Administered by the Ministry of Culture of the People’s Republic of China
Sponsored by the China National Culture & Art Corporation
Sponsored by the China Association of Popular Music
Issue #45 of 2015 Issue #1091 lifetime
Expatriate Mezzo-Soprano Singer Pang Xuan
-- Bridging the Cultural Gap
between China and the US through Songs
Pang Xuan successfully holds solo concert at New York’s Carnegie Hall
By Guo Dongyang
On November 3, 2015, the lights at the stately and magnificent Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall in New York shone brilliantly during a jam-packed performance. As the last elegant notes rung out, the golden hall flooded with applause and cheers. The young expatriate mezzo-soprano singer Pang Xuan’s solo concert “Silk Road by Vocal Arts” proved a beautiful audiovisual performance for the local audience, hosted by the International Culture and Arts Exchange Society of USA and held at one of the world’s most renowned concert halls. Pang Xuan’s performance was comprised of Western classics sung in German, French, English and Italian. She also performed nine classic Chinese folk songs including “Night Mooring at Maple Bridge,” “Rippling Brook,” “Kangding Love Song,” “The Pau-Leng Tune” and “Wash the Flowering Cabbage.” These songs were sung in both Chinese and English, driving the audience to an intersection of Chinese and US culture. Xuan received a long standing ovation from the crowd, including the non-Chinese audience members.
In hear earlier years in New York, young Pang Xuan competed in the 53rd Liederkranz Foundation International Vocal Competition where she performed the old classic “How Can I Not Miss Her” in Chinese. She received third place and became the first person from China to win an award at this famous international vocal competition. For Xuan, winning this award proved to be a significant turning point in her career. She became determined to share China’s marvelous folk songs with the world and help listeners understand the meaning behind the music. Over the following two years, she began putting together a group to launch her public interest event, “China: A Lyrical Journey.” Pang Xuan’s “lecture-recital concert” debuted at New York University and will continue over the next six months, displaying her beautiful and moving voice resounding through Chinese folk songs to tens of thousands of people, including the United Nations.
The Art of “Silk Road by Vocal Arts”
Previously serving as Conductor of the China National Opera House, Chairman of the Chinese Culture Promotion Society, and Deputy Artistic Advisor to the Global Artist League, Mr. Yao Xueyan, after seeing Pang Xuan’s “Silk Road by Vocal Arts” solo concert, wrote: “Young expatriate mezzo-soprano singer Pang Xuan put on a spectacular performance at the world famous Carnegie Hall! On a chilly autumn afternoon, she warmed the hearts of everyone in attendance with her voice that soared through the clouds. Her song selection throughout the performance ranged from the European classical serenades of Schubert Mozart, and Rossini, to opera excerpts and Chinese folk songs “High Upon the Mountainside,” “Rippling Brook” and others from Yunnan, Shandong, Hunan and other areas with unique folk music. With her simple, smooth and varied vocal tone (transitioning between bel canto and folk styles), Xuan’s refreshing performance transcended different generations and ethnic traditions!”
It seemed as if Pang Xuan not only moved the audience to appreciate the wonderful music but also successfully converted the music into a vehicle driving east-west communication! She is a young vocalist that has been trying to expand the boundaries of her craft from the very outset. Xuan has figured out how to use music as a means for promoting communication between eastern and western cultures and foster friendships among people of different ethnicities. It is truly commendable! While on stage, she expends every effort to show “the art inside my soul, not myself inside the art,” putting to shame those “artists” who just “make art for the sake of art.”
“China: A Lyrical Journey”
An Innovative Performance Combining “Lecture and Recital”
In the fall of 2014, Pang Xuan launched her Chinese folk music public interest event, “China: A Lyrical Journey.” Over the course of the next year, she put on this production all around the US, bringing together people of different languages and racial backgrounds. Xuan turned people on to Chinese folk music as audiences listened to her tell the story of China.
Throughout the lecture-recital performance, Pang Xuan uses a mix of Chinese and English to interact with the audience, sometimes humorously. Bilingual Chinese-English lyrics accompany each song on a large screen along with characteristic photographs to explain the meaning behind the lyrics and further elucidate the folk culture. Each folk song she exhibits comes along with Xuan’s wonderful and lucid explanation and fascinating performance. In addition to her innovative concert style, she also provides one other bonus: all of the Chinese lyrics she sings are also translated into English. Pang Xuan worked together with senior United Nations simultaneous interpreter Chen Feng and senior translator and President of the UN Chinese Book Club Wen Xuejun on all of the translation efforts. “After first having these two experts translate all of the lyrics into English, I then had to arrange the English lyrics to the melodies and accents of the songs.” Pang Xuan described the struggles of the lyric adaptation process “brain racking” and a process of “repeated deliberation.”
This style of accompanying musical performance with lectures was pioneered by China Conservatory of Music senior musician Cao Wengong. The difference in his performance format is that it is done as a group, with one member carrying out the lecture and one or multiple other members responsible for the musical performance. Pang Xuan had the courage to innovate this format by handling all of the lecture and performance duties on her own. Add on the English translation element and the level of execution difficulty increases. Every performance is special and every performance is a solo production, so the expectations of knowledge and performance ability are set extremely high for Xuan.
Pang Xuan’s “China: A Lyrical Journey” has been received well by the American music world and media. The New York newspaper World Journal published a long piece on the production and called it a “major initiative.”
On April 12, 2015, the United Nations invited Pang Xuan to perform her concert on its annual “UN Chinese Language Day.”
A Young Artist Carrying Out a Cultural Mission
Unlike most concerts, Pang Xuan’s “China: A Lyrical Journey” is entirely dedicated to the public interest. She says that it is an event that will continue to live on, performed by a group of people who are passionate about traditional Chinese culture. Pang Xuan’s father, Pang Zhonghua, who is a well-known calligrapher and educator, has dedicated the past several decades to the promotion of traditional Chinese culture around the world for the good of the public. “Ever since I was little, my parents were always putting on charitable events. I both admire and identify with my parents’ unwavering dedication and passion to their careers. Their actions had a huge impact on me; their passion, perseverance and dedication will stay with me for the entirety of my life. I hope to learn from them by giving back to the community and paying service to my home country through fostering cultural communication between China and the US.” Over the past few years, global attention on China has been rapidly increasing. As a young artist, Pang Xuan is using her love for the folk music of her country and mission to develop Chinese folk music culture to increase cultural communication and friendship between China and the US. She strives to deepen the knowledge and understanding of Chinese culture, particularly Chinese folk music, among overseas communities. Xuan’s solo concert “Silk Road by Vocal Arts” gives us a deeper understanding that “a great work of art should shine like the blue sky and blow like a spring breeze; it should be inspiring and warming to the heart, celebrate life and remove any low morale or spirit.” Pang Xuan takes these beliefs along with her to every country she travels to, sharing the art of Chinese folk music from deep in her heart and soul.
Pang Xuan is extremely proud of her talented group of expatriate artists, who were all born in the 1980’s and 90’s. “Our mission and goals are mutual. We live abroad but our hearts are with China, and we give back to our country by carrying on our traditional culture. What inspires and motivates me most is that I have no reason to stop doing what I am doing. I just keep doing one show after another, believing that I can make an impact on more and more people and institutions and continue to improve upon what I’ve already created.”
Throughout the interview, Pang Xuan displayed great optimism and love for her music career, leaving me with a feeling of positivity. Under her outer layer of straightforward optimism, there is no shortage of deep and rich emotions. In addition to her love for singing, I want to highlight Xuan’s love for her family, obligation to her country and persistence and dedication to music. Pang Xuan said of the future, “Fame belongs to the past; what’s most important is to live in the present.” We sincerely hope that this young music artist continues to further realize her dreams.
“China: A Lyrical Journey – Inheritance and Development of Chinese Folk Songs”
Lecture-recital Series with Pang Xuan at Tsinghua University
Xinhua Beijing (Li Jing) On the evening of October 31, Pang Xuan's lecture-recital series “China: A Lyrical Journey – Inheritance and Development of Chinese Folk Songs” was held in the Xijie classroom at Tsinghua University. In an effort to expose more people to Chinese folk culture, Pang Xuan, who serves as the Vice-President of the Institute of International Culture & Education, launched “China: A Lyrical Journey; 2014-2015 Chinese folk music lecture-recital series with Pang Xuan.” First premiering at New York University, Xuan’s performance of “China: A Lyrical Journey” at Tsinghua University attracted an audience of 200 students, including study abroad students.
The performance opened with “Rippling Brook,” a song from Yunnan and explored music from Hunan, Sichuan, and Hubei, then arriving in Dongbei, Shandong, Xinjiang, Jiangsu and other regions with characteristic folk music. Pang Xuan both lectured and sang throughout the event, displaying bilingual Chinese-English lyrics to accompany each song. She also exhibited illustrative photographs to explain the local and traditional Chinese folk cultures. Among the songs performed was the “Kangding Love Song” of Sichuan, when Xuan was accompanied by her father Pang Zhonghua on accordion.
Over the course of the performance, Pang Xuan performed in solo, duet and chorus formats and sang in both Chinese and English. She also interacted with the crowd. Xuan explained how it was extremely difficult to have lyrics translated while she was living abroad and spreading Chinese folk art. She received great support from senior UN translators Chen Feng and Wen Xuejun to complete this task, to whom she was very grateful.
Pang Xuan closed her performance by singing “My Motherland” with a group of study abroad students, leaving the audience extremely moved. She expressed her hope for everyone to help in her efforts to spread Chinese folk culture to the rest of the world.
Pang Xuan will travel to Beijing on the 25th and will be rehearsing the following afternoon for a performance in the large-scale production “Qing Yue Hua Zhang” that same evening. She will also serve as Tsinghua artistic director alongside senior musician Yan Su and famous singers Chen Yuanye, Yang Guang, Jin Man, Han Lei and Chang Sisi. On November 1, Xuan will be a judge at the campus song contest being held at Tsinghua University, which will display music of the traditional American jazz influence. Additionally, she will also work as a vocal coach for the Tsinghua University Civil and Hydraulic Engineering Chorus and sit in during the joint choir practice of the School of Marxism and Tsinghua's School of Economics and Management. She will also continue to serve as a judge for Tsinghua University’s “129 Tsinghua Choir Competition,” as she did in 2013 and 2014.
This event was co-hosted by the Tsinghua University Graduate Student Council, the Institute of International Culture & Education, the Tsinghua University Electronic Engineering Department Graduate Student Club, the Tsinghua University Law School Graduate Student Club and the Tsinghua University Academy of Social Sciences Graduate Student Club.
[Chief Editor: Chang Ning]
China Culture Daily
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Saturday, August 15, 2015, Issue #7118, CSSN: CN11-0089, Post Issue Number: 1-115, Daily 8th edition
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Young Expat Singer Uses Singing to Spread Chinese and Western Musical Culture
Pang Xuan: the New Generation of Sino-US Cultural Exchange Ambassadors
After the expatriate youth singer Pang Xuan graduated from the American Manhattan School of Music, the career path she took was anything but ordinary. She didn’t go to endless theater interviews or participate in professional competitions; instead, she took her special artistic learning experiences and carved her own unique path. She resorted to the so-called “living fossil” of the Chinese culture – traditional Chinese folk music – and made it her duty to put on concerts in both China and the US dedicated to spreading the extraordinary musical traditions of China and the West. She has come to represent the new generation of Sino-US cultural exchange ambassadors.
An expat music student crazy about traditional music
Pang Xuan discovered her love for music at a young age. She had a particular soft spot for Chinese folk music, something that she shared with her mother, Wang Chanzhi, who is a National Class-A Actress and a prominent supporter of Henan folk music. “When I was young, my mother required me to learn 50 to 100 classic Chinese folk songs.” With her mother’s training in traditional music, Pan Xuan’s fondness for Chinese folk music never ceased, even after eventually deciding to study the vocal arts.
In the fall of 2010, Pang Xuan completed her undergraduate vocal studies at China’s Central Conservatory of Music. After receiving her notice of admission to the Manhattan School of Music Master’s program, she embarked for the US to continue furthering her education.
After her first year of study in the US, Pang Xuan organized a solo concert comprised of Chinese folk songs. Contrary to Xuan’s expectations, this campus music concert had an unexpected impact on the Chinese study abroad students in attendance: hearing such authentic hometown folk music in the US gave them an intoxicating feeling, bringing many of them to tears.
But after the performance, Pang Xuan realized that the sentiments of the Chinese students towards the music was the complete opposite for others in attendance: the other foreign students that came to listen to the music had no understanding of what she was singing, their eyes unable to hide their doubts and uncertainties about the music. Pang Xuan pondered deeply about this realization.
“This is caused by linguistic and cultural differences. Foreigners who know nothing about Chinese language and culture do not have an understanding of what these songs represent; they just know Chinese folk melodies to be beautiful sounding on the surface. If you want foreigners to develop a liking for Chinese folk music and culture, you need to translate the lyrics into English and explain folklore and allusions throughout a performance,” Pang Xuan explained.
Singing in English to explain Chinese folk music
Pang Xuan was determined to translate Chinese folk songs into English. However, she wasn’t going to be able to do it with her own incompetency in English. Fortunately, Xuan knew Chen Feng and Wen Xuejun, translators who work at the United Nations.
When the two translators heard Pang Xuan’s plan to popularize Chinese folk songs by translating them into English, they were extremely supportive. Over the course of more than six months, a number of classic Chinese folk songs were translated into English, including “Rippling Brook,” “Kangding Love Song” and “Jasmine.”
“After the lyrics were translated into English, I adapted them to the compositions based on their rhythms and accents.” Pang Xuan described the struggles of the adaptation process as “brain racking” and a process of “repeated deliberation.” “For me, the biggest issue was not singing and explaining Chinese folk songs in English, it was maintaining the accuracy of the translation of the lyrics and balancing the lyrics with the melodies. We all know that the hardest type of literature to translate is poetry, and lyrics are a refined form of poetic language. In addition, folk songs are rich in dialectical language and have many changes in melody and tone, further increasing the difficulty of arranging it with the accents and light tones of English syllables.”
In addition to adapting the songs in English, she also introduced other foreign music elements into her music to help ease the distance between foreigners and Chinese folk music. For example, she experimented with doing a jazz rendition of “Jasmine,” a genre loved by Americans.
“I tried blending together elements of Chinese folk music with elements of classical music from Europe, Broadway music from the US, jazz and other genres. This experimentation was similar to with cooking: I was mixing things together and testing it on different people’s palettes. Exploring music in this way not only preserves the tradition but also adds in a creative element. You can stray from the norm when trying to promote Chinese folk music,” Pang Xuan explained.
Pang Xuan took advantage of every opportunity she had to spread the extraordinary music and art of China. After Xuan completed her Master’s degree at the end of 2012, she signed up to compete in New York’s prestigious Liederkranz International Vocal Competition. She decided to perform “How Can I Not Miss Her,” a poem written by Liu Bannong while studying abroad at the University of London in 1920. The poem was arranged into a song composed by Zhao Yuan in 1926 and was well received internationally. She received third place in the art song group and was the competition’s only award recipient from China.
Presently, Pang Xuan has already become a new sensation of classical vocals and transboundary performing arts in North America. She was invited to compete in trials for “The Voice of China” for the North American region, where she was eventually crowned champion. In addition, she founded her own xuan [sic] music studio and collaborated on the establishment of the Institute of International Culture & Education, serving as its Vice-chairwoman.
In 2014, Pang Xuan realized her original goal by launching her public interest event, “China: A Lyrical Journey - Chinese folk songs lecture-recital series in the US.”
Pang Xuan performs “Jasmine” with the United Nations Art Group
Promoting the Cultural Shuffle between China and the US
In September of 2014, the premier of “China: A Lyrical Journey” was held at New York University. Pang Xuan performed nine classic Chinese folk songs interspersed with lectures, displaying the most representative folk songs from different regions of China.
“I started in Yunnan with “Rippling Brook” and then ventured to Hunan, Sichuan, and Hubei, traveling to Dongbei, Shandong, Xinjiang, Jiangsu and other regions with unique folk music. I both lectured and sang, providing the foreign audience with an immersive experience,” Pang Xuan said.
This style of accompanying musical performance with lectures was pioneered by China Conservatory of Music senior musician Cao Wengong. The difference in his performance format is that it is done as a group, with one member carrying out the lecture and one or multiple other members responsible for the musical performance. Pang Xuan had the courage to innovate this format by handling all of the lecture and performance duties on her own. Add on the English translation element and the expectations of Xuan in regards to knowledge and performance ability are set extremely high. Given all of the hard work she has put in, Xuan is extremely pleased with the results. “I find that the foreign audience members listen with great pleasure. I can tell by the expressions on their faces that they are enjoying the music and are not confused. This is exactly what I wanted to achieve.”
After her first performance, Pang Xuan was extremely moved by a video that she received of a two year old girl wearing the exact same outfit that Xuan wore during her performance and singing “Kangding Love Song” in Chinese. This was not just any little girl, it was Xuan’s niece. Although her niece is Chinese, she was born in the US and is a stranger to the Chinese language. After seeing Xuan’s performance, she grew a liking for Chinese folk music and watched videos so she could imitate it.
Pang Xuan was extremely pleased with this small occurrence. In the US, the situation with Xuan’s niece is not unique. The children of many Chinese immigrant families have not carried on the understanding of traditional Chinese culture, to the extent that they cannot even speak Chinese. Seeing how Chinese folk songs can spark an interest in young people to study Chinese makes Pang Xuan feel as if her hard work is not being done in vain.
After her performance at New York University, Pang Xuan brought her “lecture-recital” to American communities and libraries. She was warmly welcomed by audiences wherever she performed.
In addition to introducing and sharing Chinese folk music and culture in English to American audiences, Pang Xuan is also actively introducing American folk music and culture to Chinese audiences in order to promote cultural understanding between the two countries.
In December of 2014, Pang Xuan returned to China to participate in the Xinhua Music Salon. She performed the aria “Love is a Rebellious Bird” from the French opera “Carmen” for Chinese audiences. She gave an introduction to the opera’s composer, provided a synopsis and background to the story, interpreted the meaning of the lyrics and explained the personality of the Gypsies and their views on love.
Because of Pang Xuan’s efforts to bridge the gap of music and art between China and the US, the United Nations invited her to participate in its “Chinese Language Day” on April 12th, 2015. Xuan’s lecture-recital was the biggest highlight of the UN Chinese Language Day and was highly acclaimed by everyone in attendance.
Not Sold on Becoming a “Second Generation Artist” to Her Father
In 2014, Pang Xuan was accompanied by a special guest during her performance of “China: A Lyrical Journey” at Tsinghua University. During “Kangding Love Song,” Xuan was accompanied on accordion by her father – famous calligrapher and pioneer of hard pen calligraphy Pang Zhonghua. This was the first time the duo ever performed together.
Pang Xuan feels a great amount of pressure due to her father’s reputation. She remembers when she was little, her teacher knew that her father was Pang Zhonghua and therefore assumed that she also wrote beautiful calligraphy. She would often have Xuan represent her school in calligraphy competitions. Her mother would force her to practice her writing calligraphy every day.
However, Xuan felt like she was not fit for calligraphy. “Calligraphy requires you to sit still with a calm mind. My personality is not like that, I prefer the more dynamic arts.” She eventually decided to take up singing instead of calligraphy, a decision that her father Pang Zhonghua supported. Xuan’s father said that he believes in the freedom to learn and he never wanted to force his daughter into the calligraphy profession.
Although she didn’t follow in her father’s footsteps, Pang Xuan was greatly inspired by her father’s character. She said that her father influenced her to create her benefit concert to spread Chinese and US culture. “Over the more than thirty years that my father taught hard pen calligraphy, he rarely got paid for his lectures and covered all costs himself. He also paid for trips overseas to promote Chinese calligraphy. He took advantage of every opportunity he had to teach calligraphy, no matter how tiring it was. My father’s words and actions were inspiring to me.”
Pang Xuan revealed that she will be doing a solo concert at Carnegie Hall in New York in October of this year. After this performance, she will continue performing her “China: A Lyrical Journey” series around the US. She is going to rotate the songs she performs as well as add in accompanying Chinese traditional folk instruments such as flute, drums and matouqin. She wants to further enhance the effect of Chinese folk music on foreign audiences and spark their interest in Chinese culture.
“Advancing Sino-US cultural exchange is not as easy as it seems, so I hope that more people join in to promote the cause. As a young musician, I am willing to take on much of the burden. This is a contribution that I will carry with me for the rest of my life,” Pang Xuan said.
Interview: Introducing Chinese folk songs to UN,
U.S. audiences is a dream come true:
Chinese mezzo soprano
Chinese singer Pang Yixuan sings at an event to celebrate
the United Nations Chinese Language Day, at UN Plaza in New York,
on April 19, 2013. (Xinhua/Niu Xiaolei)
by Xinhua writer Gu Zhenqiu
UNITED NATIONS, June 27 (Xinhua) -- Classically trained in Western opera, Yixuan Pang, a mezzo soprano, has found increasing interest and happiness in Chinese folk songs when she sang them in English to foreigners at the United Nations and in the United States.
"My interest started from my vocal solo concert at the music hall of my college about four years ago when I was in the second year into my graduate program," Pang said in a recent interview with Xinhua, referring to Manhattan School of Music in New York City.
The concert, staged in 2011, was originally intended to show her teachers and fellow students her love for the Chinese folk songs.
"To my great surprise, I learned that some Chinese students were moved to tears by my performance because my songs reminded them of their beautiful hometowns back in China," Pang said. "However, some American friends came to me after my curtain call to tell me that they felt charming tunes and pleasant music in the songs, but they did not know their real meanings."
The puzzle in the eyes of her American audience prompted Pang to do something to help them because she had the similar experience -- she felt tired when listening to French operas in New York, even when English captions were provided.
Chinese singer Pang Yixuan sings at an event to celebrate the United Nations Chinese Language Day, at the United Nations headquarters in New York, on April 20, 2015. (Xinhua/Shi Xiaomeng)
ENGLISH HELPS A LOT
Therefore, I made up my mind to sing Chinese folk songs in English in order to drive it home to more and more American audiences," she said. "This was one of my dreams at that time."
Pang made her debut in turning her dream into reality in September 2014 when she began her presentation "China: A Lyrical Journey," which featured songs and lectures at New York University,thanks to assistance of Wen Xuejun, a veteran Chinese translator at the United Nations who helped translate many popular folk songs into English.
She worked like both a tourist guide with a map of China and a professor in a classroom, singing and lecturing to help foreigners better understand the famous folk songs from China's different provinces.
She picked a folk song from a province she marked on a map of China, which was flashed on a big television screen, singing the song in English after or before introducing customs and conventions of the province where the song was originated.
"To spread the knowledge of Chinese folk song and fine traditional Chinese culture, I selected seven of the most representative Chinese folk songs from different regions of China to demonstrate their historical backgrounds, geographical features,customs, singing styles and language characteristics," she said.
These selected folk songs are from Chinese provinces rich in folk culture, such as "Rippling river" from Yunnan in southwest China, "Jasmine flower" of Jiangsu in east China, "Dragon boat song" from Hunan in central China and "A lovely rose" from Xinjiang in northwest China.
"I can see enjoyment from the expressions of my foreign audience during my presentation," Pang said. "English really helps in this regard."
Chinese singer Pang Yixuan sings at an event to celebrate the United Nations Chinese Language Day, at the UN headquarters in New York, on April 20, 2015. (Xinhua/Shi Xiaomeng)
MOST DIFFICULT JOB
Pang said that in introducing Chinese folk songs to American people, "the most difficult part of the job is to enable English translations to match the rhythm and genuine meanings of the original Chinese folk songs."
Chinese folk songs, which contain some dialect in its original region and sound more like a poem, are the most difficult to translate into a foreign language as the English versions should fit well into its original tune and rhythm, she said. "This requires painstaking efforts."
After getting translations of a few folk songs into English by a learned translator and a veteran interpreter, who are both serving the United Nations, Pang began her rehearsal, and she first sang them to her relatives and friends, who encouraged her to carry on.
Her great efforts paid off. The Chinese folk songs sang in English were well received by American audiences.
In April, Pang brought foreign diplomats and UN staff to join her lyrical journey through China as the United Nations marked the Chinese Language Day. The celebration is held around the same time in April each year on Guyu, which literally means "grain rain," referring the sixth of the 24 solar terms created by ancient Chinese to carry out agricultural activities.
Her presentation won enthusiastic applause from her audience at UN headquarters in New York.
"I am very happy that my foreign audience understands my presentation. You see, I enjoy nodding approval from them," she said. "I will continue this work to enable more and more American and UN staff to better understand Chinese folk songs and Chinese culture."
A Vocal Ambassador
Chinese folk artist sings traditional songs in English
By Huang Wei | NO. 46 NOVEMBER 12, 2015
Chinese singer Yixuan Pang performs at the "Silk Road by Vocal Arts"
concert at the Carnegie Hall in New York City on October 3
(COURTESY OF YIXUAN PANG)
On the afternoon of October 3, Chinese singer Yixuan Pang staged a solo concert titled Silk Road by Vocal Arts at the Carnegie Hall in New York City. At the concert, Pang not only performed Western classic works in German, French and Italian, but also sang Chinese folk songs such as The Rippling Brook in both Chinese and English. The performance earned loud applause from the audience.
The post-80s artist had won third place at the Liederkranz International Vocal Competition in 2013, becoming the first Chinese to win a prize at a well-known international contest, held annually in New York.
An artistic education
Pang was deeply influenced by her mother Wang Changzhi, who is a renowned folk singer herself and is a representative figure of folk songs from central China's Henan Province. Pang developed an interest in music, especially Chinese folk songs, from an early age.
"My mom kept on singing on stage when she was into her seventh month of pregnancy with me," Pang said in an exclusive interview with Beijing Review . "Even when I was very little, my mother had taught me nearly 100 Chinese folk songs."
Although Pang took up the bel canto style due to her vocal range and tone, her love for traditional Chinese folk music has never abated. After four years of musical training at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, Pang was admitted by the Manhattan School of Music for a master's degree in 2010. She had kept her desire to learn all through her two years of study at the world-renowned institute of music.
"At this top-notch university, everyone has huge enthusiasm for art and works extremely hard," Pang said. She recalled that there were never vacant seats in the school library. A music score one wanted might have already been borrowed by someone else. Every time she sang a composition, she was required to look up the composer's biography, different versions of the song and the correct pronunciation of each word.
"The biggest difference between vocal music teaching in the United States and China is that Chinese professors put the emphasis on tone color and the techniques of singing while American teachers encourage digging into the deeper meaning of music compositions, including the historical background of the composition, its musical style and handling of details. The purpose is to enable students to truly understand a composition before performing it," Pang told Beijing Review .
In October 2011, Pang held a solo concert at the Manhattan School of Music, singing a dozen Chinese folk songs to her classmates and an audience from all over the world. However, the responses to the concert were mixed. Chinese students were moved hearing authentic songs from their home country in a distant land, but foreign students felt confused about what she intended to express.
"I didn't know what she was singing about at that time at all, although the melodies sounded beautiful," Pang's classmate Karl Scully told Beijing Review .
"Apparently the confusion has been caused by linguistic and cultural differences," said Pang as she reflected on the experience. "Folk songs represent folk customs and stories of various places in China. Their lyrics alone illustrate vivid scenes of life. Those who have little understanding of the Chinese language and culture won't be able to fully appreciate Chinese songs apart from the elegant rhythms."
In order to appeal to foreign audiences, Pang came up with the idea of rendering the lyrics of Chinese folk songs into English. She also realized the necessity of explaining the customs behind every song during the process of singing. "Only in this way can more Americans learn about excellent Chinese art," said Pang.
Pang launched the charity project China: A Lyrical Journey in the fall of last year, with the aim of promulgating Chinese folk songs overseas. She holds combined lectures and concerts of Chinese folk songs free of charge in American universities, communities and public libraries, with New York University being the first stop of her musical tour.
Pang sings and explains folk songs in both Chinese and English during the lecture-concerts, with the screen behind her displaying the bilingual lyrics and pictures related to the song.
"I like The Rippling Brook the most. The longing of a young woman for her lover expressed in the song is touching," Ann Palmer, a freshman at the New York Institute of Technology, told Beijing Review .
Palmer said she has always wanted to go to southwest China's Yunnan Province where the song was set in. She hopes she will be able to have her own memories related to the enchanting place one day.
Pang has also tried to add Western musical elements to Chinese folk songs in a bid to draw foreign audiences. For instance, when singing the Jasmine Flower , Pang has changed the originally slow rhythm by incorporating jazz music.
"I blend classic European music, Broadway musicals and jazz with Chinese folk songs organically to cater to different tastes. It is similar to cooking. Such a way of musical expression encompasses both inheritance and innovation of tradition, which will enable me to go further in promoting Chinese music," said Pang.
On April 12, Pang had the honor of being invited to present her lecture-concerts in the UN Headquarters in New York City on the annual UN Chinese Language Day.
Her charity project could not have been sustained without a team of traditional Chinese culture lovers, she said. Pang believes she was lucky to have known two translators Chen Feng and Wen Xuejun who work at the UN when she had the idea of translating Chinese folk songs into English. They later joined Pang's project as volunteers.
"Translating lyrics is far from easy as the translator is required to be loyal to the original while matching the target text with the melodies. Although we are familiar with these folk songs, we have to polish our translation many times," said Wen who translated the lyrics ofThe Rippling Brook .
"This is a great project. It is very hard to introduce a country's folk music to foreign audiences. Nevertheless, Pang has done an excellent job," said Karl Scully. The Irishman, who spoke absolutely zero Chinese several years ago, has now become a firm supporter of Pang's project. He has performed together with Pang at most of her musical tours in Chinese.
"As my Mandarin is not standard, initially I felt nervous on stage. However, later on I discovered that the audience didn't mind my pronunciation. They would always applaud me, which greatly encouraged me," he told Beijing Review .
Scully added that there were a lot of similarities between Chinese and Irish folk songs. He hoped one day he could fuse Irish folk songs with their Chinese
Pang said she felt proud that her team is also made up of outstanding Chinese artists living in the United States who are predominantly from the post-80s and
"We have a common aspiration to contribute to promoting traditional Chinese culture regardless of material gains. I will persist in my project and do even better in the future," Pang said confidently.
Born into an artist family, with a folk singer mother and a famous calligrapher father, Yixuan Pang absorbed profound artistic inspiration from her parents and her artistic gift was nourished and strengthened since childhood. She received extensive training in piano, dancing and painting, as well as traditional Peking Opera performance. She made her first stage debut at just 4 years old.
Pang's artistic talents were refined through an eight-year professional music education at China's Central Conservatory of Music and its affiliated high school. She majored in vocal performance as an operatic mezzo-soprano and graduated in 2010. The same year, she was admitted to the master of music program at the Manhattan School of Music.
Copyedited by Mara Lee Durrell
Saving Chinese folk songs one at a time
By Jiang Hezi | Published October 5, 2015
Pang Xuan, a classically trained mezzo soprano, performs at her concert Silk Road by Vocal Arts on Oct 3 at the Weill Recital Hall of Carnegie Hall in New York. Hezi Jiang / China Daily.
Pang Xuan wants to preserve Chinese folk songs; she just needed a little push from her friends and family. “I was really lost and frustrated weeks ago,” Pang, a classically trained mezzo soprano, told China Daily during a break from her Oct 3 concert Silk Road by Vocal Arts at the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall in New York. “I didn’t know what I was doing this for,” she said. “Then I see all my family and friends are supporting me, helping me to do this without asking for anything in return, and many were donating money for me.
“We want to save the Chinese folk songs from disappearing, and share them with the Western world,” she said. “There are a group of us musicians who are doing this.”
Pang, 29, has raised $2,696 through Indiegogo for the concert, which brings Western classical vocal performance and traditional Chinese folk songs onto one stage.
At Carnegie Hall, she took the audience on a musical journey starting in Europe – singing operas from Germany to France to Italy, concluding with Mozart’s Don Giovanni.
Trained at the Manhattan School of Music and China’s Central Conservatory of Music for classical vocal performance, Pang brought out the strength of the beautiful Rosina in Rossini’s opera The Barber of Seville and soon led the audience into sorrow with her performance of Verdi’s Otello.
The second half of the concert was a journey back to China, with regional folk songs from Yunnan, Sichuan, Shandong, Hunan and Xinjiang provinces.
Pang’s mom, Wang Changzhi, was a renowned folk singer. She was singing solo on stage when she was five months pregnant with Pang.
“I played music for her since she was in there,” said Wang.
“Before she could speak, she could hum Beethoven’s For Elise,” said Wang. “She imitated me teaching and tutored my students on how to sing.”
Pang learns regional folk songs as a hobby. “In high school, my mom assigned me to learn 100 Chinese folk songs,” Pang said.
“I used to struggle a little bit about switching between singing Western classical songs and Chinese folk songs. Now it’s easy-peasy,” she said.
Since 2011, she has been performing Western operas in China and Chinese folk songs in the United States. Pang has brought the folk songs to United Nations headquarters and Lincoln Center and started a lecture tour: China: A Lyrical Journey, which has been to Columbia, Harvard and New York universities among its stops.
Pang was not alone on the journey. Besides family and friends, several Chinese interpreters have been helping her translate the Chinese folk songs into English.
“Translating a song is very hard,” said Chen Feng, a senior interpreter at the United Nations who volunteered to help Pang with seven to eight songs. “Not only the meaning has to be correct, but the length. And the sound of the words needs to be deliberately chosen.” Chen revised one song more than 40 times.
Chinese folk songs have gotten a lot of attention lately. First lady Peng Liyuan, who was in the US with President Xi Jinping on his state visit, coached an American girl singing the Yunnan folk song Flowing River at The Juilliard School in New York on Sept 29.
When asked if Chinese folk songs can catch on internationally, Pang said: “I don’t know. I can’t just focus on the result. I have to try. Arts have to fit in with the time period, and new artists have to come out with new interpretations and ways to perform.
“I go to all kinds of events to perform, no matter how small they are, because every new person who knows about it matters,” she said. “One more and then one more.”