We were able to sleep in a little today, compared with other days, as our bus didn’t leave until 9 a.m. After breakfast at our hotel, we headed to the Henan Provincial Museum.
Henan Performing Arts Center & Museum, Zhengzhou, China
The Henan Museum is a human and natural history and art museum, housing more than 130,000 cultural relics from throughout the ages. The modern building, opened in 1997, occupies an area of more than 100,000 squre meters, with a total floor space of 78,000 square meters. The museum is also home to the Huaxia Orchestra, an ancient instrument performance ensemble.
It would have been impossible to see everything in the museum in the time we had, but Scott was familiar with the collection and led us through, pointing out and telling us about the most important pieces and displays, which we greatly appreciated.
After touring the museum, we went into an auditorium to see the Huaxia Orchestra performance. The ensemble performs traditional music in authentic costume and on authentic replica instruments. From the museum website: “The music instruments unearthed in Henan in recent years have drawn worldwide attention, because of the diversity and quantity. Especially, the instruments from the remote antiquity which account for over ninety-percent of the musical instruments found in Henan. They include the Jiahu Bone Flute, with a history of some nine thousand years, unearthed at Jiahu, Wuyang; the Pottery Drum and Pottery Xun; with a five-thousand-year history, the Te Chime that belongs to the Longshan Culture of about four thousand years ago; the Bronze Bells of the Xia Palace of three thousand years ago; the Serial Cymbals and the Fish-shaped Chimes of the Yin Ruins, Anyang. As well as the Chime Bells of the State Ying and State Guo and from the Western Zhou Dynasty, the chimes, bells, drums, se, xiao, qin and sheng. The instruments are not only of unique configurations, but also have diapasons and standards much like that of modern music.”
“When we walked in to the auditorium, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. My knowledge of ‘ancient music’ was firmly limited in the western tradition–which I also know little about. Large sets of bells varying in size, filled the stage, pitched stones (I think it was jade), large drums, and two raised flat surfaced stringed instruments (I can’t remember the name, if I did I wouldn’t have the slightest idea on how to spell it); several wind instrument players also came on to the stage. The performers entered in what could assumed to be traditional dress, long red robes with jade ornaments for the women, and tall black hats for the men. Despite all of the music being performed without vocal parts, each piece was based on poetry from various Chinese writers. The performance brought moments of tranquility as well as despair. Coupling between the depth of the largest bells, as big as a yoga ball, and the large drums combined with light pings of the small bells and plucked strings, made for quite an engaging performance. It was interesting to watch the expression in the percussionisst’s arms flow gracefully between plucks of strings and strike on bells. After the performance our choir was invited to come on stage and play the instruments! While attempting to figure out how the bell and pitched stones were organized with the added challenge of a language barrier between the choir and the performers, it was solfege to the rescue! One of the percussionists said each syllable while striking the corresponding stone. Then, Kimber and the percussionist proceeded to exchange little tunes on the bells from Twinkle Twinkle Little Star to Fur Elise. That is one thing that has continued to amaze me over the course of the trip; our ability to communicate and share music while coming from vastly different languages, much less cultures. Music has its own language, its own culture, and this has never been clearer to me than throughout this tour.” — Grace Weaver
Our lunch was plentiful and representative of typical Zhengzhou cuisine, which is a little richer, heavier, more exotic than the food in Beijing and Xi’an. And it always includes a whole fish.
After lunch we had a rehearsal at the Henan Art Center. This beautiful facility is situated on a lakeside and was designed by the internationally renowned architect, Carlos Ott. The complex features an opera house with seating for 1800, a concert hall with seating for 800, a multi-purpose hall with seating for 300, and some art galleries. There is also an outdoor stage and concert area with an interactive fountain for children. The egg-shaped building were apparently inspired by ancient Chinese musical instruments. Our rehearsal and this evening’s performance were in the 800-seat concert hall.
Between the rehearsal and our concert, we were fed a “snack” of Zhengzhou style fast food. This consisted of rice and small amounts of several other dishes served in compartmentalized trays with lids, and disposable chopsticks. Because it is the time of the Dragon Festival in China, for the second time we were served the special treat people eat during the Dragon Festival: Zong Zi. Basically this is sticky rice with a sweet Chinese date, wrapped in bamboo leaves, tied with string and baked or steamed.
After our snack we were treated to a private tour of the galleries, which were actually closed at this particular time, however, the doors were opened just for us, and we were given a private tour. The galleries housed a beautifully displayed children’s art show, a show of prints made from rubbings of ancient hyroglyphics carved into stone, and a “behind the scenes” display and pictorial history of the Henan Opera.
To our delight, the concert hall was pretty full by our performance time. We were told that the Department of Culture officials working with us sent information to people who sing in choirs throughout Zhengzhou, so much of our audience was made up of singers of all ages.
“The concert was amazing. From the very beginning, the choir sang in a way I hadn’t heard us sing all year long. The audience was incredibly appreciative, which was really neat. But the choir really came together for that concert. The way we sang our pieces, at least in my opinion, changed completely. But my favorite moment of the concert was when we began singing ‘Molihua.’ I probably watched the audience more during that piece than I should have. But there was a woman in the second row, who, as soon as we started singing, clasped her hands to her heart. When I watched the way she reacted to that song, it sort of underwent a transformation for me. We were singing a song that is so special to the people of China that it became so much more special to me. Many parts of that concert were better musically and emotionally than our previous performances.” — Anna Patch
The concert was followed by another wonderful Chinese hotpot dinner, hosted by our friends in the Department of Culture. Eating hotpot is a very social experience and takes a long time, so it’s really kind of an activity. We felt great about our concert and dinner felt like a celebration of our relationship with the people in Zhengzhou and of a successful performance. Everyone seemed to have a really good time that evening.