SOAS University of London

Department of Music, School of Arts

Track 3: Geese Dancing on the Sandy Isle (China)

Cheng Yu

Geese Descending on the Sandy isle (Pipa Suite Music)

A classical theme often seen in the Guquin an Zheng (21-stringed zither with bridges) repertoires. It is one of the masterpieces of the Pinghu school for the Pipa and first appeared in Hua Quiping Pipa Score in 1818. It depicts a group of geese flying North in late Autumn. The subtitles are: In Flight, Honking on a Frosty Morning, Wings Beating on Sandy Isle, Soaring High, Sunshine for a thousand Miles, Changing Formations and Homeward Bound.

Performer: Cheng Yu

Cheng Yu was born in Beijing and was taught the Pipa (4-stringed lute) by her father from the age of 7. Her outstanding talent in Pipa performance and interpretation of Pipa art has been widely recognised. She has won several top prizes in Pipa performance including the 'China Youth Competition on Traditional Instruments' at the age of 13, and the 'excellent performer' award at the China Traditional Instruments Competition in 1983. Having studied the at the Pudong School of Pipa with her father Cheng Junming and Lin Shicheng, she spent 7 years at Xi'an Conservatory of Music in north west China to master the important Pinghu school of Pipa and to study the Guqin (7-stringed zither). In 1987, she graduated with distinction and worked as a Pipa soloist in the China Central Orchestra of National Music in Beijing. Since 1990, she has been based in London.

She has performed throughout Europe, Asia, Canada, and the USA, and has worked with such organisations as WOMAD, Arts in Action and Real World. In 1995, she completed her MMus in Ethnomusicology at SOAS, and is currently researching for her PhD in Xi'an's old ensemble music exploring the intricate relationships between the living music, historical sources and religious contexts. She is the founder of the UK Chinese Ensemble (established in 1990) and teaches Pipa, Guqin, and Chinese Ensemble class at SOAS.

Instrument: Pipa

The Pipa is a fretted lute with four strings. It is a close relative of the Eastern lutes and Japanese Biwa, and came to China from central Asia through the 'silk road' in the 4-5th century. During the Golden Tang (618-907) period, the Pipa gained favour over the elegant often served as a lead instrument in the music of the sophisticated Tang court. Of all Chinese instruments the Pipa has undergone the most dramatic series of changes: the up-right position of holding the Pipa has gradually replaced the Tang horizontal way, hand-plucking has replaced the use of a plectrum, 25-27 frets have been gradually added to the body, a straight head has replaced the crooked Tang style and the traditional silk strings have been replaced by steel.

The Pipa is deeply rooted in the culture and traditions of a wide range of social groups. It shares with the Guqin an important historical role in the self-cultivation of the elites and aristocracy of the imperial dynasties; it features prominently in the earthy folk styles of, for example, the Silk and Bamboo ensembles of the Shanghai tea house; and is the key instrument to the Nanguan narrative singing in Fujian on the south-east coast. The music of the Pipa is famed for its unique rich expressions. Four contrasting styles in the traditional solo repertoires are distinguished: civil (wen), martial (wu), suite (da) and individual (xiao). Civil pieces are often slow, poetic, and refined, expressing the beauty of nature and intimate feelings, while martical pieces are frenetic, dramatic and often depict vividly a battle or historical event. Suite style moderates both the civial and martical characteristics and is often lively and rhythmic. Individual pieces are short, usually with 68 beats, and may be combined into 'suites'.