Click to open PDF file:
A Song for Sky Bells
by Le Tuan Hung
A new work for power pole bells, dan tranh (Vietnamese zither), Balinese suling (end-blown flute) and Oceanian panpipes
A Song for Sky Bells is a composition for power pole bells, Vietnamese zither dan tranh , Balinese flute suling , and Oceanian panpipes. Power pole bells are unique Australian instruments. They are galvanised iron caps made by the State Electricity Company of Victoria to fit on the top of electricity poles made from tree trunks of varying diameters. Their function was to protect the poles from the weather and for mounting insulators above the poles. Since 1996, Australian composer Anne Norman has been collecting these bells for use as musical instruments and components of sound sculptures.
When I first touched these bells, I had the impression that their richness of frequencies and harmonics was the result of years of absorbing waves of vibrations from the winds and electric cables under the Australian sky. This impression is musically realised by the interaction of sounds of the bells, the dan tranh and the wind instruments. Frequencies and pitches are transmitted from one instrument to another in the process of generating melodies and layers of music. A Song for Sky Bells is music generated from the power pole bells after years of absorbing sounds in silence.
This project was supported by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.
The changing faces of Australian Identity as heard through children’s voices in Kim’s Song
Copyright © 2003 by Ros Bandt
Kim’s Song is a short 3 minute electro-acoustic radiophonic work commissioned by the ABC for their Earclip series in 2002.
Kim’s Song at http://www.abc.net.au/.
It was a response to their call for works embracing the theme of “This world My Time” I felt the future of Australia is so firmly in the hands of the children that I should consider them as source material to endorse a spirit of hope for the future. My choice to work with cross cultural children who live in very different minority communities was motivated by my concern with the depressing political racism we have seen in decisions concerning the boat people and refugees in recent years. I thought it would be interesting to work with the children from different groups Vietnamese and Aboriginal to see how they were also grappling with how to cross the enormous cultural differences that are side by side in Australia.
The authentic voices in this piece are those of children whom I know and love. Kim (far right) is the daughter of Le Tuan Hung, a Melbourne university colleague and co-founder of the Back to Back zithers cross cultural ensemble. Her mother, the composer performer, Dang Kim Hien and I were collaborating on a work Inside Outside when this song was recorded as little Kim wanted so much to be part of our rehearsals. Hien decided the song didn’t belong in what we were designing at the time so this piece for little Kim was made separately. The aboriginal children are my partner’s grandchildren, Kara Rayner, and her cousins Casey and Renee Sweetman and their new sister, Aaliyah O’Brien.
The voices were recorded at their own homes in Springvale and Glenroy respectively, and the children were delighted to be recorded in each case and found it very exciting to hear their own voices. Kim sang her Vietnamese song perfectly twice. Then her father sent me a recording of her singing Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree which he told me was her preferred song choice now that she had started school. In Glenroy, the cousins played games with each other and sang numerous playing and clapping songs over a period of an hour, running in and out, practicing and coming back in when they were ready. The simple stereo mike and DAT recording machine were not too obtrusive but still were objects which they wanted to touch, hold and listen to. Many minutes were spent under headphones by them all, even the baby.
Back in my office with Pro Tools, I decided to enter all the recordings to see how compatible the sounds were and edit from there. Once in the machine, certain musical elements, timbre, pitch, loudness, density, phrasing and syntax directed my intuition, more than the content of the words they were singing. The texts of course were in different languages, Vietnamese, Aboriginal and English.
1. Vietnamese Children’s song
Gà mơ cục tác
Mỏ nhát cầm chèo
Con mèo bẻ lái
Con nhái chạy buồm
Thuồng luồng tát nước
Gà xước nấu cơm
Con chồn hái mướp
Ăn cướp vô nhà
Kỳ đà cản mũi
Dế nhũi lăng xăng
Thằn lằn liếm mỏ
Con thỏ dọn mâm
Con tằm bưng chén
Chim én vỗ tay
Con nai ngơ ngác
Cao các giựt mình
Giựt mình, giựt mình, giựt mình
A, chúng em chơi nhà chòi
Ý thiệt là vui ghê!
Ý thiệt là vui ghê!
The hen crows,
The snipe rows,
The cat steers,
The frog pulls the sail,
The crocodile bails the water out!
The rooster cooks,
The fox picks the bitter melon,
The robber enters the house,
The salamander stops him,
The cricket bustles in and out,
The lizard licks its mouth,
The rabbit carries the tray,
The silk worm holds the bowls,
The swallow claps,
The deer is dazed,
The bird startled by the sounds!
Startled by the sounds, startled by the sounds, startled by the sounds!
Ah, we are playing the hut-game,
We have good fun!
We have good fun!
2. Aboriginal Song
Inanay is a traditional Aboriginal song learned by the Sweetens at Koori school,in Shepparton. It was a song the teacher taught them from the Tiddas version. Their version of Inanay appears on the CD Sing About Life, 1993 ID Phonogram Recordings 1993 with thesummary traditional aboriginal song (Words not Available). The fact that it is being transmitted still by oral tradition in a non-scribal manner is noteworthy.
3. Australian Songs
Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree
Merrymerry king of the bush is he
Laugh kookaburra laugh kookaburra laugh
Gay your life must be.
A range of play songs were recorded showing the influence of television and the media as well as those from the schoolyard. Snippets of these appear at the end as well as the children’s laughter.
Yet much greater than the texts was the vitality and energy of the children’s rendition. It was this that influenced me to choose one fragment over another, confirming my interest in non-verbal communication and extra-linguistic behaviours including body language. The element of communication was very evident in the aboriginal children’s play songs as they were communal, but it was also in little KIM. She sang quite vehemently, having a great sense of self and a very confident song knowledge, coupled with a marvellous performance energy for a four year-old. In working with the children, there seemed to be an overriding cultural agenda, the collapsing of cultural boundaries through sound.
The mapping of the piece
The mapping of the piece reflected this cultural intersection. Firstly, eachchild is looking at the world from a different place and cultural identity. For Kim it is represented by the Australian Song overtaking the Vietnamese song in the mix as the dominant culture is shaping her Vietnamese roots and traditions. For Casey and Renee, they have a living link through school to the cultural origins tho not the songs of their own family group.
They were happy to share this song with their cousins in Melbourne and taught it to them, quite naturally during playtime in the backyard. Both aboriginal groups shared their common play songs from the Australian school yard. These can be heard at the end of the piece, especially the clapping song. It was decided to use a loop and treatment of the Inanay song as a landscape during the entire piece with respect for the aboriginal heritage of the land and ancient culture unto which we have all come.
Several electronic effects, fades and treatments allow the materials to flow from one layer to another. The end result is summarised in the programme note.
The programme note reads:
“Kim’s song is based on a recording of a Vietnamese children’s song I recently recorded in Springvale, Victoria. Kim, a young Australian Vietnamese girl has just started school and now prefers to sing Australian songs rather than the Vietnamese songs she learned at home from her parents. The Vietnamese song she sings is a game song playing with animal names and activities played out in the hut. It becomes overtaken by ‘kookaburra sits in the old gum tree’, representing the dominant English speaking culture in which she is living and into which she has been born. The song comes in and out of various contexts. A landscape of place is created with the treated and untreated layer of Inanay, an Indigenous song sung by my partner’s Aboriginal grandchildren who also live in Melbourne. They were taught this song at school in Shepparton. It will be up to Kim to make her place in Australia and the world. Her identity and language will be shaped by how she interprets being born of migrant parents in Australia. She will make it her world in her own time in her own way.”
Kim’s song is composed entirely on computer as an entirely electroacoustic piece designed for radio in stereo configuration. The elements of the soundrecordings were cut, reassembled,
treated and designed into a three minute piece, the length being defined by the ABC.The piece was mixed on Pro Tools and engineered by Iain Mott.
I would like to thank everyone for helpingthis piece to occur, the children, their supportive parents, the mixer, and the commissioner. Kim’s Song is dedicated to the children and all those working onthe ground for Australian culture which respects indigenous culture. It is they who determine the real future of Australia at this time.
VIETNAMESE MUSIC IN AUSTRALIA
A General Survey
Le Tuan Hung
Copyright © 2003-2014 by Le Tuan Hung
First electronic version: 4 June 2003 First revision: 2 July 2003 Second revision: 10 March 2004
Second electronic version: 27 July 2011
The Vietnamese is one of the relatively new groups of migrants in Australia. A significant proportion of Vietnamese Australians originally came as refugees between 1975 and the late 1980s. Since the late 1980s, most arrivals have been in the categories of family reunion and skilled immigration. By 2006, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that there were 194,854 Vietnamese in Australia (ABS 2006: Cat. No. 2068.0 – 2006 Census Tables). The largest Vietnamese communities are in Sydney and Melbourne, respectively (1996 Censor, McLennan 1999b: 85). Smaller communities are located in Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth. The smallest communities are in ACT, Hobart and Darwin.
Within these communities, there exist many genres of music. These genres of music serve different social functions, including entertainment, expression of a political stand or viewpoint, expression and reinforcement of the Vietnamese cultural identity, or the creation of a divine religious atmosphere. Melbourne and Sydney have hosted the most vibrant activities of Vietnamese music in Australia.
In general, Vietnamese musical activities in Australia present two major trends: (1) the preservation and cultivation of pre-existing music, and (2) the development of new music. Pre-existing music includes popular music, traditional music (folk music, classical music and Buddhist music), and Catholic Church music. New music includes folk fusion, world-jazz, popular music, experimental music, and art music written for Western instruments.
2. Preservation and cultivation of pre-existing music:
2. 1. Popular music:
Western-influenced popular music is the most dominant and accessible form of Vietnamese music in Australia. This genre of music, called tân nhạc [new music], has been cultivated, developed and flourished in Vietnam since the late 1930s. The development of this music coincided with the Westernisation of Vietnamese society in the early decades of the twentieth century. Throughout its development, Vietnamese popular music has continued to adopt and absorb newly developed styles and features from Western popular music.
2.1.1. Main features of Vietnamese popular songs:
Vietnamese popular music in Australia bears the main common features of Vietnamese pop music in Vietnam and the United States. These features include:
The adoption of the Western scale of temperament, meters, dance rhythms, popular song form (ABA) and tonal harmony.
In many songs, especially those in the quê hương [homeland] style (see below), the vocal style remains basically Vietnamese with frequent use of ornaments such as vibratos and bent tones. Such vocal ornaments are not indicated in the printed music, which is in Western notation. They are added by singers in performances. This practice indicates that flexibility is an important aspect in the performance of Vietnamese popular music. This practice may have derived from traditional music, in which each performance of a piece is a realisation of a melodic framework (see 2.2.1. below). Therefore, any study of Vietnamese popular music should not rely solely on the printed versions or scores.
The rock combo of electronic guitars, keyboard(s) and a drum kit is the standard format of the accompanying ensemble.
A large number of songs employ Western and Latin dance rhythms in the accompaniment even though they were not initially written for social dances. Popular dance rhythms include Cuban bolero, tango, cha cha cha, rhumba, pasodoble, Boston and waltz. Disco and new wave are also found in popular music for young people.
Western harmony and part-writing are typical in choral arrangements and performances of popular songs.
2.1.2. Styles of popular songs: There are three styles of popular songs: Western style, quê hương [homeland] style and tân cổ giao duyên [old and new music exchanging charms] style.
Western style: based exclusively on Western pop and rock musical models.
Quê hương [homeland] style: shows a combination of the features of Western pop music listed above and those of Vietnamese folk music. Pentatonic scales, melodic motives or fragments of folk songs were used to create folk-like pop songs. A few songs also show the adoption of the call and response structure of traditional work songs ho. One or more traditional instruments are often used in the accompaniment of these songs in addition to the rock combo. The most popular traditional instrument is the đàn tranh [zither].
Tân cổ giao duyên [old and new music exchanging charms] style is the fusion-song-style developed by Bảy Bá in Saigon in 1964. This song style has been very popular in South Vietnam since its creation. This style shows a combination of two pre-existing song styles: the traditional song Vọng Cổ [Longing for the Past] and the Western-influenced popular songs. Sections of existing popular songs (the New) are combined with those of the traditional song Vọng Cổ (the Old) to form a “piece” of music with sections alternating between traditional and styles. The traditional sections are accompanied by Vietnamese instruments and the pop sections are accompanied by Western instruments. The most popular instrument used in the accompaniment of the traditional sections is the modified Western guitar, with a wavery fingerboard that enables the musician to producing the bending tones typical of Vietnamese music.
2.1.3. Performance context and social functions of popular music:
The main functions of popular music are (1) entertainment and (2) propagation of patriotism and nationalism or a political stand. Popular music as entertainment has always been a dominant element in the musical activities of Vietnamese Australians. This has been explicit in almost every social and cultural activity in the community. Popular music is the main form of music played and listened to at homes, restaurants, café, and nightclubs. Most Vietnamese weddings in Australia have a live pop band as part of the entertainment. Pop music in karaoke format is a very popular form of entertainment at homes and some restaurants.
Commercial presentations of popular music have often been organised by entrepreneurs in the form of đại nhạc hội [literally meaning ‘grand musical gathering’]. It is in fact a variety show in medium to large venues such as Collingwood Town Hall, Dallas Brooks Hall and Melbourne Concert Hall in Melbourne. Most of these big shows are often organised in conjunction with one or more smaller shows at nightclubs. These events often feature Vietnamese pop stars from the United States, where a robust Vietnamese popular music industry has been flourishing since the 1980s. A large portion of CDs, DVDs, VCDs and videos of popular music consuming by the Vietnamese Australians comes from the United States and Vietnam.
At community events or celebrations such as tết [New Year festival], tết trung thu [mid-Autumn festival which is a children’s festival], and Giỗ tổ Hùng Vương [King Hung Commemoration Day], entertainment is always featured in the form of a variety show with pop music, folk music (traditional and/or Westernised), and contemporary stage dances. Popular music always dominates these programs.
In the 1990s and early 2000s, a number of chamber choirs such as the Melbourne-based Hương Xưa, Giao Chỉ and Ðàn Chim Việt had been active in the presentation of choral arrangements of Vietnamese popular songs. These groups had presented annual performances for the community and participated in various multicultural events.
A majority of Vietnamese popular songs are love songs. Other songs deal with a variety of topics such as homeland of the past, mothers’ love, meditation, etc. Between the late 1970s and mid-1980s, songs with patriotic or political lyrics had also been popular. The rise of many nationalist movements among the overseas Vietnamese had been a significant motivation for the development and popularisation of this type of political songs. The corpus of these songs include those created by nationalist songwriters in Vietnam since the 1940s, propaganda songs created by the former South Vietnamese government (1956-1975), and political songs written by Vietnamese songwriters living in the United States, France and Australia.
2.2. Traditional music: A variety of genres of Vietnamese traditional music have been preserved and transplanted in Australia. They include folk music, classical chamber music and theatrical music.
2.2.1. Fundamental features of traditional music:
The main characteristics of traditional music are:
Melodies are based on modes, with pentatonic modes being most common. Each mode is defined by tonal material, specific tonal and microtonal ornaments for each pitch level, and melodic motives and contours.
Melodies show frequent use of bending tones (a main tone followed by tonal and/or microtonal glissando ornaments.
Pitches in authentic traditional music are from an quasi equi-distant seven-tone scale.
Duple, quadruple and free metres are common.
Typical texture of multi-part music is heterophonic texture. The exception is in sung poetry ngâm thơ, where the texture is polyphonic.
The performance of a piece is a process of elaborating a skeletal melody.
2.2.2. Traditional musical instruments: There are not many competent Vietnamese instrumentalists in Australia. However, as many musicians are multi-instrumentalists, there are various instruments being used in Vietnamese music in Australia. The main instruments include:
The đàn tranh is a zither, similar to the Japanese koto and the Chinese zheng. The standard version of this instrument has seventeen strings. Larger đàn tranh of twenty-two and twenty-five strings are also used in works of the Melbourne-based composer-performer Ðặng Kim Hiền.
The đàn nguyệt (or đàn kìm) is a two-stringed moon-shaped lute. It has a long fingerboard with very high frets.
The đàn bầu (or đàn độc huyền) is a monochord.
The đàn nhị (or đàn cò) is a two-stringed fiddle with a tube resonator.
The đàn gáo is a two-stringed fiddle with a coconut shell resonator
The đàn tỳ bà is a four-stringed pear shaped lute, similar to the Chinese pipa.
The sáo is a bamboo or wooden transverse flute.
A variety of percussion instruments, including sinh tiền [coin clappers], phách [clappers], song lang [foot clapper] and drums.
In the music-theatre cải lương, the modified Western electronic guitar with a wavy shaped fingerboard appears to be the popular instrument.
2.2.3. Genres of traditional music:
Folk music: Folk songs of various types, including ru [lullabies], lý [village songs] and hò [work songs] have been maintained by a number of Vietnamese musicians and non-musicians. Authentic songs are either unaccompanied or accompanied by percussion only. Urbanised folk songs which have been popular on stages in Vietnam since the late 1950s are accompanied by traditional melodic instruments. Westernised folk songs which first appeared in Vietnam in the 1960s are characterised by the lack of traditional tonal and microtonal ornaments, the use of pitches from the scale of temperament, and the adoption of Western harmony and instruments in the accompaniment. Authentic folk songs are mainly sung by a number of elderly persons and a few traditional musicians. Urbanised folk songs are performed by both traditional and pop musicians. Westernised folk songs are performed mostly by pop singers, youth choirs, chamber choirs, and younger members of the community. A number of Vietnamese choirs in Sydney and Melbourne also perform folk songs arranged for three or four parts, using Western harmony and part writing approach. The Melbourne-based choral group Giao Chỉ had been very active in this area in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Classical chamber music: Two genres of classical chamber music, the nhạc Huế [Huế music] and the nhạc tài tử [music for talented artists], have been preserved by a small number of musicians, mostly based in Melbourne and Sydney. These two genres of music have flourished in Central and South Vietnam since the 17th and the 19th centuries, respectively. Regarding musical features, they are closely related in concepts of modes, musical structure and instrumentation. Their repertory consists of pieces in different modes that are designed to express or evoke different emotions such as sadness, happiness, and tranquility. Each piece is a melodic framework and the instrumentation of realised versions is flexible. A piece can be realised as (1) a solo song with one or more accompaniment instruments, or (2) as a solo or ensemble instrumental piece.
Sung poetry ngâm thơ: Ngâm thơ is the art of chanting or singing Vietnamese poems. Originally, it was a folk art form that has been incorporated into various forms of traditional theatre and has established itself as an urban chamber art form in Vietnam since the 1950s. The performance of ngâm thơ is a process of collective improvisation on one or more specific modes. A vocalist is accompanied by one or more melodic instruments. The music is in free meter. The texture is made up of independent lines that coincide at the same pitch level at the end of most poetic lines.
Musical theatre: The South Vietnamese music drama cải lương is the only form of music-theatre maintained by the Vietnamese Australians. This theatrical form combines spoken dialogues, chanted poetry, excerpts of nhạc tài tử, the Vọng Cổ song [a traditional song based on the musical principles of nhạc tài tử], short pieces based on the principles of nhạc tài tử, folk songs, Chinese theatrical songs and Western styled popular songs.
A number of amateur groups in Melbourne and Sydney such as the Hoa Tình Thương, Lạc Hồng,and Hoài Hương perform cải lương at the Vietnamese New Year Festival and a number of charity events. The VN Richmond House Restaurant (Richmond, Victoria) has also featured regular performances of excerpts of well-known cải lương by local artists. In the 1990s, commercial performances in collaboration with Vietnamese cải lương stars from Europe and the United States have attracted huge audiences. Cải lương video and sound recordings produced by professional troupes in Vietnam are also popular among the Vietnamese Australians, especially the middle age and the elderly.
Buddhist chants form an essential part of the religious liturgy in Vietnamese Buddhist temples in Australia. These are either metric or non-metric chants recited with or with out the accompaniment of a temple wood block and bells. The modes of these chants are closely related to those in Vietnamese classical and folk music.
2.2.4. Performance context and social functions of traditional music:
Apart from the Buddhist chants which form part of the religious services in temples, all other genres of traditional music have two main functions: (1) entertainment and (2) reinforcement or expression of the Vietnamese cultural identity.
Within the Vietnamese community, traditional music performances have been rare. Concerts with exclusive traditional items are extremely rare. Traditional music only appears as single items of a variety program in community events. There are two main reasons for this low level of activities of traditional music. First, there are few competent traditional musicians in Australia. Second, traditional music has been replaced by popular music as the dominating form of entertainment in Vietnam for many decades. Therefore, the low level of activities of traditional music in Australia is only a continuity of the socio-musical characteristic of Vietnamese musical taste that has been formulated in Vietnam.
It is in musical events out side the Vietnamese community that traditional music has been performed in greater frequencies. Performances of exclusive traditional items have been featured at music festivals, folk festivals, world music venues and in many radio programs. Many multicultural and community events also feature Vietnamese music as part of a program of world music. Recordings of Vietnamese traditional music in Australia have also been produced mainly non-Vietnamese labels such as ABC, Move, and Mabuhay Records.
2.3. Catholic Church music:
Music of the Vietnamese Catholic Church in Australia shows the preservation and cultivation of the pre-existing styles and forms of church music in Vietnam. This music is modelled on European church music and is fundamentally built on Western concepts of music. The repertory includes choral music with or without instrumental accompaniment. Father Văn Chi (Sydney) is well-known for his corpus of several original choral works for the Vietnamese Catholic community.
3. The Development of new music: While the main trend in popular and traditional music has been the preservation of pre-existing styles and forms, the main trend in contemporary music has been the creation of new music. New music by Vietnamese Australian composers can be classified into five categories: (1) New compositions for Western instruments, (2) experimental music, (3) fusion music, (4) art songs and (5) new popular music.
3.1. New compositions for Western instruments: A number of Vietnamese composers have created original works for Western instruments. Composer-guitarists Hoàng Ngọc Tuấn and Nguyễn Lê Tuyên (Le-Tuyen Nguyen) have enriched the repertoire of the classical guitar with many new solo works. Both Hoàng Ngọc Tuấn and Nguyễn Lê Tuyên have made significant contributions to the extension of the guitar’s playing technique. Hoàng Ngọc Tuấn developed several unique tuning systems for his works based on Vietnamese musical modes. Nguyễn Lê Tuyên invented the technique of producing staccato-harmonic duo-tone on the guitar. Staccato-harmonic duo-tone is the simultaneous sounding of two tones on one string of the guitar. Each tone has its own definite pitch, duration, articulation and distinctive tone colour. The lower tone has the normal staccato tone colour with shorter duration; the higher tone has the natural harmonic bell-like tone colour with longer duration. This new sound and technique were first employed in Nguyễn’s guitar works Nocturne (1996) and Fantasia (1998).
Another trend in new music by Australian Vietnamese composers is the creation of a touch of Vietnamese colour in their work by using folk melodies, modes or rhythmic structures. Examples of such compositions are Memories of Highlands (1984), Full Moon Festival (1984) for classical guitar and Vietnamese Dance Suite (1991) for woodwind, brass and percussion by Hoàng Ngọc Tuấn, String Waves (1990) for violin and string orchestra, Melorhythm (1993) for 13 violins and 2 cellos and Water Ways (1996) for woodwind, brass and percussion by Lê Tuấn Hùng. These works are performed by Australian performers at main stream events, and may be regarded as new Australian music rather than ‘Vietnamese music’.
3.2. Experimental and cross-cultural music:
Since the 1980s a number of Vietnamese composer-performers have been active in Australian experimental music. The first experimentalists are Lê Thị Kim, Hoàng Ngọc Tuấn, Ðặng Kim Hiền and Lê Tuấn Hùng. Three of these musicians are traditional instrument players. This explains the frequent use of traditional instruments in their new music. Experimental music by Vietnamese Australian composers is characterised by (1) the exploration of old and new possibilities of sound making on the Vietnamese traditional instruments, especially the đàn tranh and the đàn bầu (2) the experimental combination of the Vietnamese and non-Vietnamese instrument(s), and/or non-conventional sound-generating devices, and (3) a high level of flexibility in performance.
In these works, traditional playing techniques are used in conjunction with new techniques exploring unconventional sounds on Vietnamese instruments. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Lê Thị Kim’s and Lê Tuấn Hùng’s works in collaboration with Ros Bandt and Kari in the Back to Back Zithers explored a number of techniques such as gliding a glass on the strings after plucking, dropping wooden items on the strings, plucking various parts of the strings, preparing the strings by stretching a rubber band across them, blowing into the sound-hole, taping on the soundboard of the instrument, or placing vibrating chopsticks between the strings. Both traditional and unconventional tunings are used in the music of the Back to Back Zithers. Spring (1991) for four prepared zithers and slide whistles by Lê Tuấn Hùng in collaboration with the Back to Back Zithers is one of the examples of this technical exploration.
In her piece Paper and Strings (1991), Lê Thị Kim created very subtle and delicate sound effects and melodies on the đàn tranh by throwing paper balls on the strings, and bowing and plucking the strings with a thin strip of paper. Hoàng Ngọc Tuấn introduced a wide range of sound effects and colours on the đàn tranh in his music for theatres such as Lotus War (1995) and Conversations with Charlie (1996). In these works, the đàn tranh was bowed either with a conventional violin bow or a strip of sandpaper, tapped, beat, or played with guitar techniques such rasguedo. Hoàng Ngọc Tuấn also experimented with tuning the three octaves of the đàn tranh in three different scales. In her piece On a Quivering String (2005), Ðặng Kim Hiền introduced many new playing techniques to expand the colour pallet and dynamics of sounds of the đàn bầu: The tapping of the string or the beating of the vòi đàn [the stick that holds the string of the instrument] with the palm enables the player to generate a whole range of sounds and dynamic levels which are not previously possible on the traditional instrument.
Regarding instrumentation, many works by the above composers show experimental combinations of Vietnamese instruments with a variety of instruments and sound-making devises. Spring (1991) and Reflections (1990) by Lê Tuấn Hùng, are for two đàn tranh, a Medieval psaltery and a Indonesian kacapi. Pond (1991) by the Back To Back Zithers features a Renaissance flute and two đàn tranh. Soul of the Wind (1993) by Lê Tuấn Hùng is for a đàn tranh, a suling [Indonesian end-blown flute] and tape. Calm Water (1996) by Lê Tuấn Hùng is for two đàn tranh, a Balinese suling [end-blown flute] and electronic crickets. Longing for the Winds (1996) by Lê Tuấn Hùng is for harmonic voice, đàn tranh, đàn nguyệt, Vietnamese percussion and tape. Webs of Life (1996), an audio-visual work by Ðặng Kim Hiền, and Lê Tuấn Hùng, combines the đàn tranh, đàn nguyệt, and đàn bầu with various non-Vietnamese instruments, original instruments, voice and tape. Inside Outside (2002) by Ðặng Kim Hiền and Ros Bandt was created for voice, đàn tranh, Vietnamese percussion, recorder and viola da gamba. Melodia Nostalgica (2005?) by Ðặng Kim Hiền feature an electric dan bau, a piano and recorded sounds of a flock of birds. Lotus War and Conversations with Charlie by Hoàng Ngọc Tuấn also combine the đàn tranh with various Western, non-Western instruments and tape. In the music created for the theatrical work Soft Silk… Rough Linen, Hoàng Ngọc Tuấn combined voices with a đàn bầu, a đàn xến [lute], flute, clarinet, violin, cello and percussion. Lê Tuấn Hùng’s electro-acoustic works such as A Song for Sky Bells (2004), Elegy (2005), Mantra for the Seeds of Love (2006), Journey to the Light (2007), or A Time to Celebrate (2009) shows the combination of musical sounds from both traditional, and non-traditional instruments and devices.
Textures of two or more layers of sounds are typical for many of these compositions. Some of the compositions explore traditional modes of Vietnamese and non-Vietnamese music, while others advent the sound scapes of atonality, microtones, sound masses and noises. Most of the experimental compositions were written in graphic or skeletal notation to allow a high level of flexibility and spontaneity in the performing process. Improvisation is therefore an integral part of performances.
It was the experimental spirit, the desire to explore and break down boundaries of sounds, the need for new sounds to express contemporary ideas and feelings, and interest in post-modernism that motivated the creation of these compositions. These works belong to the experimental stream of music in the host society rather than the contemporary stream of Vietnamese music. They are featured mainly at concerts of experimental music, theatrical performances, and music festivals organised by and for non-Vietnamese.
3.3. Folk Fusion and World Jazz:
In the 1980s and 1990s, a number of Vietnamese musicians have been involved in the making of fusion music in Australia. Their repertory includes arrangements of Vietnamese and non-Vietnamese folk melodies, new folk-like compositions based on Vietnamese and non-Vietnamese musical aspects, and improvisation. Their performances combine Vietnamese with non-Vietnamese instruments.
The Adelaide-based Bamboo Ochre ensemble combines Vietnamese instruments such as the đàn tranh, đàn bầu, and sáo with non-Vietnamese instruments such as the bass guitar, electronic keyboard and Indian tabla. The music of this ensemble combines material from Vietnamese, Chinese, Indian and Western pop music. Members of this ensemble include both Vietnamese (Nguyễn Ðăng Thảo and Phan Văn Hưng) and non-Vietnamese musicians. Nguyễn Ðăng Thảo was also a member of other multicultural ensembles, and has composed music for many theatrical projects.
In the field of world-jazz, Melbourne-based multi-instrumentalist Nguyễn Anh Dũng (Dung Nguyen) has been one of the key elements for the success of the band Way Out West. This band features Peter Knight (trumpet), Nguyễn Anh Dũng (đàn tranh, đàn bầu, đàn kìm, and modified electric guitar), Ray Pereira (percussion), Rajiv Jayaweera (drums), Paul Williamson (saxophones), and Howard Cairns (acoustic bass). Way Out West was the winner of the 2009 Bell Award for Best Australian Jazz Ensemble. The band has performed at jazz festivals worldwide and their CDs have received critical acclaims in Australia and Canada.
The popularisation of world music, the growing interest in non-Western music and cross-culturalism among a number of Western musicians, and the emergence of a more friendly cultural environment in host societies in recent decades (e.g. multiculturalism in Australia and Canada, support for ethnic arts and music in the United States, etc.) are among the main motivations for the development of folk fusion music. Various folk fusion and cross-cultural ensembles exist in countries like Australia, Canada and the United States. The involvement of Vietnamese musicians in this musical trend represents the Vietnamese participation in musical activities of host societies and the desire to make their cultural heritage part of the musical fabric of their new homeland.
3.4. Art songs:
Sydney-based composers Hoàng Ngọc Tuấn and Phạm Quang Tuấn have created many art songs and song cycles. Many of these works are for solo voice and classical guitar. These artistically crafted songs represent a new trend in Vietnamese contemporary music.
3.5. New Popular Music:
While a number of Vietnamese of the first generation such as Phan Văn Hưng, Phạm Quang Ngọc, and Thụy Phong composed new songs to propagate within the Vietnamese communities, it was the new generation of Vietnamese musicians and song-writers who have begun to make their marks in Australian music scenes. After thirty-five years of Vietnamese settlement in Australia, a new generation of Vietnamese Australian artists have been born, grew up and professionally trained n Australia. For these new popular musicians, main stream Australian and international music scenes are their playgrounds. In recent years, a number of Vietnamese Australian musicians have emerged in Australia. Thanh Bui, who reached the top 10 of the Australian Idol in 2008, is a well-known case. Being a talent vocalist and instrumentalist, Thanh and his North band has been well-received and had top ten hits in Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and India. They released two albums (North (Universal, 2004) and Straight Up (EMI, 2006)) before split up in 2006. Thanh has has also penned many new songs. A number of his songs are in chart-topping albums in Japan and Korea, and Germany. Best examples are his Killer Queen for Jimi Blue (gold in Germany) and Dream Alive for Arashi (number 1 in Japan). His self-titled EP which features five original songs (Broken, Heart Beat, Happy Birthday, I’m Forbidden,and No) was released in 2010.
4. Social organisation of musicians:
Socially, there is a strong tendency among Vietnamese traditional musicians in Australia to turn from professionalism to semi-professionalism or non-professionalism. Indeed, despite the steady growth of their community, the range and frequency of activities of traditional music within the community have not yet been sufficient to enable musicians to rely solely on music making as a profession. In addition, opportunities for participation in musical activities outside their ethnic community are also limited in the host society. As a result, the majority of Vietnamese traditional musicians have to make a living fully or partly in another profession. This has been an important factor behind the relative lack of musical creation or innovation in music for traditional instruments performed within Vietnamese communities. All significant musical changes and innovations are introduced by musicians who are regularly involved in musical activities outside their ethnic community. In fact, a few traditional musicians have expanded their musical skills and expertise to other fields of music, including jazz, pop music, music for non-traditional theatre, film music, folk fusion music, and experimental music in order to enhance their employability. This has led to a number of innovations in terms of musical styles and forms as described above.
For many musicians who have been trained professionally in Australia, teaching at schools and/or at private classes is the main employment options. A number of these artists have also been active in various mainstream activities such as concerts, music festivals, cabarets, and musicals. They are an integral part of the bigger Australian musical scene. A number of Vietnamese musicians, such as pianist Hoang Pham, guitarist Minh Le Hoang (Lê Hoàng Minh), multi-instrumentalist Nguyễn Anh Dũng (Dung Nguyen) and singer-songwriter Thanh Bùi have been successful in their artistic paths.
Within the community, pop musicians appear to fare much better than traditional musicians. As the demand for their performance is higher and more frequent, a number of musicians can make a living with their music and related activities such as teaching, recording or hiring sound systems. A few competent musicians, such as Tùng Châu and Nguyễn Anh Dũng, have been involved in the Vietnamese popular music production “Paris by Night” in the United States. In Australia, the competition for works is high. For examples, there are more than twelve pop bands that place advertisements regularly in Vietnamese newspapers and magazines in Melbourne. These bands have to compete with each other to obtain works mainly in private parties and weddings within the community. Out side the community, their music is virtually unknown. Apart from the pop bands, a majority of performers of Vietnamese pop music in Australia carrying out their activities on non-payment basis, even though their standard of playing may be the same as those who work professionally. The reason is that many of these performers are qualified professionals in other disciplines (i.e. medicine, law, education or IT) and their professions have been well regarded in the community. It was their choice to make their art a hobby rather than a profession.
Regarding music education, traditional music training has been offered in private or in community classes. The Trường Âm Nhạc Dân Tộc [School of National Music] (Sydney) is the largest community class of traditional music in Australia. This school offers classes in various Vietnamese instruments and musical genres. However, it is noticeable that there are not many young Vietnamese Australians who are interested in learning Vietnamese traditional music. The number of young people who learn Vietnamese instruments have decreased significantly over the years. In contrast, interest in Western pop music and classical music is very high, and private teachers always have many students. The fact that many Vietnamese Australian parents regarding playing Western classical music as a symbol of “social prestige” plays an important part in the shaping of Vietnamese music education in Australia. In the last few decades, the number of Vietnamese children learn to play Western instruments and classical music, especially piano, has been steadily increased. This trend has been supported by a growing number of private music tuition and music shops within the community.
Between 1975 and 2010 two major trends in Vietnamese music in Australia are: (1) the preservation and cultivation of pre-existing music, and (2) the development of new music. Musical activities within the Vietnamese communities appear to focus on pre-existing forms and styles of music. All social and cultural indicators suggest that pop music will continue to be the primary and prevailing form of music within the Vietnamese community in Australia in the years to come. Traditional music which has existed mainly in preserved form would loose its popularity among the younger Vietnamese of the second and third generations. The lack of competent musicians in the community will be a decisive factor for the survival of Vietnamese traditional music in Australia in the future.
All significant musical changes and innovations have been developed by musicians who are regularly involved in musical activities outside their ethnic community. Their new music has been created for a primarily non-Vietnamese Australian audience, and therefore, will become a part of the contemporary musical fabrics of Australia rather than a new trend of Vietnamese music.
Books & articles:
Le Tuan Hung. 2003. “Vietnamese Traditions” in Currency Companion to Music and Dance in Australia. General editors: John Whiteoak and Aline Scott-Maxwell. Sydney: Currency House in association with Currency Press, pp. 678-680.
Le Tuan Hung. 1998. Dan Tranh Music of Vietnam: Traditions and Innovations. Tokyo, Melbourne: Australia Asia Foundation.
Le Tuan Hung. 1997. “Vietnamese Music” in The Oxford Companion to Australian Music. Edited by Warren Bebbington. Melbourne: Oxford University Press, p. 571.
Le Tuan Hung.1995. “Popular music of Vietnam” in Music and Popular Culture: Asia and Australia : Unit Study Guide. Clayton, Vic.: Monash Open Learning, p. 101-108.
McLennan, W. 1999a. Australian Social Trends 1999. Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics.Cat. No. 4102.0
McLennan, W. 1999b. Migration 1998-1999. Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics. Cat. No. 3412.0
Marcellino, Raffaele. 2003. “Postmodernism in Music” in Currency Companion to Music and Dance in Australia. General editors: John Whiteoak and Aline Scott-Maxwell. Sydney: Currency House in association with Currency Press, pp.542-544.
Dang Kim Hien. 1998. Shadows of the War Horse. For đàn tranh [Vietnamese zither] solo. Melbourne: Australia Asia Foundation.
Dang Kim Hien & Ros Bandt. 2002. Inside Outside. For voice, đàn tranh, recorder, viola da gamba and percussion. Melbourne: Australia Asia Foundation.
Nguyễn Ðăng Thảo. 1998. Thiếu Phụ Nam Xương [The Lady of Nam Xương]. A musical for the Vietnamese youth choir Giao Chỉ. Manuscript.
Văn Chi. 1996a. Trầm Khúc Hoan Ca. Tập 13. Sydney: Combined Choirs’ Association of St. Lê Bảo Tịnh.
Văn Chi. 1996b. Trầm Khúc Hoan Ca. Tập 14. Sydney: Dân Chúa.
Buddhist prayer for harmony and liberation. Performer: Venerable Thich Phuoc Tan. One CD, Mabuhay Records, MBR00005 (1997)
Cul(na)ture. Composer-performers: Ngoc-Tuan Hoang, John Napier, Markus Kuchenbuch. One CD. Sama Music (2002)
Echoes of Ancestral Voices: Traditional Music of Vietnam. Performers: Dang Kim Hien and Le Tuan Hung. One CD. Move Records, MD 3199 (1997)
The Effects of Weather. Performer: Way Out West. One CD. Jazzhead (2010). World jazz.
Fractions of Illumination: Cross-cultural Music by Australian Women Composers. Various artists. One CD. Sonic Gallery, SG0901 (2009). Original compositions.
From Vung Tau to Flemington. Performers: Nguyen Anh Dung, Nguyen Anh Tuan, Thanh Dang, Ba The, Nguyen Thi Dzung and Nguyen Thi Mai. One cassette. Cultural Development Branch, City of Melbourne (1992?)
Footscray Station. Performers: Way Out West (Peter Knight, Paul Williamson, Dung Nguyen, Ray Pereira and Howard Cairns). One CD. New Market Music, NEW 3127.2 (2003). Fusion jazz
Landscapes of Time: Contemporary Sound Art of Vietnam. Composers-performers: Dang Kim Hien and Le Tuan Hung. One CD. Move Records, MD 3197 (1996)
Music Deli in the Can: Folk and Traditional Music from Many Cultures of Australia.. One CD. ABC Music 512 102-2 (1992). Traditional music.
Musical Transfiguration: A Journey Across Vietnamese Soundscapes. Performers: Le Thi Kim and Le Tuan Hung. One CD. Move Records, MD 3128 (1992)
North. Performer: North band. One CD. Universal (2004). Popular music.
Old Grooves for New Streets. Performers: Way Out West (Peter Knight, Paul Williamson, Dung Nguyen, Ray Pereira, Howard Cairns and Dave Beck). One CD. Jazzhead, 634479593956 (2007). World jazz
On the Wings of a Butterfly. Various artists. Once CD. Move Records, MD 3297 (2005).
Ơn Cha Nghĩa Mẹ Tình Quê [For Mother, Father and Homeland]. Performers: Minh Ha, Tran Khuong and Dang Kim Hien. One CD. Minh Hà (2003). Sung poetry.
Phương Trời Nam [The Southern Sky]. One CD. Association of Vietnamese Students in Victoria [1998?]. Popular music.
Quivering String. Composer-performers: Ros Bandt, Kari, Le Thi Kim and Le Tuan Hung. One CD. Move Records. MD 3141 (1992). Original compositions.
Scent of Time : Australian Compositions for Asian Instruments and Voices. Various artists. One CD. Move Records, MD 3263 (2002). Original compositions.
Straight Up. Performer: North band. One CD. EMI Malaysia (2006). Popular music.
Zither Nostalgie. Performers: Nguyen Dang Thao, Kadri Auvarrt, Cicilia Kemezys, Roland Dankbaar, and Gerrd Menzel). One CD (2001). Arrangements of traditional music and folk fusion music
Thiếu Phụ Nam Xương [The Lady of Nam Xương]. A Vietnamese musical performed by members of the Giao Chỉ Choir. Produced by Giao Chỉ Choir. 2000.
Đặng Kim Hiền
Accessed 20 January 2015
Accessed 15 April 2010
Access 15 April 2010
Accessed 30 April 2010
Accessed 1 April 2010.
Access 27 July 2011
Tùng Châu: võ sĩ, robot hay nghệ sĩ?
Accessed 1 April 2010
Way Out West Band
Access 15 April 2010
CHINESE MUSIC BY ORGANISED GROUPS IN VICTORIA BETWEEN 1949-1995
by Wang Zheng-Ting
© 1997-2014 by Wang Zheng-Ting
This article is an abridged version of chapter 5 of the book Chinese Music in Australia by Wang Zheng Ting.
There have been many Chinese musical and theatrical organisations in Melbourne during
the period from 1949 to the present, especially in the years from the late 1980s.
Prominent groups are the Chinese Song and Dance Ensemble (Zhonghua Gewutuan ),
the Australian Chinese Opera Association (Zhongguo Xiju Xiehui), the Gangzhou
Society Cantonese Opera Group, the Chao Feng (Zhaofeng) Chinese Orchestra,
established in the early 1980s, and the Australian Chinese Music Ensemble.
In this article, I shall examine the history and activities of three groups:
The Gangzhou Society Cantonese Opera Group, The Chao Feng Chinese
Orchestra, and the Australian Chinese Music Ensemble. I believe that these
three groups are representative of the development of organised Chinese music in the period from 1949.
- The Gangzhou Society Cantonese Opera Group
- The Chao Feng Chinese Orchestra
- The Australian Chinese Music Ensemble
The Gangzhou Society Cantonese Opera Group
History of the Gangzhou Society Cantonese Opera Group
The Gangzhou Society Cantonese Opera Group was established in Melbourne in 1960.
Because of the restrictive White Australia Policy during this period, many people
within the Chinese society in Victoria, either single or married, could not bring their
families to Australia. The establishment of the Cantonese opera in this society
therefore came about as an avenue for these people to enrich their lives to compensate
for the lack of family support that they used to have. Secondly, many Chinese that
came to Australia were sponsored by Chinese businessmen to work as labourers.
Many, therefore, had no education, nor did they have a good understanding of English.
In addition, under the White Australia Policy, opportunities were limited, which
resulted in the majority of these people staying within the confines of the Chinese
Community, which similarly limited their social activities within the Chinese society.
A third reason for the establishment of Cantonese opera in this society stemmed from
the overt manner in which gambling had taken hold in the Chinese community.
Cantonese opera was seen as an alternative mode of recreation. Additionally, the
majority of the Chinese population in Victoria came from the Canton Province, a
region fond of Cantonese opera (Yueju). To satisfy these needs, and in an attempt to
persuade Chinese people to take part in healthy activities instead of becoming involved
in gambling, the Gangzhou Society Cantonese Opera Group was established. The
members of the Gangzhou Society Cantonese Opera Group consisted mainly of
immigrant Chinese. Since the migrants were predominantly male, female
impersonators were adopted.
The local Chinese learned Cantonese opera mainly from sailors. In the 1960s air tickets
were very expensive and Chinese people usually travelled by sea. Ships from Hong Kong
to Australia were therefore quite frequent. According to Huang Zhaonan,
who is a musician, an actor, and the director of the Gangzhou Society, a ship named
Ziwanyizuozhianchen came to Melbourne approximately once every three months.
Every time the ship arrived (it usually stayed for one or two weeks), sailors on the ship
would play Chinese music and act in performances of Cantonese opera. Some of the
crew were members of a Cantonese opera association in Hong Kong. When they were
in Melbourne, the sailors constantly made contact with the local Chinese community
and played Cantonese opera with local Cantonese opera lovers. They also taught
music skills and opera performing techniques to the local Chinese people. As Huang
Zhaonan remembered, even the early musical instruments were contributed by the
sailors. The musical instruments played by members of the Gangzhou Society
Cantonese Opera Group were of both Chinese and Western origin.
The instruments used in Cantonese opera during the 1960s included a yuehu (two
stringed fiddle), yueqin (four-stringed plucked instrument with a sound box shaped
like the full moon), saxophone, violin, Hawaiian guitar, and percussion instruments.
Even a xylophone was used.
This performance included musicians from Sydney and sailors from Hong Kong. Not
only did the sailors teach the local Chinese how to play and perform opera and music,
they sometimes even took part in the actual performance. It seems that the musicians
played from music scores instead of the traditional way of playing by memory (as will
be discussed later).
The first opera, named Hubugui, was performed in 1961. The story was about a
faithful and loving couple. The wife was ill-treated by her mother-in-law and she left
the family while her husband was in the army. When the husband returned home and
discovered what had happened to his beloved wife, he immediately left home and took
a journey to look for her. Eventually, the couple were reunited. In 1962 the opera
played at the Russell Street Theatre. Other repertoire performed by this group
included: Birongtanjian, Wangbaochuan, Yibacunzhongjian and Yiqufengqiuhuang.
The Gangzhou Society Cantonese Opera Group was not a business. Audiences were
mainly Chinese and the group only played for charities, especially those organised for
fund raising in order to build the Chinese Nursing Home. The Chinese Nursing Home
was completed in 1969. By this time Chinese immigrant families, still in China, could
now come to Australia for reunions. The members of the opera understandably became
reinvolved with their families, resulting in less time for their involvement in opera.
Consequently, the Gangzhou Society Cantonese Opera Group became inactive
(Gangzhou Tongxianghui Special Issue 1985:17). The group remained inactive until a
change of Australian immigration laws provided the conditions for a significant
improvement in the standard and opportunities for ethnic music development, more than
‘White Australia’ had ever seen.
By the late 1970’s, with more liberal immigration laws now in place, and the “White
Australia Policy” now a dead issue, many overseas Chinese started arriving in
Australia from countries that included Vietnam, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Taiwan,
Cambodia, and Laos. Among those Chinese people, many were Cantonese opera
lovers, and quite a few could act in Cantonese operas and play Chinese music. Having
found a lifestyle that provided peace and contentment, they were now seeking
opportunities to express Cantonese opera skills.
In 1985, local Cantonese opera lovers held a performance with the help of Sydney
Cantonese opera lovers. This performance layed the foundation for re-establishing the
Gangzhou Society Cantonese Opera Group. By 1987, local Cantonese opera was re-
established in the Gangzhou Society with the assistance of Huang Zhaonan.
According to Huang Zhaonan, the opera has not had a proper name. People in the
Chinese community know it as Cantonese opera attached to the Gangzhou Society.
Thus, in this study the researcher still uses its previous name, the Gangzhou Society
Cantonese Opera Group, to identify this opera association.
Nowadays, there are a few actresses and female musicians in the association, hence no
female impersonators are needed. The musicians currently include Huang Zhaonan ,
Xu Caiping, Tang Xiongshan, Ren Xiafei, Peng Chunkui, and others. The repertoire
the group plays usually includes stories of ancient China. Most of the members of the
opera are over 40, which might be the main reason why popular songs are not
performed (He Shishang 1994:8).
The purpose of the opera is to create a social place for Cantonese opera lovers to meet
each other and to compare notes. The opera is still a non-profit organisation. Sometimes
they perform for fund raising. For instance, in February 1994 the opera gave two
performances at the Gangzhou Society Assembly Hall. They raised $1091 from the
performances, all of which was donated to the Chinese Nursing Home Welfare
Foundation in Victoria (Weisheng Huazu Laoren Fulihui) and to the Heavenly Queen
Temple Society Inc., Melbourne (Tianhoumiao Choujian Weiyuanhui) (Heavenly Queen
Temple Society Inc. 1994-1995:7,33). In the two performances, the group played
highlights from operas which included Guangxuhuangjifei, Zhaojunchusai, Anyu,
Shihouji, Huanjuelihentian, and Dengjieshecui.
Nowadays this opera association rehearses each Saturday afternoon at 124-126 Little
Bourke Street on the 1st floor, in the location of the See-Yap Society (Shiyi Huiguan).
The author has visited the opera association at this location twice. During these visits,
the organisation rehearsed in the style of Yuequ, a folk art form performed in Canton
province. Compared with Cantonese opera, Yue-qu is less extravagant, has fewer
players and, as such, is more economical to stage. As Huang Zhaonan points out, if
they performed Cantonese opera, they have to include more people and even invite
some performers from Sydney, which is quite expensive for an amateur production to
bear. Therefore, the association usually performs and presents Yuequ and highlights
from Cantonese operas.
The instruments used by the musicians included a yuehu, yehu, guangdong-yueqin,
zhongruan, a Western violin, as well as Chinese percussion instruments. Compared to
the opera association of the 1960s, fewer Western musical instruments are now used in
the opera. This could probably be a result of influence from the mainstream culture, in
which fewer Western instruments are now used for Cantonese opera in Hong Kong
and in mainland China.
Summary of the Gangzhou Society Cantonese Opera Group
The members of the opera seem to enjoy their activities in this non-profit organisation.
Unlike the nineteenth century companies, the organisation is not a business. All the
musicians, actors and actresses are immigrants to Australia. The weekly rehearsals are
much more important than their very occasional performances. The social activity of
the rehearsal is important in that the musicians pay close attention to each other whilst
maintaining seriousness with their music. As with many amateur groups, the music
making has more meaning for the performers than for the audience. From the point of
view of contemporary styles of operatic performance in China, their approach would
seem to be rather conservative. Cut off from the main culture, they have not
developed as it has. For instance, they still play in unison and in China these days the
musicians would play different parts from an organised score.
The Gangzhou Society Cantonese Opera Group must be seen as a valuable leisure-
time activity for the older generation of Chinese immigrants who, after 20 or 40 years
of residence out of China, still find their contact with traditional Chinese music
important and meaningful.
The Chao Feng Chinese Orchestra
The Chao Feng (Zhaofeng) Chinese orchestra is one of the biggest Chinese orchestras
in Australia. Its establishment in the early 1980s was the direct result of the increase
in migration from Asia. Its development was mainly influenced by musicians from
Hong Kong, and later by professional musicians from mainland China. Its activity has
not been confined within the Chinese community, since it has also promoted Chinese
music in the general community in Australia, acting as a medium through which
Western people have been able to experience Chinese culture.
In the late 1970s, William Suen, an immigrant from Hong Kong, met by chance,
Lo Wen, a Chinese immigrant from Vietnam. They met at the Melbourne State
College (now part of the University of Melbourne), whilst demonstrating Chinese
musical instruments for a video production. Soon afterwards, they jointly built up a
network of Chinese friends who were interested in Chinese music. Lo Wen and
William Suen started teaching Chinese music and established a music group named
Chinese Unity (The Boite, :20).
In 1981 the group gave a concert, The First Chinese Music Concert, which established
its popularity mainly within the Chinese community. At this concert the programme
included an instrumental ensemble and included a dizi ( flute) solo, zheng (zither) solo,
erhu ( fiddle) solo, folk song, group singing, a North Lion Dance, and a Chinese classical
dance. In 1982 the group became an independent organisation known as the Chao Feng
Chinese Orchestra. Lo Wen was the first director and William Suen the first co-
New Asian Chinese immigrants provided extra potential new members for the orchestra.
In 1987, during its peak time, the orchestra had 40 to 50 members (Australia Council
1987:23). These included Chinese immigrants from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia,
Singapore, Mainland China, Chinese-Australians, and even some Anglo-Australians.
Generally speaking, the instruments used by the Chao Feng Chinese Orchestra were,
and still are, similar to their counterparts in China. This was illustrated at the 10th
Anniversary Concert in 1992 of the Chao Feng Chinese Orchestra, in which the
instruments used for this concert included the suona (oboe), dizi, sheng (mouth organ),
erhu, zhonghu, gehu, pipa, zhongruan, daruan, liuqin, yangqin, a Western double
bass, plus various Chinese percussion instruments.
The orchestra rehearses each Monday night at The University of Melbourne. Stephen
Wu (ex-director) remembered that the orchestra’s first rehearsal place was a rented
property in Elizabeth Street. In the early 1980s, after Dr Cathy Falk attended a concert
given by the Chao Feng Chinese Orchestra, she offered a free rehearsal room in the
Melbourne State College with the objective of giving assistance that would help
promote the orchestra and their music. Her generous offer meant that the orchestra
had a permanent place for rehearsals (Interview: Stephen Wu, 22nd December 1994).
The orchestra has performed on numerous occasions, including, for example, at the
National Gallery, the Museum of Chinese Australian History, on ABC Radio, and for
the Melbourne Chinese Spring Festival in Chinatown. The orchestra attracts large
audiences. As Stephen Wu, a key member of the orchestra recalled, ‘the orchestra had
a very successful concert of Chinese traditional music in 1983 at Robert Blackwood
Hall, Monash University, with more than 1000 people present’ (Interview: Stephen
Wu, 3rd January 1995). Although the audience included both Chinese and Western
people, Chinese were in the majority. As Stephen Wu said in an earlier interview, ‘the
audience are mainly Chinese and include relatives of the members, friends of the
members, even friends of friends of the members’ (Interview: Stephen Wu, 22nd
December 1994). Nonetheless, the presence of significant numbers of non-Chinese at
the concert indicates the shift in attitude of the Australian public that has occurred
since the 1970s. During the time of the Whitlam Government (1972-1975), which
coincided with the end of Australian involvement in the Vietnam War, connections
between Australia and China improved markedly with the establishment of diplomatic
relations. Whitlam visited China in 1973 and China quickly became a major trading
partner of Australia. This new relationship blossomed as China became a major
tourist destination, and cultural exchanges of performing groups and individuals
became more frequent. In Australia there was a heightened interest in Chinese culture,
politics and life.
The size of the orchestra, nowadays, is very flexible, ‘usually only 8 to 12 people will
attend the rehearsal. However, if a major concert is coming up, the number could be
increased to approximately thirty’ (Interview with Gary Chen, 22nd December 1994).
In some circumstances, a nuclear group of 5 or 6 will play on behalf on the orchestra.
All members of the orchestra are volunteers. This creates a problem in that the
effectiveness of rehearsals cannot be guaranteed since the numbers that turn up for
rehearsals varies greatly, often with only a nucleus of the orchestra attending. Many
performers have not had a solid training, and the levels of performing technique within
the orchestra vary widely. These problems greatly hinder the progress of the orchestra.
Nobody is paid a salary and the only renumeration comes from occasional
In the early days of the Chao Feng Chinese Orchestra, the music performed was
mainly Chinese music which had been popular in Hong Kong from the 1950s to the
1970s. The music played in Hong Kong during the 1970s was quite conservative
compared to that played in mainland China. The selection and arrangement of the
pieces, as Stephen Wu pointed out, was determined by the standard of the orchestra.
The repertoire included traditional Chinese pieces such as Jiangjunling,
Chunjianghuayueye, Yudabajiao, Zizhudiao, Yuzhouchangwan, and Jinshekuangwu
(Interview: Stephen Wu, 22nd December 1994).
Since the late 1980s, many professional musicians have come to Melbourne, most of
them as English language students. These musicians have had a strong influence on
the Chao Feng Chinese Orchestra through participation in rehearsals, giving individual
lessons to its members, and by taking part in performances. These professional
musicians have included Chen Wenjie, Chen Baitao, Dong Qiuming, Gao Tieshuan, Li
Li, Shen Pangeng, Wang Zheng-Ting and Zhang Ningna. Gao Tieshuan, Julian Yu,
Cai Chunsheng and Shen Pangeng have conducted the orchestra.
In 1981 an additional influence on the orchestra came about through the visit of Mr
Liu Wenjin, a famous composer and conductor from the People’s Republic of China,
who was sponsored by the Chinese Fellowship of Victoria. When in Australia he gave
lectures and taught local Chinese music lovers to play music. He also trained the
Chinese Music Group in Melbourne [previously the Chao Feng Chinese Orchestra]
(Eastern Standard, 14th December 1981). Through his activities in Melbourne he
reinforced Chinese music influences from mainland China on the Chinese Musical
Group and, under his influence, the group expanded (Interview: Grace Gorman, 22nd
In 1992, Mr Yang Jeiming, the principal conductor of the Central Song and Dance
Ensemble of Beijing, and a Kenneth Myer Artist-in-Residence at the Victorian Arts
Centre, was invited to conduct the Chao Feng Chinese Orchestra, which was
performing in concert with the Australian Chinese Music Ensemble. The concert took
place on 4th June 1992 in the George Fairfax Studio, as a part of the program In the
Footsteps of Marco Polo, which was a musical journey tracing the Italian explorer’s
voyages. Through the training of Liu Wenjin and Yang Jeiming, and from the
influence of professional musicians from China, the orchestra’s repertoire is not
nowadays limited to traditional Chinese music. It now includes contemporary Chinese
music, as well as adaptations of other music, such as the Japanese piece The Mail
Coach, and an Algerian piece, Taimu-Taimu.
Some Australian Members of the Orchestra:
Peter is an Australian. His involvement with the orchestra came about by accident.
As he recalls in an interview:
Twelve years ago, when I was employed at the Ministry of Transport, a
Chinese woman worked for me. She was so shy that, to gain her confidence at
work, I asked her to teach me one word or one sentence in Chinese each day
(Interview: Peter Bannister, 22nd December 1994).
Soon after, Peter became interested in Chinese culture. For the purpose of learning
more about Chinese culture, Peter thought he should make more Chinese friends.
Because he is a clarinet player, he joined the Chao Feng Chinese Orchestra in 1983,
learning the sheng [mouth organ].
His experience in the orchestra has been rewarding in two ways. Firstly, his
knowledge of Chinese culture has been extended through his contact with Chinese
people. Secondly, the comparisons he has made between traditional Chinese and
Western music have enabled him to appreciate Western music in a different way. For
example, Peter discovered that some music principles are similar between traditional
Chinese and Western music: vibrato for a long note; crescendo for ascending;
decrescendo for descending. Traditional Chinese music uses more fifth and fourth
intervals which are not rich, but pure; Western harmonisation is more complicated and
based on discords, using the third, the sixth, and the seventh intervals. Traditional
Chinese music uses the perfect tuning system, while Western music adapted the well-
tempered tuning system which is easier for modulation. The rhythm in traditional
Chinese music is quite simple compared to Western music. As Peter explained, if one
only eats apples, one would only know the taste of apples. If one eats an apple and a
banana, one is able to compare the different tastes of the two, which can help one to
appreciate the apple in a different way. Because of his knowledge of Western music,
Peter is able to improvise effectively in the orchestra. Additionally, his knowledge of
Chinese music has helped his playing on the clarinet. Peter’s personal experience in
the Chao Feng Chinese Orchestra shows that music acts as a bridge linking two
different cultures, and that there is an advantage in cultural exchange.
Grace Gorman is an immigrant from England. Her involvement with the Chao Feng
Chinese Orchestra came about simply because her ex-boyfriend is a Malaysian
Chinese. He bought her an erhu as a gift, and introduced a friend of his to teach her to
play the instrument. As Gorman said, ‘through the practice in the orchestra, I have got
to know more Chinese people which has helped me to comprehend Chinese culture’
(Interview: Grace Gorman, 22nd December 1994).
Grace Gorman’s involvement with Chinese music has even influenced her Western
colleagues and friends. They are more interested in her playing erhu than her clarinet,
and sometimes attend the Chao Feng Chinese Orchestra’s performances. This provides
her colleagues with an opportunity to become further interested in Chinese culture.
Gorman’s personal experience in the orchestra shows that a possibility exists for those
that do not necessarily have direct contact with Chinese people to become interested in
Chinese culture, and that these people in turn can influence others.
Summary of the Chao Feng Chinese Orchestra
The Chao Feng Chinese Orchestra has its origins from new immigrants to Australia
from various Chinese communities in different countries. Although the orchestra
comprises volunteers, it is significant in being the first local Chinese orchestra to
introduce Chinese concert music to the general community in Melbourne, generating
interest and promoting understanding at a time when China was just beginning to open
its doors to the West.
Individual interviews with selected members of the orchestra illustrate that the
different backgrounds of each person meant that they have had different responses to
Chinese music. The advantages of inter-cultural exchange have been described as well
as the advantages of dissemination of cultural influences to individuals through
personal contacts and social activities with friends.
The Australian Chinese Music Ensemble
The Australian Chinese Music Ensemble is a professional Chinese music ensemble in
Australia. With the Chinese Government opening its doors to the West, a wider
spectrum of talented artists made their way to Australia making possible the
establishment of a professional music ensemble, comprising educated musicians who
were previously established in their profession in China. Although the ensemble’s
activities have involved both the Chinese and general communities within Australia,
its performances have been more directed to the general community. The ensemble
has its own distinctive characteristics. Its high standard of musical skill and mastery
of both traditional and contemporary Chinese music enabled the ensemble to achieve a
high reputation in the ethnic communities whilst touring around Australia. It also
provided the ensemble with the opportunity to appear frequently on media programs.
The ensemble has experimented in amalgamating Eastern and Western musical
aspects, which is still a continuing developmental direction in their music. The
experiences and achievements of the Australian Chinese Music Ensemble have shown
the potential for immigrant Chinese to succeed in their profession in Australia. Other
ethnic music groups could possibly be encouraged by the success of the ensemble to
achieve similar results.
Established in early 1989, the ensemble was originally know as the Wang Zheng-Ting
Ensemble, and/or the Melbourne Chinese Music Ensemble. However, in 1991 the
ensemble registered as ‘The Australian Chinese Music Ensemble’ at the Office of Fair
Trading and Business Affairs in Melbourne.
In the beginning, the ensemble’s activities were restricted to the Chinese community,
usually performing for Chinese festivals. With the help of Susan Fain, the executive
officer of the Multicultural Council of Victoria, the ensemble made contact with ABC
Music Deli. The first recording with Music Deli was on the 17th of August 1989.
There were only three musicians for this recording; Wang Zheng-Ting, Julian Yu and
Andy Chen (Chen Baitao), respectively playing sheng, erhu, and sanxian ( lute). ‘The
performance went very well, and the results were broadcast the following night on
“Music Deli”, with many appreciative comments from interested listeners’ (a letter
from Stephen Snelleman, 21st August 1989, to the International Language Centre).
Because the recording was so successful, the ensemble was invited by Music Deli to
participate in a concert for Music Deli as a part of the Piccolo Spoleto Festival. The
concert was held on 29th September 1989, in the Toorak Uniting Church, with the
ensemble performing for approximately 10 minutes as part of a live broadcast of 90
minutes. A subsequent article described the Chinese music for this concert:
No one could have been prepared, either, for the sight of three business-suited
Chinese musicians, Wang Zheng-Ting, Julian Yu, and Andy Chen, serious as
thunderbirds, playing Chinese traditional music on the sheng (a bundle of
bamboo pipes with a mouthpiece which works like an organ) and two stringed
instruments, bowed and plucked. The fragility and perfection of their music
took the whole audience into uncharted territory, especially Wang Zheng-
Ting’s passionate and absorbing work on sheng (Doug Kesselring, Juke, 28th
This performance helped promote the ensemble’s great popularity in ethnic music
circles. It further encouraged the ensemble to direct and develop a blend of traditional
and contemporary music towards the general community. Invitations for performances
became more frequent. Within the first year of the ensemble’s establishment, it was
invited to play at major festivals in Melbourne, including the Melbourne International
Festival and the Piccolo Spoleto, further promoting the profile of the ensemble.
In order to make itself more attractive to the general community, and to enable
flexibility and a greater repertoire of music to be performed, the ensemble needed to
extend its size or else incorporate new instruments and sounds. The continuous influx
of Chinese students from mainland China made this possible, since amongst them
were some high standard Chinese musicians. In different periods the following
musicians have played with the ensemble: Dong Qiuming, Li Jun (dizi); Wang Zheng-
Ting (sheng); Cai Chunsheng, Shen Pangeng, Su Qi and Julian Yu (erhu); Chen
Wenjie (pipa, ruan); Chen Wenxiang, Hu Ping, Zhang Ningna (yangqin); Yang Mu
(qin); Li Li, Wang Yuehu (zheng). Currently, the ensemble consists of six musicians:
Chen Wenjie, Dong Qiuming, Shen Pangeng, Wang Yuehua, Wang Zheng-Ting and
Zhang Ningna. To add further variety, Dong Xiaomeng, a mezzo-soprano and
graduate from Xian Conservatory of Music, performs with the ensemble.
Most of the members of the ensemble are from an area south of the lower reaches of
the Yangtze River (Jiangnan), so instinctively the ensemble inherits the musical style
Jiangnan Sizhu from this region. For instance, when playing traditional pieces, the
musicians in the ensemble have more freedom for improvisation and ornamentation.
However, improvisation is limited to a certain extent simply because a musical score
needs to be followed more or less strictly. Whilst improvising, the musicians have to
consider keeping the smoothness in the horizontal melodic movement of their parts,
maintain the vertical texture, and coordinate it harmoniously with the other
instruments. Hence improvisation is technically quite difficult and ornamentation has
therefore gained more importance in performance. With ornamentation, especially
when playing traditional pieces, each musician will play to the others. While one
features, the others will remain soft, and while one plays more ornamentation, the
others will perform only simple ornaments. These then are the features of Jiangnan
Another feature is seen in traditional pieces, where normally the ensemble repeats its
melody line with the different instruments, and re-ornaments it according to the
expertise of the musician and nature of the instrument. For example, Purple Bamboo
(Zizhudiao), as played by the ensemble, is repeated four times. The dizi plays in a high
register, using more semiquavers and more syncopation; in the following repetition of
the piece the erhu plays, one register lower, and uses more slides. The sound of the
dizi is resonant, while the sound of the erhu is soft, making an obvious contrast. The
sheng follows the erhu part and repeats the melody with fewer notes, and in some
cases uses chords. As a result, even though the melody is repeated several times, it is
not monotonous. Most musicians in the ensemble perform with a graceful and
exquisite style, which is a distinguishing feature of Jiangnan style.
With informal performances, a fixed program usually does not exist, and more
ensemble pieces are played. For instance, when playing at a restaurant, the ensemble
only provides background music, and ensemble pieces are ideal. At small festivals,
where there isn’t a fixed audience, the next piece played usually depends on the
reaction of the crowd. For instance, the ensemble may play a soft piece to gain more
interest, or play loud music to override a noisy crowd. If many people appear as if
they are going to leave, the ensemble will usually try to play an exciting piece to draw
the audience’s attention back. Anyone in the ensemble may suggest a piece to play,
although the format is usually determined by the leader with occasional advise from
the dizi player (a main melody instrument player). The leader incorporates
experience, technique, and social skills to determine the format of performance
relevant to each occasion.
The ensemble’s routine for a formal performance is to play more solo pieces and fewer
ensemble pieces. The reasons are as follows: firstly, since there are only 5 or 6
musicians in the ensemble, some parts may appear weak. For instance, the bass line
sometimes may not be sufficient. Secondly, it is not always possible to rely on all
ensemble members to be present at a performance, due to each individual’s work and
family commitments. It is very difficult to play standard ensemble pieces when someone
is absent. Thirdly, ensemble pieces require more emphasis on cooperation by each
musician, which can only be achieved through more frequent rehearsals, which are seldom possible due to
the reasons previously mentioned. One advantage of playing more solo pieces is the
increased flexibility in performance. With solos, the accompanying parts are less
important compared with ensemble piece parts. Solos emphasise the musician’s
individual standard, rather than cooperation with other musicians. Therefore, less
coordinated rehearsal time is required for this type of performance. Since each member
of the ensemble is of the highest calibre, playing solos gives full play to each musician’s
expertise and does not compromise the standard of the overall performance. < p>
At performances, the Australian Chinese Music Ensemble usually provide solos by
wind instruments, such as the dizi, bawu, kuodi, hulusi, sheng and lusheng. Solos are
also provided by the two-stringed bowed instrument erhu, and by the plucked and
struck stringed instruments such as pipa, ruan, zheng and yangqin. The range of the
ensemble’s repertoire incorporates traditional Chinese music, contemporary Chinese
music and adopted foreign music.
An Experiment with Australian Musicians
As part of a Western society, the ensemble has the opportunity to experiment with
Western musicians and composers. In the 1994 Music Round, Jeffrey Crellin, the
principle oboist in the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, was invited to participate in
an ensemble’s performance. In the author’s opinion, Jeffrey’s oboe enriched the sound
quality of the ensemble, particularly in New Gold Mountain. Although the piece was
originally composed using all Chinese musical instruments, Jeffrey used his
experience to augment feeling for the music. For instance, he used the oboe to imitate
the melody played by the erhu and used tempo variations, which made the piece more
impressive. His interpretation of this piece helped the ensemble to become familiar
with how Western musicians approach music, and the experience enhanced the
cohesiveness of the group, when both rehearsing and performing. Jeffrey was
particularly interested in New Gold Mountain more than any other Chinese piece he
played when with the ensemble, possibly because this piece was composed by a
New Gold Mountain was composed by George Dreyfus for the Australian Chinese
Music Ensemble, and was later incorporated in a recording with the ensemble in the
making of a DAT master tape at the SBS radio station. This piece combined both
Eastern and Western musical aspects. The Western aspect was Dreyfus’s natural
ability as a Western composer. Dreyfus played his Western bassoon, yet this was
accompanied by the Eastern sheng. The blend of Eastern instrumentation and
ornamentation, together with Western composition and instruction, provided a unique
experience. Over recent years the composer has had a close interest in Chinese
culture, and has even conducted a symphony orchestra in China. The enthusiasm for
experimentation was quite evident in the ensemble’s associations with Dreyfus, as was
experienced during his instructions at rehearsals and in other activities. Dreyfus’s
experimentation with Eastern musical aspects, was quite evident, and clearly noticable
in some of his interpretations of musical pieces.
Firstly, Dreyfus is a wind instrument player, and his interest in wind instruments was
exemplified in experimentations with musical phrases written for the sheng (another
wind instrument), when in rehearsal with the Australian Chinese Music Ensemble, and
in composing New Gold Mountain. Further development of this interest was
demonstrated in his piece composed for the didgeridoo with a symphony orchestra,
and in his use of wind instruments from different nations, including the souna, in a
symphony orchestra piece. Secondly, to consider the composer’s instructions during
rehearsal, Dreyfus requested each member of the ensemble to ornament their parts in
the piece. For instance, the dizi added more decoration notes, the sheng and zheng
filled the gap in a long note, and the erhu used more slides. Through each musician’s
decoration, the Chinese aspects of the piece were reinforced.
Through cooperation with Jeffrey Crellin and George Dreyfus, the ensemble has
obtained some experience with Western musicians and their involvement with Chinese
music. A special benefit of this cooperative experience reinforced the ensemble’s
orientation towards an amalgamation of Western and Eastern musical aspects.
Various Specific Contexts of Ensemble Performances
The ensemble’s main activities include performing in the media, at festivals and for
special occasion entertainment, and at universities. The ensemble performs for both
profit and non-profit occasions. However, as most of the performances are for
professional purposes, payments usually follow the rates of the Musicians Union.
Non-profitable performances include fund-raising and charity events, promotions for
Chinese cultural events, and promotions for building up the identity of the ensemble in
the general community. The ensemble also assists other Chinese music groups by
playing at their performances. Some of these people have reciprocated in giving
valuable aid to the ensemble in the past.
Voluntary performances are usually quite difficult to carry out. The musicians in the
ensemble have different working commitments, and to ask for release to attend a
performance is often difficult, especially as it is done with the knowledge that no
compensation of fees for the performance will be received. Sometimes the nature of
voluntary performances may be quite ambiguous. Frequently then, the leader of the
ensemble will go by himself to perform to avoid possible misunderstandings, or
possible devaluation of the professional reputation of the ensemble.
In the ensemble’s experience, performing within the Chinese community is much more
difficult than performances for the general community. A major reason for this
difference relates to the values of those Chinese that head the organising committees
that the ensemble needs to negotiate with. These people are usually not from mainland
China. They seem more likely to maintain the older more traditional ideas towards
Chinese music and Chinese musicians. For this reason, and for reasons of promoting
and creating its own style of music, the ensemble focuses on exposure within the
general community, taking advantage of being in a Western society, and therefore
avoids the disadvantages and restrictions of performing within, and associating with,
mainstream Chinese culture.
The ensemble has frequently been recorded by ABC Music Deli. It has performed on
ABC National Radio, ABC Radio Australia, SBS Radio, and on 3ZZZ Radio. The
ensemble has also performed on SBS Television and on Channel Ten’s Good Morning
The ensemble has performed at the Piccolo Spoleto Festival in Melbourne (1989), the
Melbourne International Festival (1989-1993), the Launceston Festival (1990, 1991),
the First Chinese International Arts Festival (1991), the Australian Festival of Asian
Arts (1992), the Bendigo Easter Fair (1992-1994), the Port Fairy Folk Festival (1993,
1994), the World of Music Festival in Brisbane (1994), the Melbourne Moomba
Festival (1994, 1995) and at the Melbourne Chinese Spring Festival in Chinatown
(1989-1995). More recently the group played at an Australian Citizenship ceremony
(February, 1995), attended by the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for
Immigration, played a two week season at the Crown Casino to coincide with the
Chinese New Year (1995, Year of the Pig), and performed at the National Folk
Festival in Canberra (Easter, 1995). The Australian Chinese Music Ensemble holds a
contract with Event Enterprises for promotion and performances throughout 1995.
The ensemble has performed at the University of Melbourne, Monash University,
Latrobe University, RMIT, and Deakin University. In 1993, with musicians from
Sydney, they played at the Australia National University in Canberra.
With the financial support of the Australia Council and the Victorian Ministry for the
Arts, the ensemble’s first self supporting concert was held in Melba Hall at The
University of Melbourne (9th and 16th of August 1992). Approximately 130 people
attended this first concert and about 70% were Asian. For the second concert there were
approximately 150 people and about 40% were Asian. In 1994 the ensemble obtained
other grants from the Australia Council and the Myer Foundation to set up performances
at the Music in the Round Festival. The audience reached approximately 300 at one of
these performances and more than 95% were estimated to be of Anglosaxon origins.
The Australian Government’s approach to the immigration question swayed community
attitudes and policies toward ethnic groups and thus indirectly influenced the
development of Chinese music in Australia over the years. In the 1950s and 1960s the
White Australia Policy severely limited immigration, and as a result of community
attitudes, existing Chinese residents remained in segregated communities. The
language barrier further polarised communities. The further consequence of the White
Australia Policy severely limited the potential to ‘import’ quality musicians. Musically,
the lack of integration of cultures stifled the acceptance of Chinese music in the general
The development of the Chao Feng Chinese Orchestra, one of the biggest Chinese
orchestras in Australia, at first was mainly influenced by musicians from Hong Kong.
In more recent times the further development of the orchestra was greatly aided by
professional musicians from mainland China. Accordingly, the Chao Feng Chinese
Orchestra has the significance of being a pioneer for introducing Chinese concert
music to the general community. Thus, since the Australian policy towards China has
become more enlightened, the opportunities for people in Australia to become more
interested in Chinese culture has been greatly enhanced.
In modern times, The Australian Chinese Music Ensemble is an example of a
professional ensemble with a high standard of performance. Its activities are integrated
with both the Chinese community and the general community in Australia. The
ensemble has performed extensively in Victoria but also in Queensland, Tasmania and
the ACT, and has recently accepted an invitation to perform in Taiwan. The ensemble’s
overall musical success, and its current aim to integrate with Western composers and
musicians, may be seen as a valid path that other ethnic music groups may wish to
Wang Zheng Ting can be contacted at