“The bold strings rattled like splatters of sudden rain,
The fine strings hummed like lovers? whispers.
Chattering and pattering, pattering and chattering,
As pearls, large and small, on a jade plate fall.”
Bai Juyi, ?Pipa Xing? (?Pipa Play?)
Album: Gao Hong, Quiet Forest, Flowing Stream (Innova Records 2010)
The Sound of Fearless Serendipity
Hong both plays and composes for the Chinese pipa, a stringed instrument that has existed in China since the third century BC. The pipa looks somewhat like an elongated lute and produces what many westerners would consider to be the characteristically Chinese musical sound.
Quiet Forest, Flowing Stream is Hong’s first album featuring her own compositions. This virtuoso composed nearly every piece on the album, and her music seethes with passion and virility even as it typifies artistic delicacy and restraint.
The instrumentation is superb. Far from becoming a reckless mishmash of varied ethnicities, the instruments complement, balance, and enhance one other. The first composition, ?Butterfly,? is an ecstatic interplay of cello, voice, veena, tabla, and pipa. The title track is a blissfully enchanting duet between the pipa and the sitar (played by Joseph Schad).
?Courage? and ?Celebration? are both Hong’s tributes to her daughter Alida, the survivor of a long and painful struggle with leukemia. But these are far from the sentimental rhapsodies one might expect in response to this subject. Manic voices and driving, aggressive percussion signify a strength and determination That’s jarringly beautiful.
Quiet Forest, Flowing Stream manifests six of The Mindful Bard’s criteria for music well worth a listen: 1) it is authentic, original, and delightful; 2) it makes me want to be a better artist; 3) it gives me tools which help me be a better artist; 4) it displays an engagement with and compassionate response to suffering; 5) it inspires an awareness of the sanctity of creation; and 6) it provides respite from a sick and cruel world, a respite enabling me to renew myself for a return to mindful artistic endeavour.