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'Spirit of 'Nature'' Plays

"We'd like to cover all of Chinese music today, from north to south," said Gao Hong, a member of the Chinese ensemble Spirit of Nature. She and two other internationally acclaimed musicians, Chen Tao and Xia Wenjie, skillfully presented "Chinese Music: Ancient and Modern" to their Berea College audience attending the Sept. 14 convocation.

Spirit of Nature performs at Berea College.

The ensemble’s repertoire included classical, folk, court, silk and bamboo music, and the audience was treated to a wide variety of sound, tone and tempo as the three musicians with their regional instruments revealed the "personality of the geography." Some pieces were vigorous and evocative, while others were more peaceful; they were drawn from a number of regions in China, including the Xingjiang and Yunnan provinces.

"Every time we will play a little differently," said Gao Hong. "Kind of like jazz, but not western jazz."

Many classic Chinese instruments were important in Spirit of Nature's performance. The ensemble members explained each instrument for the audience and demonstrated the different kinds of sound that could be coaxed from each musical instrument.

"I always say it sounds like a sci-fi channel sound," Hong commented with a laugh at Chen Tao’s demonstration of the xun, which is one of the oldest instruments in China.

Chen Tao performed on flutes such as the koudi and dizi, and also a played a bawu, which is a reed instrument. Xia Wenjie played the erhu, which is a two stringed bowed instrument. Gao Hong played the pipa, a four-stringed, pear-shaped lute. During her demonstration of the pipa, she used the pipa to play sounds that resembled boiling water, horses trotting, wild geese, people laughing, and more.

As one of the examples of contemporary Chinese music, Hong performed a piece of her own composition called "Flying Dragon." The song refers to her birth in the Year of the Dragon, and how she was told by a fortuneteller that she would always travel and never settle down. The song is full of the confusion and hardships Hong has faced in her life, with occasional moments of brightness. She said that most of her happiness comes from performing.

"When I see an audience liking my music, it makes my heart glad," said Hong.

Spirit of Nature usually performs with six members, but only three were available for Berea's performance. Gao Hong began her career as a professional musician at age 12 and later graduated with honors from the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. She has many awards, honors, grants and fellowships in both the U.S. and China, and has received commissions from numerous different sponsors for her own compositions. She has played with symphony orchestras, jazz musicians, and at major festivals and concert halls over the world.

Chen Tao is a graduate and former Associate Professor at the prestigious Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. He is a specialist on many wind instruments and is called "the king of the flute" by the other members of Spirit of Nature. His playing can be found on several movie and documentary soundtracks.

Xia Wenjie graduated from the school of the Shanghai Traditional Orchestra and was the banhu soloist at the Shanghai Opera House. He has been involved in many operatic productions and has composed several works, as well as received several prizes in solo competitions.

For more information about Spirit of Nature, visit the link below. The convocation was co-sponsored by the International Center, making it part of this year's international focus on East Asia.

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