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CCCI Special Performance: Wu Man and the Huayin puppet troupe folk band

With Wu Man

March 19, 8:00 p.m., Barnes Hall

Having previously given a CCCI Lecture in Spring 2016 and holding a concert with the Shanghai Quartet, Wu Man returns to campus for this special performance at 8:00 PM in Barnes Hall. For her latest visit to Cornell, Wu Man joins the brilliant Huayin Shadow Puppet Band (formerly known as the Zhang Family Band) for performances of old tune traditional music with shadow puppetry.

Pipa virtuoso Wu Man is regarded as a leading ambassador of Chinese music and culture. She has spent much of her career establishing a place for the pipa in contemporary musical culture and familiarizing modern audiences with the instrument, whose history dates back over two thousand years. She has travelled throughout North America, China and Central Asia in search of ways to bridge the past and present, and connect diverse cultures around the globe.

 China has a vibrant cultural heritage that dates back thousands of years, and the country’s rich and diverse musical tradition forms a vital part of that heritage. Chinese traditional music, including religious and instrumental music, folk songs, and opera, is deeply ingrained in people’s daily lives and intersects with such other art forms and traditions as drama, storytelling, and shadow puppetry. Yet, in an increasingly globalized world, many of these ancient traditions are “endangered” and urgently need to be preserved. One of Wu Man’s objectives as an artist is to bring these traditions to a global audience through her pipa playing and collaborations, so that contemporary listeners can experience firsthand the earthy, wild Chinese folk style.

A number of years ago, Wu Man traveled to China’s remote regions to unearth the country’s ancient musical traditions that are in danger of being lost, and explored the traditions of the Huayin Shadow Puppet Band, known then as the Zhang Family Band. The band comprises farmers from Shaanxi Province’s Huayin County in a rural village at the foot of Mount Hua in northwest China. For more than 300 years the Huayin Shadow Puppet Band has toured the countryside, bringing its rugged shadow puppet plays that call to life the mythical heroes and gods of the oral folk culture of Shaanxi, often evoking famous battles of the Tang dynasty (618–907), to temple fairs and rituals.

The shadow puppet plays are accompanied by “old tune” (laoqiang) traditional music with guttural and high-pitched singing (by senior singer Zhang Ximin) with a rough, mad spirit; percussion including clappers, cymbals and gongs; stringed instruments including the yueqin (moon-lute) and fiddle; the shawm, a double-reed instrument similar to the oboe; and a natural trumpet.

The shadow puppetry tradition that exists in the village first appeared during the Qing Dynasty under Emperor Qianlong (1736-1796) and has been passed down from generation to generation. For many years the shadow puppetry was part of the Zhang family household only, and not until recently has it been passed down to performers outside the family.

Wu Man brings the Huayin Shadow Puppet Band to the U.S. for only the second time (their first visit was in 2009 as the Zhang Family Band) in an effort to not only preserve this traditional art form, but also show its relevance in our 21st century. In this program Wu Man performs both solo pipa and with the Huayin Shadow Puppet Band.



Pipa solo suite: two traditional pieces― Flute and Drum Music at Sunset (lyrical style)― Ambush from Ten Sides (martial style)

Round Sun and Crescent Moon in the HeavensA stirring overture from a recent spoken play Plain of the White Deer, arranged by scholar Dang Anhua. The lyrics explore the lives of peasant men and women.

A Bright Pearl in the SeaAn ode to battle sung by the Tang general Qin Qiong.

Shiyang jing (instrumental)Interludes that punctuate the drama, resting the puppeteers’ voices.

Pipa solo: improvisation

All Desolate on the Eastern Campaign (with puppets)A drama evoking the threat to the Tang Empire from the Korean kingdom of Koguryo.

Ancient Song of the Guanzhong PlainThe gods and generals may have created the landscape, but peasant life must go on.

The Won-Done SongA meditation on the vanity of human ambitions, from Cao Xueqin’s celebrated 18th-century novel The Story of the Stone.

Pipa and percussion: folk music― Dragon Boat― Purple Bamboo Tune

Three Heroes Do Battle with Lü Bu (with puppets)A dialogue between the celebrated ancient warriors Zhang Fei and Lü Bu as they do battle.

The General’s Orders Stir the Mountains and RiversA martial song that inspires the troops’ preparations for battle.