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Chinese-style Catholic church music facing survival challenge
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  • http://english.dbw.cn銆€銆€ 2012-05-02 09:20:39
     

    Rays of sunshine percolate through Jesus pictures in thechurch's stained-glass windows, illuminating the yellowing pages of a vintage musicnotation book. At the front of the hall, an extraordinary band play liturgical music withan unusual twist -- it's all rendered with Chinese instruments.

    Thousands of Chinese Catholics are expected to see such a spectacle this month, asregular performances of "Catholic folk music in China" are scheduled to mark the MayDevotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary at Huzhuang Church in east China's ShandongProvince. The year-round concerts become more frequent at this special time of year,and bring this art form more into the public eye.

    "I call it 'Catholic folk music in China,'" says the band's Gao Yongzhuang, explainingthat the group's repertoire is 14 church masses of 18th-century Europe. But without aviolin or brass, they are played by five Chinese reed pipes, two bamboo flutes, threetubas and three cymbals. Although the timbre is familiarly Chinese, the melodies havemore of a baroque European air.

    "You can still feel the solemnity and holiness in the texture of rackety traditionalChinese folk music," Gao says. "The scores are written in a Chinese way."

    These notations have been passed down through three generations. They have beenrecorded by "Gongche," an old Chinese music scale using radical forms of Chinesecharacters.

    Gao, however, is worried that the music form may die out if it is not popularized with anew generation. First learning the bamboo flute when he was 22, Gao is now thenotation book protector. But he is 79, and 13 of his bandmates are in their sixties.

    "Learning to read the abstruse Gongche is the basic requirement of each player," theexperienced musician explains. "They are much more difficult than ordinary musicscores. You cannot learn it by yourself. It requires mouth-to-ear teaching."

    Gao recalls that churches in nearby villages once had their own bands, but theydisappeared due to a lack of tutors. Huzhuang Church's is the last Catholic folk musicband.

    He explains of efforts to teach successors his skills, "Young people have no time tostudy the scores. We have tried to translate it into staff notations, and played withstring and brass instruments, but such efforts went sour. It just sounds out of tune."

    The tunes they play have titles like "Cheshangwu" and "Hesihe," all of them estimablyGerman transliterations in local dialects. "It's seemingly an unlikely task to retrieve theiroriginal sources," Gao adds.

    According to Guo Hongsheng, the village head, a German priest designed HuzhuangChurch in 1909. It was destroyed in the 1960s and rebuilt in 1998.

    Now, the band players come to church every few days to offer a rendition forchurchgoers. They often wear crimson Tang-style suits, a little bit incompatible with theCatholic Church. But the audience love the experience.

    Huzhuang Church, at the foot of a hill named Virgin Mary in Shandong, is amongChina's top three Catholic cathedrals. Together with the Lourdes Virgin Mary Church atthe top of the hill, it attracts 100,000 pilgrims every year.

    Author锛? 銆€銆€銆€Source锛? xinhua 銆€銆€銆€ Editor锛? Yang Xiaoming