Chengdu – a new centre of guitar activity in China?

If you haven’t come across him yet, Kuang Junhong is a 13 year old genius who plays the guitar with wonderful musicality. His teacher Xu Bao invited me over to Chengdu (in Sichuan Province) last month and I had the pleasure of teaching Junhong and many others of his talented pupils (as well as eating some fine Sichuan food – mostly mouth-numbingly spicy). There will be a few other young guitarists from this part of China you will eventually hear about.

They seem to be very dedicated, and would start practice from 8.30 am in Professor Xu’s guitar shop and studio. Technique is the driving force, but subtleties of expression have not escaped their notice. They all also play slow enough that the music is perfectly in rhythm (using a metronome) with attention to the overall shape of a piece. The secret seems to be hard work and attention to detail, as well as time to work and encouragement.

I will be back! (I will also learn more Chinese)

11 thoughts on “Chengdu – a new centre of guitar activity in China?

  1. The good Chinese teachers such as Chen Zhi (search for metronome) and Xu Bao, learned about the metronome from western performers’ modernist ideals (example).

    Ironically, now we in turn, believe we are learning about the use of the metronome from the Chinese, thinking that it leads to great technical mastery. But it is not the metronome that makes them play technically at a high level, but instead dedication and hard work. (Go China! Technically the Chinese players use some clever approaches, such as shunning that terrible heavy rest-stroke and using highly controlled tirando. But let’s return to the topic of performance practice and interpretation…)

    It is important to note, that today the standard manner of performance practice in the west, is a Modernist manner, that focuses on metric accentuation – as opposed to lyrical phrasing – ; and this metric, rhythmically-tight performance can be enforced and practiced with a metronome and is something that occurs everywhere (recommended reading).

    Regarding “Modern Style”, you may wish to refer to Bruce Haynes’ “The End of Early Music”
    Away from this mainstream Modern Style of Classical Performance Practice, there is also a much rarer view on performance practice, that still seeks meaning, individuality, expression, etc. Perhaps it is a rhetorical style of performance, with phrasing that is in fact not compatible with a strict beat (metronome).

    So the suggestion for Chinese teachers: Do some reading on these topics and question modern western ideals, because maybe these western ideals are themselves so far off the expressive mark, that they belie their own western historical traditions, recasting it into a modern mainstream manner (“Modern Style”) that is more suited to shallow consumption and conformance; than to expressive interpretation and creative individuality.

    Recommended reading:
    Alexander Evan Bonus, Robert Hill, Bruce Haynes, Sol Babitz, etc.

    Best wishes and: Go China! 😉

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