An 80-Year-Old Artist Who Has Been Working Ceaselessly: Some Reflections on the Concert of Music by Lu Yuan
Lu Yuan and I were contemporaries in youth. A little older than me, and an old friend of mine, he had already been a renowned composer when I was still an unknown young man. Recently, for over a month, I have read news on major newspapers about his forthcoming concert to be held at the Great Hall of the People. I certainly feel glad from the very bottom of my heart at such great achievements that my old friend, the 80-year-old accomplished composer Lu Yuan has made so far.
The concert, entitled ″Our Life Is Full of Sunshine: The Concert of Works by the 80-Year-Old Lu Yuan″, features Lu Yuan's works over a period of 55 years from 1954 to 2008, many of which are so famous songs that they have been enjoying great popularity in China over these years. Being a diligent composer, he has created, apart from the works performed at the concert, many great works in forms of operas, musical and dance dramas, sound track music for films and TV dramas, and symphonies.
Lu Yuan's music is characterized by its distinctive style of vivid, ethnic melody, which forms a perfect combination of ethnic nature and modern life of social reality. ″The Bright Moon on August 15 in Lunar Calendar″ is just one of such examples.
He has shown in his works his love for his motherland. He was born in the old China, and experienced the Liberation War and witnessed the founding of the new republic. Out of his own experiences in the great changes in the country, he composed such passionate songs as ″ Song of Constructers″, ″Where Does the Street Vendor Come From″, and ″Song of Kelamayi″, all of which pay a tribute to the construction of a new nation. With his profound understandings of the new society and all the difficult historical times, he cherishes more the new life after the beginning of reforms and opening up to the outside world, and hence he uttered his eulogies in his songs such as ″Our Life Is Full of Sunshine″, ″Our Tomorrow Will Be Sweeter Than Honey″, ″Song of Peony″ and ″The Spring Water Is Tinkling″.
Lu Yuan's works were deeply based on real life. In his music career while working in the Art Troupe of the Ministry of Construction and later on in the Navy Political Department Art Troupe, he had been keen on going deep into social reality. Many of his outstanding works actually originated from his personal experience in real life. He has been doing so even after the beginning of the reform and opening drive, regardless of his old age. When I was working with the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), China's top advisory body, I often paid inspection visits to some cities and large-scale enterprises, and I frequently heard that Lu Yuan had been there and had composed suites of songs for such important construction projects as the Three Gorges Dam and Dayawan Nuclear Power Plant. This is the very reason why his works are so lively, vivid and full of vitality.
Lu Yuan is a versatile artist. In the second half of the concert I heard two Japanese songs which he translated from Japanese into Chinese, making them popular in China. This reminds me of my previous visit to Japan in 2002 with a Chinese musicians' delegation. Although we had an official interpreter, it was Lu Yuan who made the oral interpretation at the seminar on Dan Ikuma's operas and during my speech as head of the delegation. His translation was excellent, with such vivid language that won appraisal from our Japanese friends. He has excellent knowledge of Japanese language, and he is also versed in Chinese language. He had published his collections of poems and essays in his early years with considerably high artistic level. Of all the songs in this concert, 12 have lyrics written by himself. He is also a good violinist. He had once played my violin solo piece ″Yanko Dance″ that I composed in 1950. And I had no idea of that at all until he told me this during a conference of China Federation of Literary and Art Circles some years ago.
Some Thoughts on the National Competition for Composition of Excellent Popular Songs
The widely known National Competition for Composition of Excellent Popular Songs concluded with great success recently. The competition, which lasted a year and a half, has attracted numerous lyric writers and music composers from both home and abroad, with a record high participation rate and submission of over 25,000 original works. The unexpected high quantity and quality of entries have made the competition the largest one of the same kind in the history of New China. Here I would like to present from the perspective of the competition organizer my view on the significance of the event and some of my thoughts on the current situation of popular song composition.
First, in spite of the inevitably unbalanced quality level in this nation-wide competition, there do exist in some of the participating works a kind of ″consciousness stream″ style apparently with unconstrained and often obscure creation. Song writing is production of spiritual products, oriented towards the public and intended to serve the public. This is the standpoint for any song writing. And likewise, it applies to popular song writing, which should observe the artistic rules of lyric writing. In this competition, some works have shown such an unhealthy tendency that we should deal with seriously. In the present time of advanced internet technology and media, works of such kind may easily be spread by means of internet, and therefore this must be solved in effective and active ways.
Second, technical imperfection in popular song writing has been exposed in this competition. As a result of low production cost and easy access for entry works, the good and bad works are intermingled in the seemingly ″overall prosperous″ situation. In general, one may discover the following problems: too many works with similar elements or with lack of innovation in music language; insufficient delicacy in music composition, including instrumentation, post-synchronization, recording, harmony polyphony and texture application; and out-of-fashion music language and orchestration. Also, in some works one finds marginized subject matters that indulge simply in the author's own ″ego″.
Third, due to stagnant research on music theory, there has been no predictive direction in popular song writing both technically and ideologically. In recent years, no sufficient attention has been paid to the overall environment and development tendency of popular song writing while more attention has been focused on research and analysis of specific works. It is obvious that many problems that were discovered in the competition should have been dealt with and resolved theoretically.
Generally speaking, in spite of these problems, the competition has opened a window for us to see the wide participation and great potential for popular songs. Although we could not find good songs in all the entries, it was still a very good beginning. As long as they are welcomed and loved by the general public, popular songs will be popular by any means.