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Folk Music Makes It into the Classroom

The first ever folk music master class given by world-renowned musicians like Tan Dun and Ma Xiaohui to school children was held yesterday at the Shanghai World Foreign Language Middle School.

The class, organized by the Shanghai Grand Theatre, inaugurates a series of high-caliber folk music concerts, which begin on April 21 at the theatre.

The concert series will have a regular run every Friday afternoon to the end of 2005 and feature major folk music instruments each month like the er'hu (a two-stringed instrument), pipa (a short-necked, pear-shapedlute), guzheng (a traditional Chinese zither), guqin (another traditional zither), xiao (a wind instrument), dizi (flute), gu (drum) and other percussion instruments.

Le Shengli, general manager of the Shanghai Grand Theatre, said the ticket price for the concerts, targeted at local middle school pupils have been kept very low, 20 yuan (US$2.41) -- a fraction of the 180 yuan of normal theatre tickets -- to encourage more youngsters.

Such projects to promote Chinese folk music are to balance the over-emphasis of Western art forms in education.

An incomplete survey by the Shanghai World Foreign Language Middle School, revealed over 80 per cent of the students in one class had learned to play one or two Western musical instruments. But, the percentage who had learnt a Chinese musical instrument was below 5 per cent.

Hu Chengyang, a 12-year-old who has been learning the yangqin (Chinese hammered dulcimer) since she was three, is the only student in her 46-member class who has picked up a folk music instrument. Conversely, "at least 85 per cent of our classmates have taken up a Western instrument or two," said Hu.

Tan Dun says it is not only celebrated Chinese artists, but leading diplomats like Li Zhaoxing, who possess a profound knowledge of Chinese traditional and folk music.

The class was interactive and involved the folk musicians playing instruments together with youngsters in school.

(China Daily April 19, 2005)

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