By Carol Hsieh
The CIEE students in Taipei attended a cultural music performance on Sept. 6 in the Wanhua district in celebration of the Mid-Autumn Festival.
“At first we were planning to have a BBQ party as we often do for Mid-Autumn Festival,” said CIEE Director Christie Chang. But she changed her mind after she learned there was going to be a Chinese orchestra performance. “It’s culturally specific and I think the students could gain a lot from it,” she said.
The students were invited to the backstage immediately before the show itself to see the rehearsal and interact with the performers.
Megan Ferguson from Seton Hall University, who had been in Taiwan for the second week at the time of the show, said that before the show, she could only imagine that the performance would be very different to the Western musicals she is familiar with.
“Prior to preparation for the show, I was not sure what to expect,” said Ferguson. “After watching part of a rehearsal for the show, I was very excited! It was an incredible opportunity to hear some Chinese music from all parts of the country.”
The show, titled Storyteller’s Music Theater—The Legend of Li Mao, was put together by Taipei-based Chin-Yuan Chinese Orchestra and Taiwan’s Ministry of Culture.
Cheng Hui-Chung, the costume designer for the orchestra members, helped connect the CIEE students to the cultural event.
“Ideally, we hope that foreign students could know more about Taiwan through various cultural aspects of color, sound, odor, taste, and sense of touch,” said Cheng. “This performance covers the cultural aspects of sound and would show the students the various music and vocal styles developed on the island through time.”
The arena took place in the older part of Taipei, where many ancient buildings were kept and transformed into cultural shops, theaters, or featured restaurants. It was also one of the spots in Taipei where French director Luc Besson filmed for the movie Lucy in 2013.
In the show, a man speaks on stage as he wields a writing brush just slightly smaller than his hand, performing Chinese calligraphy large sheets of xuan paper. A band of traditional music artists, either sitting or standing at the other side of the stage with their Chinese flute, zither, pipa, or other less common-seen music instruments, follows the man’s tone and tempo, playing out streams of beautiful ethnic melodies.
The man with the writing brush, or the “storyteller”, tells of the stories of a fictitious music talent Li Mao in ancient Taiwan. Originated in China in Song Dynasty, the storytelling is a traditional form of stage performance in which the storyteller, often with a script in his hand, strings a series of events in a novel with words, songs, and sometimes a little acting.
The talented orchestra members and vocalists complement the storyteller’s words with lyrics, music pieces from various eras of the Chinese and Taiwanese history.
“In the very beginning of Taiwan’s music history, the island was filled with natural sounds” like the sound of whistling wind, of animals, and of trees, said Cheng. “Then, the sound of Taiwan’s aboriginal people joined, followed by sounds of various instruments introduced to the island at different times.”
Some of the student might find it hard to follow because of language barrier, but the CIEE ambassadors present were there to explain the story.
Michelle Poulin, an Anthropology and Asian Studies major from New York, said the musicians, particularly the opera singer, impressed her the most. “They were incredibly skillful, and the music they produced was unlike anything I've heard before,” she said.
One of the student ambassadors, Lu Yuan from central Taiwan, said that the mission of helping foreign students learn about Taiwan is interesting and at the same time challenging. “It is even like learning about the culture of my own country all over again.”
“I think the Chinese orchestra performance was pretty fun for most of the students, because they seemed quite interested in the show,” Lu said. “I talked with some of them and could really feel that they like the island. I’m happy to know it.”