China Daily | Summer camps promote traditional art forms
China Daily | Summer camps promote traditional art forms
Children play the role of the Monkey King at The Star Theatre in Beijing.
By Chen Nan | China Daily
Updated:July 29, 2019
Seasonal gatherings gaining in popularity
Chen Jiayi was not keen on playing the pipa when her father first suggested she study the 2,000-year-old, four-stringed Chinese musical instrument. She was about 10 years old at the time and had earlier spent two years learning to play piano.
"For a start, the piano is much easier to play than the pipa," said Chen, 21, a Beijing native, adding that her fingertips have fake nails which she uses to pluck the strings. "It was uncomfortable in the beginning," she added.
Although she never expected to enjoy the pipa, she joined a traditional Chinese folk music troupe at her primary school and became one its best performers, and later continued her musical studies at summer camp.
About a year after she mastered the pipa, Chen was diagnosed with aplastic anemia, a rare blood marrow disorder, and had to suspend her schooling.
She has experienced side effects from her medication, including delayed puberty and hyperandrogenism－a medical condition characterized by excessive levels of androgens (male hormones such as testosterone) in the female body－and the associated effects of elevated levels of the hormones.
But this has not stopped her from playing. Chen said she loves the sound of the pipa, "which is like pearls falling on a jade plate".
"I've been through a lot after falling ill, and music is very important to me. I love playing old songs, such as Pipa Xing by Tang Dynasty (618-907) poet Bai Juyi, as it's sorrowful but powerful," she said.
When she was 14, Chen saw renowned pipa recitalist Zhang Hongyan perform on television, and quickly became a fan. She wrote a letter to Zhang, who teaches at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, and they became friends.
In 2011, Zhang launched a summer camp as part of the annual Gateway to Music festival－one of Beijing's biggest arts festivals for children which has been staged during the summer vacation since 1995 and is run by the Forbidden City Concert Hall. Chen joined the camp and continued her pipa studies.
Now in its eighth year, the pipa camp this summer was held from July 17 to 19 at the concert hall, attracting nearly 200 students. Chen could not take part because of her health, but she visited Zhang there.
Zhang said during the camp: "I am very proud and happy to see many young Chinese people love to play the pipa. Arts education is a key aspect of what we do as professional musicians and educators. Teaching inspires not only the students, but also the teachers in many ways."
Zhang added that eight years ago, when the Forbidden City Concert Hall invited her to launch the pipa venture, it was the first summer camp at the Gateway to Music festival dedicated to a traditional Chinese instrument.
Before this, Western instruments, ballet and vocal training dominated the camp programs.
In the first year, about 30 students joined the camp, with the number doubling the following year. Zhang conducts lessons along with 20 of her students from the Central Conservatory of Music, who volunteer to teach the children based on their musical attainment.
One of the pipa teachers at the summer camp, Ning Yan, 38, who studied with Zhang and graduated from the Central Conservatory of Music with a master's in pipa performance in 2007, said: "The pipa is an ancient Chinese musical instrument, which involves all the fingers in the playing. We don't set age limits for the summer camp, so every year, we see students from 5 up to 60 years old playing the instrument together in the classroom."
Ning now teaches the pipa at the Ocean University of China's Department of Art in Qingdao, Shandong province.
With 16 summer camps teaching Western classical music, traditional Chinese opera, traditional Chinese folk dance and calligraphy to children, as well as more than 100 live performances and public lectures, the Gateway to Music festival started on July 2 and runs until Aug 31.
Xu Jian, general manager of the Forbidden City Concert Hall, said that as more and more parents are encouraging their children to learn to play traditional Chinese musical instruments, the festival invites many artists to join in by giving public lectures and lessons. The summer camp programs also feature music psychologists interacting with parents. They discuss issues such as music education and ways to help children get t
he most out of their lessons.
Rebecca Campbell, a Chinese-Australian living in Beijing, allowed her three children, Joshua, 10, Gabriel, 8, and Elizabeth, 6, to join the percussion summer camp during this year's festival.
She said that last year, Joshua took part in the Peking Opera summer camp, which was a great experience for him.
"I wanted the kids to learn about Peking Opera this year, but the tickets sold out fast," she said. "Percussion is fun, too. They played various instruments, such as the African drum, hand drum and the Chinese big drum."
She moved to Beijing from Sydney with her husband Tim and the children a few years ago. The couple works in the capital.
Joshua Campbell, who is also learning piano and violin, said, "I love the rhythm of percussion and I couldn't help making drum beats on my lap in the car on my way to the summer camp."
During the festival, nine Beijing art troupes, including the Jingju Theater Company of Beijing, the China National Acrobatic Troupe and the China National Theatre for Children, will tour Tianjin and Baoding, Hengshui and Tangshan in Hebei province.
The Forbidden City Concert Hall stages just one of the numerous summer camps that have sprung up nationwide to offer students the chance to access traditional Chinese art forms.
The Star Theatre in Beijing stages many of the smaller Peking Opera productions. On June 16 last year, an 80-minute play based on three classic Peking Opera stories for children premiered at the venue, and by June 30 this year, 100 sold-out shows had been staged there.
Han Yuechao, a Star Theatre producer, said many parents wanted their children to learn something about Peking Opera, so in January it held workshops on the art form for the first time.
"We started by painting Peking Opera masks. The children are attracted by the colors and famous roles, such as the Monkey King," Han said. "These days, kids have many forms of entertainment. We hope that they can get something out of the traditional art form."
Peking Opera, known as jingju in Chinese, combines several art forms, including singing, dancing, martial arts and acrobatics. In 2010, UNESCO declared it an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
This summer, Han directed and produced a new play, Super Little Heroes, in which three classic Peking Opera roles are performed－the Monkey King, Hua Mulan and Ne Zha.
Five artists from professional schools and companies, including the National Peking Opera Company and Jingju Theater Company of Beijing, took part in the performances and workshops.
The new play, which premiered on July 13, is being staged at the Star Theatre during the summer, along with workshops given by Peking Opera performers.
Chen Weitong, 6, took part in the Peking Opera summer camp at the Star Theatre last year.
She said, "On the first day, my teacher drew a monkey's face on my face, and when I looked in the mirror, it was very funny."
Chen's mother, Deng Wei, has taken her to more than 300 live performances since the girl was just 18 months old, including ballet, classical music concerts and musicals.
"When we watched plays performed by Peking Opera artists, it felt very different from Western art forms. Although the plays are designed for children, I learned a lot as an adult," Deng said.
Ren Yu, a 23-year-old student at Beijing Vocational College of Opera and Arts, who started learning Peking Opera when she was 10, has taken part in two Star Theatre plays and workshops since last summer. "For children, Peking Opera is not old-fashioned... as long as the programs are interesting, they learn fast and with passion," she said.
Her twin sister, Ren Ying, is studying at the National Academy of Chinese Theatre Arts in Beijing and has performed in Peking Opera plays for children staged by the Star Theatre.
In Super Little Heroes, Ren Yu plays Hua Mulan, a legendary heroine from the Southern and Northern dynasties (420-581), who filled her aging father's shoes to resist the invasion of the nomadic Huns from Central Asia.
"Children not only learn about Peking Opera but also the important virtues of China, such as loyalty and courage," she said.
To popularize the ancient art form among young audiences, the government in Yantai, Shandong province, held summer camp programs from July 19 to 24, with artists from the Jingju Theatre Company of Beijing coaching young students in painting Peking Opera masks, acting and giving live performances.
The origins of Peking Opera date to 1790, when four Hui Opera troupes came to Beijing as part of celebrations for the 80th birthday of the Qianlong Emperor (1711-99) of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), and stayed on. Hui opera, or Huiju, is a regional genre of the art form from Anhui province.
Later, around 1840, Peking Opera began to formally take shape, growing even faster during the reign of the Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908), who was a Chinese opera lover.
After this, Peking Opera went from strength to strength, and troupes were formed in Beijing, Tianjin and Shanghai.
Zhang Shuo, director of the Yantai Art Museum, said Peking Opera became popular in Yantai in the 19th century after some well-known masters of the art form performed there, including Tan Xinpei (1847-1917), the founder of Tan-style performance. Tan, who gave three shows in Yantai in 1868, was the first Peking Opera master to perform in the city.
"At the time, Peking Opera troupes that toured the country stopped by the docks in Yantai, as the city was regarded as a place to test the artists' popularity," Zhang said. "Many parents now bring their kids to Yantai, as it's a popular tourist destination. With the Peking Opera camp, they can enjoy a different summer."
During the camp, the Yantai Art Museum stages a Peking Opera exhibition, displaying artworks that include paper-cuts, ink paintings, sculptures and makeup to introduce the art form's history and characters. On Aug 7, the exhibition will move to Beijing.