Saturday, April 19, 2008
An expat friend called me and in an excited voice told me about a Chinese music concert she went to and asked if I'd like to go with her this weekend. Her enthusiasm sounded like it was something I should check out and it was a gem.
In Xidan there's a place called Sunway Bookstore (in Chinese it's San Wei Shu Ju) which is housed in an old Chinese building, standing proudly despite being overshadowed by giant bank buildings.
The ground floor, actually a half basement, is a bookstore featuring specialized Chinese books, mostly history and literature. There's also a small area for people to have a sip of Chinese tea and around the circumference of the room is a gallery. Currently photographs of rural implements are being shown.
Upstairs is like walking into an attic which is done up into a scholarly studio, complete with framed calligraphy, fresh flowers, empty bird cages hanging around the room and Chinese antique desks and chairs.
Tickets are 100RMB each and it includes free tea and a small plate of nibbles of dried sugared fruit and cookies. Sometimes there are book talks in Chinese, but on Saturday evenings Chinese musicians present a concert.
This week it was a trio of men, one playing several different bamboo flutes, one playing the pipa, or Chinese guitar, and the other playing the sheng, or mouth organ.
For an hour and a half they played together, solos and duets, each piece short, but mesmerizing in terms of skill and sound. They gave introductions to their music, but it didn't matter if you didn't understand what they said. The music spoke of gentle poetic scenes, others fast, energetic events.
The man who played the sheng also brought out what looked like a bulbous vase with holes at the rounded bottom, but was actually an instrument he blew into. It created a beautiful haunting sound.
He even brought some fresh leaves and performed a piece by blowing onto the back of the small leaf as he was accompanied by the pipa player.
The setting and music almost felt like we were going back in time, as some pieces dated back to the Han, Tang and Ming dynasties.
It was a taste of what life was like for scholars and aristocrats from long ago, surrounded by books and listening to musicians skilled at their craft.
No. 20 Fuxingmennei Street
Every Saturday at 8:30pm