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Ceramics: A Delight for Eyes and Ears

  • Ceramic Songs  The Yue Kiln Troupe performed many upbeat songs pertaining to the Kiln such as 'Happy Kiln Workers' and 'Opening the Yue Kiln'.  
  • Instrument Demonstrations  The performers each demonstrated their instrument, here a performer plays the xun, a type of Chinese ocarina.  
  • Ceramic Erhu Solos  During one of the songs, the two ceramic erhus were showcased, the two players play and respond to eachother.  
  • Packed House  With a packed house, the Cixi City Yue Kiln music troupe performs their songs without any worries.  
  • Shaoxing Opera  There was even a Shaoxing Opera performance, one of the troupe members sang Lady General Mu Takes Control of the Troops.  
  • Chinese and Western Stringed Instruments  From left to right, performers hold a ruan, pipa, and cello while waiting for the next song to begin.  
  • Ceramic Pots and Vases  One of the performers waits for the time in the song to join in on the ceramic vases and pots.  
  • Standing Ovation  The audience gave a standing ovation to the troupe for their marvelous performances.  
  • Experiencing Ceramic Bells  Some of the younger audience members go onstage after the show to get a closer look at the ceramic bells.  
  • Practicing Ceramic Erhu  Community members such as Shulan were able to practice on instruments, like the ceramic erhu.  
  • Ceramic Gifts  The organizer for the event, and Producer Shanyue Chen present two ceramic vases to WMCI Director Yanfang Tang, Law School Chancellor Ron Rosenberg, and Assistant Director Ying Liu.  
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On Saturday, October 18th, 2014 at 7 pm, Williamsburg community members, college faculty and students, and visiting alumni gathered at the Kimball Theatre to witness a spectacular performance. The Cixi City Celadon Ou Music Troupe came from China to perform music on ceramic instruments (known in Chinese as ou). The troupe played twelve songs, captivating all in attendance for about two hours. Afterwards, audience members were invited to go on stage to marvel at the beautiful instruments, talk with performers, and be interviewed about their reactions to the music.

While the Cixi City Celadon Ou Music Troupe was only founded in 2003, it has already found great success at home and abroad. It was only recently in 1998, that celadon musical instruments were unearthed in the Yue Kilns on the banks of the Shanglin Lake in Cixi City, a suburb of Ningbo, which sits across the bay of Hangzhou from Shanghai . The troupe was founded to preserve the cultural heritage dating back to the mid-Tang dynasty (760 AD). The young performers brought a variety of instruments all made of porcelain: erhus, enough bowls, cups and ceramic bars to fill up three tables, flutes, an ocarina, a gaoyinsheng (keyboard with pipes), a lusheng (multi piped reed instrument), guzheng (zither), pipa (lute), ruan (like a banjo-lute), pots, as well as hanging ceramic bells and strips. The emcee told the audience that in total, the instruments and packaging weigh about 2,000 pounds and whenever they travel, it is very expensive and inconvenient. However, the expensive shipping fees were well worth it when the audience heard the beauty produced from the wonderful blend of all the tones and sounds of the porcelain pieces.     

At the beginning of the concert, the group performed the popular song, “Jasmine Flower.” After being blown away by the beautiful music, the audience gave a long applause and the emcee came out to introduce the troupe. Each performer demonstrated the unique sound of their instruments. For the first half of the concert, songs utilizing the distinct qualities of each instrument were performed, such as “Picking Tea Leaves –Dance Music”, and “Happy Kiln Workers”. The audience was then surprised as “Oh, Suzanna” and “Old Folks at Home,” two classic American folk songs were performed. Although they sounded very new and different, the melodies were very familiar, and the audience could appreciate the fusion of the East and the West.

After intermission, a lady dressed in Chinese Opera attire and makeup came out as she sang “Lady General Mu Guiying Takes Command of the Troops”, a classic Shaoxing opera, with the orchestra accompanying her. The audience loved watching her movements and listening to her voice continuously trill and change in pitch. Next, the troupe played a beautiful song depicting the famous story of the “Butterfly Lovers,” China’s version of Romeo and Juliet. Afterwards, the group played a few more songs depicting the mystical magnificence of the Yue Kiln and porcelain pieces. One performer took four smaller cups and played them like castanets, while another took tea cups stacked on top of each other and rattled them around. Yet another performer took vases and cupped them with flat mallets to sound like a cross between drums and someone blowing over the opening of an empty glass bottle.

When the performance was finally over, the audience gave a long standing ovation, and the troupe performed an encore. For their final piece, the group performed “Amusement with Porcelain” a light, upbeat and cheerful song. It used many percussive sounds on the cups and bowls with flute and string overtones in the background. At times, hanging bells or drums were sounded and left to resonate, evoking images of wonderful scenes.

 Afterwards, almost the entire crowd lined up to go on stage and meet the performers, extolling their remarkable performance, and thanking them profusely for the remarkable chance to listen to their performance. Community member and Taiji practitioner, Stan Rockwell, remarked that at times the music sounded Celtic, Middle Eastern, or Native American, depending on which instruments were showcased. Another resident was amazed, saying “the performance was perfect.” Indeed, the group sounded amazing, preserving the cultural heritage that would have died had the Yue Kiln site not been unearthed in 1998. Not only did the troupe perform many classical Chinese songs, they also demonstrated the wide, seemingly multicultural, range of sounds the instruments could produce.

After the performance ended and audience members finished taking pictures and buying DVDs of the performance, everyone left thankful to have heard the dynastic treasure. There was never a dull moment as each song showcased a different instrument, while the combination and mixtures of the sounds made it a delight to the audience’s ears.  Overall, the night was a fantastic success with many audience members walking away amazed at what they had just heard and seen.

{{youtube:medium:center|DtVgiZCmkNA, The Cixi City Yue Kiln Music Troupe came to perform at Kimball Theatre in Williamsburg on Saturday, October 18th, 2014}}