumpet.

At the concert, Tang herself donned a ceremonial Tibetan robe, and played the piano to accompany the 12 ethnic musicians, who were introduced as a new music group named Amne Machin, after the snow-covered mountain in Golog that is home to the source of the Yellow River.

"It's all very impressive, the magical combination of ethnic instruments and natural vocal performances, the fantastic fusion of the piano and mysterious Tibetan instruments, and the authentic flavor of Golog music," said Jiang Fang, a Shanghai-based music critic, who was in attendance at the SCM Opera House on July 3.

The concert also consisted of traditional songs and dances from the region, as well as established songs familiar to the Chinese public for generations.

Following the premiere in Shanghai, the concert production will tour Xining, the capital of Qinghai, Golog and Beijing.

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