Seasonal gatherings gaining in popularity
Chen Jiayi was not keen on playing the pipa when her father first suggested she study the 2,000-year-old, four-stringed Chinese musical instrument. She was about 10 years old at the time and had earlier spent two years learning to play piano.
“For a start, the piano is much easier to play than the pipa,” said Chen, 21, a Beijing native, adding that her fingertips have fake nails which she uses to pluck the strings. “It was uncomfortable in the beginning,” she added.
Although she never expected to enjoy the pipa, she joined a traditional Chinese folk music troupe at her primary school and became one its best performers, and later continued her musical studies at summer camp.
About a year after she mastered the pipa, Chen was diagnosed with aplastic anemia, a rare blood marrow disorder, and had to suspend her schooling.
She has experienced side effects from her medication, including delayed puberty and hyperandrogenism－a medical condition characterized by excessive levels of androgens (male hormones such as testosterone) in the female body－and the associated effects of elevated levels of the hormones.
But this has not stopped her from playing. Chen said she loves the sound of the pipa, “which is like pearls falling on a jade plate”.
“I’ve been through a lot after falling ill, and music is very important to me. I love playing old songs, such as Pipa Xing by Tang Dynasty (618-907) poet Bai Juyi, as it’s sorrowful but powerful,” she said.
When she was 14, Chen saw renowned pipa recitalist Zhang Hongyan perform on television, and quickly became a fan. She wrote a letter to Zhang, who teaches at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, and they became friends.
In 2011, Zhang launched a summer camp as part of the annual Gateway to Music festival－one of Beijing’s biggest arts festivals for children which has been staged during the summer vacation since 1995 and is run by the Forbidden City Concert Hall. Chen joined the camp and continued her pipa studies.
Now in its eighth year, the pipa camp this summer was held from July 17 to 19 at the concert hall, attracting nearly 200 students. Chen could not take part because of her health, but she visited Zhang there.
Zhang said during the camp: “I am very proud and happy to see many young Chinese people love to play the pipa. Arts education is a key aspect of what we do as professional musicians and educators. Teaching inspires not only the students, but also the teachers in many ways.”
Zhang added that eight years ago, when the Forbidden City Concert Hall invited her to launch the pipa venture, it was the first summer camp at the Gateway to Music festival dedicated to a traditional Chinese instrument.