North American Guqin Association

Voice Discussion at Online Guqin Concert

(English Transcript)

Host: good morning, this is the People's Daily Online Forum. We are here in the live audio broadcasting room. My name is Han Hong. The 40-minute online guqin concert is over. Famous musicians from both China and abroad have enabled us to enjoy the charm of the guqin.

Host: Now let me introduce our four guests to you. Wang Fei, guqin player, writer, multimedia producer, director of the North American Guqin Association and initiator of this first ever online guqin concert; Li Xiangting, professor at the Central Conservatory, vice president of the China Guqin Association and adviser to the North American Guqin Association; Wu Zhao, guqin musician and historian, president of the China Guqin Association; and Jim, a guqin artist from America. Welcome to our studio.

Wang Fei, Thank you so much for hosting this event and playing the guqin for us today. Guqin is an ancient art and Internet is a new technology. We are wondering how it is that you can combine something as ancient as the guqin with something as modern as the Internet and why you are interested in organizing this guqin online concert?

Wang Fei: I think the guqin should not just be a museum piece. Since few people know about it, it should be promoted. I have found that the Internet is a very good medium for this. Guqin players and aficionados around the world can communicate through the Internet no matter where they are located, so people with different cultural backgrounds in difference locations were able to site in their office or home to watch, listen and interact with the musicians during the online guqin concert.

Host: "Liang Liang" raised a question for Professor Li Xiangting. He would like to know what activities will be held across the country this year for the guqin.

Li Xiangting: there will be several major activities this year. A guqin cultural festival will be held in Beijing on July 21, and a guqin contest will be held in August. Beijing guqin players hold a guqin gathering once a month. There will be many other guqin events.

Host: "Qixianqin" has a question: will the guqin certification examination be held once a year, and when and how can one apply for it?

Wu Zhao: It is held once in a year. Beijing is one of the test venues. The others are Shanghai, Hangzhou, Nanjing, Kunming and Chengdu. If anyone is interested in the contest, they can contact these venues.

Host: "Zhuanyan" asked Jim: as many Chinese do not know about the guqin, how did Jim get to know and love it?

Jim Binkley: I went to Taiwan to study Chinese literature around 1975. Before that, I played the classical guitar, so I decided to learn Chinese music, and began to play the guzheng. At that time, I came across an American man who was learning the guqin. After some contact with this music, I came to love it.

Host: "Guankaiwanjian" says that historically, the guqin has been viewed as high culture and some people thought it should remain in an ivory tower ,that it was not necessary to promote it. Wang Fei, what do you think?

Wang Fei: Although the guqin has been view as high culture, it is an one of the great treasures of Chinese culture. As a Chinese, I think everyone should know about of our cultural treasures, including the guqin. We need to provide as many opportunities as we can for people to know about the guqin. As to whether people like it or not, that is a matter of personal preference.

Host: "Zuan Yan" asks Professor Li if you just pay attention to your own school or take other schools into consideration as well when you are invited as a guqin examiner and teach courses?

Li Xiangting: When I learned the guqin, Wu Jinglüe taught us pieces from many schools. As guqin players, we listen to the music of all schools. People who take the exam from different schools play according to the characteristics and style of their school. Experts from different schools are invited to be examiners. When we comment, we pay attention to accuracy in pitch, rhythm and performance and how the candidate expresses the content of pieces from their own schools. There are objective standards for these elements which apply to all schools. I think good teachers and examiners are able to look beyond individual styles or preferences and evaluate people objectively.

Host: We have a question about guqin strings. What do you think of the evolution from silk to steel-nylon strings. Professor Wu, what is your opinion?

Wu Zhao: I always played on silk strings when I was learning the guqin. Before the Cultural Revolution, production of these strings ceased. Later my teacher Professor Wu Jinglue invented steel-nylon strings, which I also use. Currently I play on both types. If I make a comparison, I think silk strings are very special, but they have their own problem: they are very rough and noisy. steel-nylon strings are smooth and almost without noise. Also they do not wear out so easily, so I prefer to play on steel-nylon string when I give performances.

Host: Jim, what type of strings do youuse?

Jim Binkley: I use steel-nylon strings. I don't know where can I find silk strings. In fact, I don't care about the material the strings are made of. I think the music itself is more important.

Host: "Godfather" said the [traditional] guqin music score has both strengths and weaknesses in that different people can interpret a given piece of music in different ways. Professor Wu, do you share this view?

Wu Zhao: A guqin music score is a kind of score that records performance style. Thanks to the existence of these scores, we are still able to play pieces of music today that have not been performed for several hundred years. This is an advantage.

Host: We have a question from "Guqinyin". I think he knows the guqin well because he said he appreciates China Central Radio's special program "Improvised Music" very much and is interested in Professor Li's CD "Tao of Healing". He wants to know where he can get this CD.

Li Xiangting: The CD has been released worldwide but China has not imported it. This is because importers of audio and video CDs in China don't know about it and are afraid it won't sell well. As to how to buy the CD, maybe Wang Fei can tell us.

Wang Fei: "Improvised Music" was a special program produced by China National Radio that won the Best Production Award at the Shanghai International Music Festival. This program introduced the CD "Tao of Healing", a collection of guqin and Western flute improvisations. It was a collaboration between Professor Li Xiangting and American flautist Dean Evenson. This CD was very well received in the US. You can buy it from

Host: Just now, Professor Li referred to the fact that "Tao of Healing" is not available on the Chinese mainland. This reminds me of a question: how can the art of the guqin be accepted by the common people and by the market? Isn't there a connection between the guqin, western music and modern music? "Nothing Serious" asks the following question: why are modern works for the guqin so rarely performed?

Li Xiangting: In China, musicians know little about the guqin and it is normal that insufficient knowledge cannot inspire the desire to create. Perhaps someone wants to compose a piece for the guqin, but his lack of knowledge makes him timid; some guqin players do also compose, for example, my own "Boat Song of the Three Gorges". But all this is on a very small scale. The present time is an initial period to restore the vitality of the guqin. It has not reached the stage at which many people have become devoted to it, as is the case with other genres of folk music. However the trend is very positive.

Host: "Bluebird" has a question: is it easier for people who play the piano to learn the guqin?

Li Xiangting: I have taught the guqin for many years to all kinds of people: young, old, foreigners who don't speak Chinese, as well as people who know music and people who don't. My first principle is that you must like it. The more you like it the more easily you will learn it. It is easier if you have already learned another instrument, because then your hands are more agile. If you don't play an instrument, then it is helpful if you can read music. So if you want to start learning the guqin, it depends on how much you like it.

Host: "Galloping Horse" said that he found the guqin work on the North American Guqin Association's web pages interesting, but that the audio samples are a little short. Does Wang Fei agree?

Wang Fei: I am also a multimedia producer. Of course I would like to put whole guqin works onto the Internet, but for technical reasons it may not work well. Another important problem is copyright. We are a non-profit organization and we don't have the budget to deal with commercial copyright.

Host: "Heavenly Father" said that nowadays China's intellectuals only know the piano, and not the guqin, as being elegant, and that more children are focusing on the piano. Has Professor Wu any comment on this?

Wu Zhao: my view is that the guqin is equivalent to the piano in western societies. Of course today many children learn the piano, but the number learning the guqin is increasing, and some of their parents are also learning it. Parents think their children should learn a little guqin.

Host: Finally. We would like to have Wang Fei talk about her plans for the guqin after this online guqin concert?

Wang Fei: As a guqin teacher, performer and player of 20 years standing, as well as being a multimedia producer who has lived and been educated in both China and the US, I and some of our NAGA members who have the same interests and abilities want to build an interactive bridge for qin friends to communicate with each other, in particular to bring together western and Chinese qin friends. I have found that there are a lot of valuable Chinese guqin-related materials, especially books and CDs, which are not known in the west, and a lot of western materials that are not known in China. This is due to lack communication. I will continue to use the Interenet as well as other new technologies to build a communication bridge and continue promote the guqin so that more and more people can get to know about this part of China's cultural heritage.

Host:We have run out of time so our interview must end now. Thank you again to our four guests and for all your questions. Goodbye.



1997-2003 North American Guqin Association, All Rights Reserved.