Wednesday, December 28, 2005

My tea book and Chinese music from Santa

There were no tea leaves under the Christmas tree this year. This is a good thing, because it gives me the opportunity to choose my tea myself thanks to some generous hong bao (red enveloppes filled with cash according to Chinese tradition). However, I did receive several related items:

- A walk inside the world of Chinese Tea is Teaparker's latest book and the one with beautiful color pictures (previous books had only black and white pictures). I already know most of the material, but I just love the pictures of old Chinese tea ware. Besides, in the last chapter he tests and tastes the most important Chinese teas. I noticed he give his best grades to Wu Yi Mountain Da Hong Pao.

- Lots of Chinese music (directly from the records company):

Looking Forward to People Life. The sound of the zheng is similar to the guqin (both from the zither family). Master Lin Mao-Ken is only accompanied by a yahu performed by Lin Chi-Heng and thus creates an intimate feeling very fitting when drinking gongfu cha alone. The melody is rather slow and lets your mind easily wander in the realm of Chinese culture.

Ode to Cheng -pai Mountain is performed by Ms Wu Yu-Xia (born in 1959), a member of China Musicians Association. In 1980 she won the second prize in the First Annual Pipa Contest. Here, she plays Pipa (pi-pa or p'i-p'a), a four-stringed lute with 30 frets and pear-shaped body. The instrumentalist holds the pipa upright and play with five small plectra attached to each finger of the right hand. The pipa history can be dated back at least 2000 years and developed from pentatonic to full scales. This instrument has extremely wide dynamic range and remarkable expressive power. Some of the music is from Mr Yu Ching-Yu, a contemporary composer and teacher at the Dept of Arts in Cheng Jen University in Beijing. The other pieces are older or taken from Chinese opera. Sometimes it's solo, and at other times there a small orchestra performing the music. The range of emotions and styles is therefore wider than in the previous CD. This also means that some pieces fit my tea mood better than others. (The seventh song is called 'crying' and certainly moved my soul. Luckily the next song 'Catching swans' lifted my spirits again).

Fantasia of Chai-Tou-Feng is dedicated to the di, or di-tzu, the traditional Chinese flute. The di has eight holes, there is one blow hole, a hole covered with a piece of membrane, and the other six are finger holes. It has a range of about two octaves and a di player will often carry around many different di because they are in different keys. Its sharp shrill sound means that only one is needed in an orchestra. The first piece (28 minutes) features is taken from an opera with a big orchestra and a singer (not fitting intimate gongfu cha). The second piece 'Freshness in the date tree garden' is a joyful and innocent solo. So much joy is almost too much to bear for my (still too cynical) western mood. Next, 'Music of the Rainbow - Cloth Dance' brings exactly the right, slow tea mood back. This time the di is accompanied by a guzheng... The rest is along these 3 moods. Nice flute work, but more fitting when you have lots of people drinking and laughing.

Beautiful Chien - Chang City in the Moonlight has zheng performed by the famous Chiu Ta-Ceng (born in 1945), associate Chairperson and professor of the Dept of Instrumental Music in the China Conservatory. The music is motly composed by Nadam Hsu Hsieh-Lin (born in 1943). Her pieces involve an orchestra with several other instruments. While the mood and execution is good, some pieces are too heavy and experimental. Too many instruments playing together. It's a pity actually, because I really like when he plays some old tunes alone on this CD.

This case contains 2 CDs, An Overall Ambush and Flowing Spring Moon-Nights Along Riversides. The performer is Chinese Pipa Master Lin Shi-Cheng (born in 1922). Here again, most pieces are accompanied by an orchestra. But the other instruments are not able to overshadow the pipa and work in harmony. One of the reason is that Lin ShiCheng is THE pipa master. I may not know muchabout Chinese music. My interest is only very recent, but it's easy to hear that he really masters the instrument. There are some times when his solos are as crazy and skillfully played as guitar solos by Led Zep or Guns n' Roses. He'd be a rock'n roll or jazz legend (like Miles Davis) had he lived in the West. This is not a cheesy, traditionnal Chinese music you put in the background. It's a Chinese music that plays with your soul, your stomach. I'm listening to his most famous piece right now (An Overall Ambush 12 min and I almost get chicken skin!). You can listen to it here. The second CD is much more peaceful.

Green Rivulet with Flowing Spring performed by guqin master Xie Dao-Xiou (previous gift from my wife) is therefore still the music I prefer to listen to when making gongfu cha. No big orchestra or fancy, modern composition. Just another zheng and xiao performer playing Gu-Gang Qin Rhyme from Chinese Song Dynasty. Completely classic. The very same music that was played centuries ago in China as tea entered its most inventive period. The name of each song is simple poetry:

My recommendation for those of you who want also to listen to these CD while brewing gongfu cha are:
1. Guqin: Green Rivulet with Flowing Spring (1 CD),
2. Pipa: An Overall Ambush and Flowing Spring Moon-Nights Along Riversides (2 CDs),
3. Zheng: Looking Forward to People Life (1 CD).
You can order directly from me (with some tea)! The price of one CD is 8 USD / 7 Euros, without transportation.

No comments: