William & Mary

‘Pi’ and ‘Pa’, Striking Beautiful Melodies Back and Forth

  •  Zhiting Liu plays the song 'Wild Geese Alighting on Sand' with peaceful emotions of the scene on her face.  
  •  Liu Zhiting and Nick Starr stand for an applause after their beautiful final piece, "Spring and Autumn." One of Liu's students even came to give her flowers!  
  •  The audience waits in anticipation for Zhiting Liu to perform while listening to opening remarks.  
  •  Si Chen welcomes the audience to the Pipa Solo Concert held in Williamsburg Regional Library's Theatre on September 26th, 2014.  
  •  Steve Hanson, Vice Provost for International Affairs gives opening remarks at the Pipa Solo Concert on Thursday, September 26, 2014  
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On September 26th, 2014, the William and Mary Confucius Institute (WMCI) held a Pipa Solo Concert at the Williamsburg Regional Library Theatre, as part of WMCI’s celebrations for Confucius Institute Day, which honored the 10th anniversary of CIs around the world. Steve Hanson, Vice Provost for International Affairs, gave a speech on the great impact WMCI has already made during its fledgling years, and then Chinese Language House Tutor Si Chen emceed the rest of the performance. Zhiting Liu, WMCI’s volunteer teacher, was the star of the night, plucking out melodies on her pipa.

The pipa is a traditional Chinese instrument which may be compared to a lute. It is shaped like half a pear, and has four strings. Pipa players wear fake nails to pluck the steel strings back and forth. (The name “pipa” actually comes from the fact that the fingers flick the strings forward or backward.) The instrument is renowned for its variety of sounds and range of emotions. Friday’s performance was no exception as Liu painted beautiful images in the audience’s mind with her notes.

The first song, “Wild Geese Alighting on Sand,” made use of the musical variety of the pipa with seven sections. The song described graceful white birds flying smoothly over the horizon, their honking imitated by an alternate method of plucking the pipa. Liu’s plucking increased in speed as the geese flew merrily, performing tricks, and whirling around. By the end of the piece, the music slowed as the geese disappeared over the horizon.

Liu then performed the remarkable song, “The Warlord Takes off His Armor,” which describes the story of Xiang Yu, King of the State of Chu, around 200 B.C. After being defeated by the State of Han, Xiang Yu bids farewell to his favorite concubine, and despite the ferryman’s encouragement to cross the river, he is too ashamed to return home. He stays on the opposite bank of the River Wu, where he kills a great number of enemies before committing suicide. When playing this piece, Liu not only carried the appropriate expressions on her face of mourning, despair, and agony, but also let the audience feel this as well through her passionate playing. The pipa was able to produce a variety of sounds in the piece, sounding at times like bronze bells, doorbells, and even the clashing of enemy swords on Xiang Yu’s armor.

Her second to last song, “Terracotta Army,” also showcased many similar, but distinct sounds. The song kept bringing to mind the great array of clay soldiers buried in Xi’an, where Qin Shihuang (the first Emperor of China, 259 BC - 210 BC) prepared his mausoleum for the afterlife. The music brought fantastic images of the grand army to mind, while also reminding the audience of its antiquity. By the end of the song, the audience members were in awe of the army.

For her final piece, Liu was joined by William and Mary Music Department accompanying piano player, Nick Starr. The song, “Spring and Autumn,” was written by celebrated composer Jianping Tang commemorating Confucius’ 2545th birthday. The song recalls the years from 720 BC to 480 BC filled with social upheavals in which Confucius and other notable scholars lived and for which the song was named. The piece brought fearsome, rushed images of chaos to mind, but then calmed down as the audience could envision Confucius or one of his contemporaries pondering philosophical theories. The many melodies conjured up images of the ‘hundred schools of thought which bloomed like a hundred flowers’. The scholars’ peaceful thoughts were embodied in the soothing notes Liu played, while the glorious cultural achievements of the Chinese people could also be imagined through her passionate playing.

After finishing the last song, Zhiting Liu and Nick Starr stood for several minutes as they received a standing ovation from the audience. Many spectators were amazed by the performance exclaiming, “Bravo! Bravo!” One audience member said after listening to her performance, he feared listening to other pipa players perform as they might not stand up to her performance. Steve Hanson described the performance as truly “world class”, and WMCI Director Dr. Yanfang Tang was in awe of their quality, which she said was up to the standard of performances at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C.

{{youtube:medium:center|i0Kj8bqixK8, Liu Zhiting's Pipa Solo Performance was held Thursday, September 26, 2014}}