Yap Keng Vui invited me to Sabah Tshung Tsin Secondary School [STTSS] to listen to a Chinese orchestra. This was their annual concert, and a group of music students from Shanghai was joining them.
“The connection here is Simon Kong,” said Yap, while we watched a rehearsal. “Simon is a graduate of the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, and one of the visiting professors here was also his teacher in Shanghai.”
Some 20 students from the Sun Wen Yan Guzheng Art Studio in Shanghai, China were performing in the concert, along with Guzheng Master Professor Sun Wen Yan, and other specialist musicians.
The concert had a full array of performances: solo artists, Guzheng trios, a storyteller with a solo Erhu accompanist, a sword dancer moving to the music of a Liuqin, numerous full-on orchestral pieces!
1) STTSS orchestra
2) students from Shanghai
3) STTSS student storyteller with solo Erhu accompanist
4) Performance by Professor Sun.
Professor Sun spoke at length about the Guzheng.
“I shall now briefly introduce the Guzheng instrument. The Guzheng has a written history of over 2000 years. In the Tang Dynasty, the Guzheng was very popular. Its popularity reached South to Vietnam and Burma; reached North to Mongolia; and reached East to Korea and Japan.
During the Tang Dynasty, about 800-1000 years ago, Japan sent a lot of scholars to China to learn about Chinese politics, economics and culture. Musicians were sent to learn about Chinese music.
One Japanese musician 藤原師長(1138一1192) collected scores and rearranged them into a volume called 仁智要彔 (Ren Zhi Yao Lu). There are over 200 Tang Dynasty music scores of various lengths, and the “Spring Orioles” song is one of the bigger ones.
There is a story about this song: Emperor Tang Gao Zhong had a dream about a beautiful piece of music. The following morning he heard a bird singing prettily in the Royal Garden. So he asked the royal musician to write a song, which became the “Spring Orioles” song, with accompanying lyrics. It was a very long piece of music, about 10 minutes.
When I first performed it in Singapore, I shortened it to 3 minutes. I shall perform a part of it now, to introduce this song which was composed such a long time ago.”
SabahSongs thanks Yap Keng Vui for his heroic effort to translate the Mandarin to English, so that we can have Professor Sun’s comments here.
STTSS Chinese Orchestra was formed when the school invited Teo Seng Chong to come to Sabah, to bring the art form of Chinese Orchestra into the state.
That was in 1986. Teo is Head of Music at Tshung Tsin; today over 100 children at the school play traditional Chinese instruments, and the orchestra enjoys cultural exchanges. The students have performed in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Kuala Lumpur, and Shanghai, and have similarly hosted visiting musicians. There are also ten Chinese orchestras in Sabah today. Read more about this here.
Kong majored in Composition, and writes scores for Chinese orchestra which include elements of Sabah’s local music. Along with Teo Seng Chong, these two musicians create music for Chinese orchestra which is unique.
In 2006, Kong’s work Izpirazione II won 2nd prize at the Singapore Chinese Orchestra International Chinese Music Composition Competition, competing with composers from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore.
Izpirazione II has 3 movements:
[Note for non-Sabahans: These are the names of different spiky fruit from Sabah!]
Kong also wrote an arrangement for a piece of music by Toshiro Mayuzumi. It was called Concertino for Xylophone, and was played by Scottish virtuoso percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie, during her visit to Taiwan in 2010.
A bit about Chinese orchestral music
Teo Seng Chong explained that a collection of over 20 musicians can be considered a small orchestra; 100+ would be a large orchestra.
A Chinese orchestra has four types of instruments:
One of the main instruments in the orchestra is the Guzheng, or Chinese Harp. It has 21 strings forming notes on the pentatonic scale. The strings are now made of steel with silk or plastic binding. In the days before steel, all strings were made of silk.
STTSS Chinese Orchestra recorded the first CD of Chinese orchestral music in Sabah, in 2000. Among the tracks were orchestral interpretations of Kadazan songs from Sabah, and Rasa Sayang.
Expect more from Teo Seng Chong, Simon Kong, STTSS Chinese Orchestra and their fusion Chinese orchestral music!