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Gao Xiaosong and His Campus Ballad Music

As the nation watched CCTV's 2005 Chinese Spring Festival Gala, one performer who attracted attention was the female singer A Duo. As a member of the Tujia ethnicity, A Duo's style was as warm and passionate as one might expect from a newcomer on the big stage. Yet behind the curtain and behind A Duo's performance was someone who is not at all new to music, namely A Duo's producer Gao Xiaosong. He's a man of many talents, but he's perhaps best known for the many campus ballads which he has written for artists such as Lao Lang and Ye Pei.

That was the song, No Regret for My Youth, sung by Lao Lang and Ye Pei. It's a typical song of the campus ballad style, whose strongholds are China's university dormitories, and whose lyrics are sentimental in outlook. Considering that so many Chinese undergraduates and recent graduates appreciate Gao's work, what about this songwriter's own youth?

Over a decade ago, Gao Xiaosong entered Tsinghua University. Although this achievement was admirable to others, Gao was not satisfied with his lot. He was eager to express his feelings about life, and subsequently chose music as his main medium of communication. His role as musical composer would make him the driving force behind campus ballads on the Chinese Mainland, a successful style which imitated but also altered the balladry originally found in Taiwan.

After wandering his campus for three long winters, Gao made the astonishing decision to quit Tsinghua and transfer to Beijing Film Academy, where he would study movie direction. Despite this academic change of direction, his breakthrough would nonetheless take place in the field of music. In 1995, one of his compositions suddenly became extremely popular in China to make his high school classmate and chosen singer, Lao Lang, one of the most popular singers of the campus ballad movement. Let's enjoy this classic pop song, My Desk Mate.

This song brought fame to Gao, and would appear on a number of albums, including Campus Ballads Volume One, a collection of songs written by Gao. Another song from this compilation of simple but melodic tunes is entitled Office Worker. It's a song that succinctly expresses reality, as it vividly describes the daily life and thoughts of an ordinary office worker.

During his early days, Gao wrote many campus ballads for his old friend Lao Lang. On Lao Lang's debut album, the 1995 release Love in Life, all of the songs were written by Gao.

Arguably the real high came for Gao Xiaosong in 1996, when he released his second album, Campus Ballads Volume Two, to further acclaim among China's student population. In that same year Gao also put on his own concert in Nanjing.

As time went by, Gao Xiaosong branched out into film directing and record promotion, although he continued to write extremely successful songs. Of particular note is Gao's formation of a record company called Cornfield, on which he would transform two unknown singers into the two famous pop stars Pu Shu and Ye Pei.

Pu Shu writes his own songs, but Ye Pei's songs are mostly composed by Gao. Let's listen to one of Ye Pei's most famous songs, the naive but beautiful White Dress Dancing.

Another female singer discovered by Gao Xiaosong was Junzi. After being taken under Gao's wing, she released her first album in 2000 to a good public response. The three title tracks of her album are quite unique, since they stand for the three solar terms of the traditional Chinese calendar: the vernal equinox, autumn's beginning and midwinter. Unfortunately the success of this album could not prevent Junzi from committing suicide later that year, even though her songs were successful enough to remain popular to this day.

As we hinted earlier, Gao Xiaosong has also been involved in film-making over the years. Principally, he directed a film called Where Have All the Flowers Gone? which tells of the triangular relationship between a girl and two boys. The famous singers and actors Zhou Xun, Xia Yu and Pu Shu made the film successful, although many considered it somewhat unnecessarily difficult to understand.

Despite other non-musical project, Gao kept in close contact with his best friend Lao Lang. In the year 2004, Lao Lang released his new album, Clear. This time round, Gao was not solely in control of the production process, but some of his works are still included on the album. A good example of one of Gao's tracks is Escaped from the Tiger, which shows him to be as elegant and sentimental as ever.

Besides the campus ballad singers, Gao Xiaosong also wrote music to accommodate the demands of the many pop stars who had come to admire his talent. For example, two of the most famous pop stars in China, Liu Huan and Na Ying, have both asked him to compose songs for them.

In a recent interview Gao Xiaosong said that he has bade farewell to his traditional style of campus music and now wants to express his ideas about life in a different manner. Therefore we are still expecting more from this talented songwriter.

(CRI March 11, 2005)

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