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February 29, 2020

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Tribute in song to human spirit in trying times

“How do you feel about your parents being at the front line?” a journalist from a Sichuan television station asks.

“Bad,” replies 8-year-old Qi Hongmin as he chokes back tears. “I stay at home alone and feel very lonely.”

“How do you handle that?” the journalist asks.

“Uh ... I take deep breaths,” the boy says.

Qi’s father is a police assistant and his mother is a physician’s assistant in Panzhihua, Sichuan Province. Both are on duty at a highway checkpoint during the novel coronavirus epidemic, taking temperatures and checking ID cards.

The video of the interview with their son went viral on social media. It amassed more than 7.6 million “likes” on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, and provoked an emotional response from viewers.

Yang Ruwen, a professor at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, and Pan Cheng, one of his senior students, were among those moved by the child’s courage.

“My heart aches for the little boy,” said Yang. “After watching the video, I wanted to let him know that he is not alone.”

So, Yang and Pan spent five days jointly writing a song called “Deep Breathing.”

“The mood of the song is calm and warm,” said Yang. “It comes from the heart. Without too many embellishments, the song praises humanity.”

Pan provided most of the lyrics, the tune and the vocals. Yang created the lyrics of this refrain:

“Baby, don’t cry, don’t fear.

If you feel lonely, just take a deep breath.

Baby, don’t cry, don’t fear.

When people breathe freely, mom and dad will be home.”

“It took me only a couple of minutes to come up with the refrain lyrics,” said Yang. “I wanted to reach out to the boy who deeply inspired me.”

For his part, Pan, 23, said he wanted to capture the feelings of a parent in the rest of the lyrics. Initially he thought he would write them from the perspective of an elder brother but found it hard to make that approach resonate with listeners.

“I recalled my childhood and experienced a sense of déjà vu,” said Pan. “When I was a child staying home alone, I often looked out the window, waiting for my parents to come home. I was even familiar with the sound of their car. Once I heard it, I ran to the window with excitement. Sometimes I got it wrong and that upset me.”

One line of his lyrics reads: “The corner outside the window, the next moment, mom and dad will be home.”

Keeping the composition simple, Pan accompanied the lyrics with piano, violin, viola and cello.

“In terms of vocals, I sing as I talk,” Pan said.

The catchy song, now listed as a “national song of excellence” in the fight against the novel coronavirus, has played on radio, TV and social media to wide acclaim.

Neither Yang nor Pan expected such phenomenal success.

“We just wanted to do something for the epidemic,” said Pan. “At the very beginning, I thought writing a song was meaningless because it couldn’t solve the dearth of medical supplies or save anyone’s life. However, I was so touched by the boy that I decided to record my feelings.”

He admitted the video of the little boy moved him to tears.

With the music conservatory still closed amid the coronavirus outbreak, Pan recorded the song at home, where he was confined after a neighborhood member tested positive for the virus.

Daring not to go out, Pan lived on instant noodles, but the initial hardships have eased and he is now preparing at home for his postgraduate entrance examination.

Yang and Pan are not the only ones who have expressed their feelings about the coronavirus outbreak in music. The songs of other teachers and students at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music have been uploaded on school’s official WeChat account (shcm1927).

Also, Shanghai Daily reported earlier this week that Matthew Cline, a Canadian ninth grader at an international school in Shanghai, composed a song entitled “Wuhan, We Are with You.” Recorded by a band of classmates, the video has gone viral worldwide.

“Music has its social functions,” said Yang. “It reflects culture. Lyrics can tell a story that resonates with the public and evokes emotions.”


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