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March 4, 2016

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Tweeting birds and dancing dragons in New Year’s music

JUST as the “Blue Danube Waltz” by Johann Strauss salutes the New Year on January 1 in concerts in the West, China has a number of pieces that have become musical staples for Chinese New Year celebrations.

Aside from marking festivities that welcome the New Year, these traditional folk pieces are often played at temple fairs or village theatrical performances.

In this new column, Shanghai Daily introduces traditional music, its history and cultural significance. We start with New Year’s compositions. If you scan the QR code or call up the story online, you will be able to listen to the music.

• ‘Spring Festival Overture’ 春节序曲

Some things never change, and so for several decades, CCTV has used the “Spring Festival Overture” as a theme song for its annual Spring Festival Gala. The overture, part of the “Spring Festival Suite,” was composed by Li Huanzhi in the 1950s and is based on his time in Yan’an in Shaanxi Province.

The overture starts with a melody featuring rhythms of rural yangge dances and follows up with folk songs popular in Shaanxi to recreate the scene of people dancing to celebrate the New Year. Suona, a Chinese horn, and traditional percussion like drums, gongs and cymbals play major roles in this overture.

• ‘Dance of the Golden Snake’ 金蛇狂舞

The name of this popular festive piece is a little misleading. It has nothing to do with snakes. Rather it is about dancing dragons, according to Professor Liu Hong at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music.

Han dragon dances inspired composer Nie Er to compose this piece in the 1930s. Nie is best known for composing the “March of the Volunteers,” China’s national anthem. “Dance of the Golden Snake” was composed for traditional Chinese orchestras, heavily featuring percussion instruments and changing rhythms.

“It sounds like an interesting math game,” says Liu.

• ‘Birds Paying Homage to the Phoenix’ 百鸟朝凤

The songs of cuckoos, partridges, swallows, magpies and larks are recreated in this folk piece that was long popular in Shandong, Henan, Hebei and Anhui provinces, each with slightly different adaptations. It calls for talented suona players.

“The calls of different birds are like scattered, shining pearls, while folk melodies are interspersed like the chain linking all the pearls into one beautiful necklace,” says Liu.



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