In this town, highly strung is so much fun
Chen Shuaiping and his granddaughter, Zhang Yuanyuan, perform in a concert held in Xianxiang town's rice paddies. Thanks to local government's efforts in promoting music education, many residents like Chen are able to pursue their music dreams.[Photo provided to China Daily]
"I never pictured myself playing the cello in the rice paddies and my performance being live online," says Chen Shuaiping, 66, recalling the Field Concert held in Ningbo, Zhejiang province, in May.
In the concert, he presented a cello performance with his granddaughter in the rice paddies in the town of Xianxiang, the ancestral home of cellist Yo-Yo Ma.
Unlike those who have played the cello since childhood, Chen, a retired factory laborer whose daily routine used to be working with machines, had never been exposed to the instrument before 2014.
That year a youth cello club was formed in Xianxiang, part of the efforts the town has made to promote rural vitalization by building itself into a "cello town".
The local government invited Li Jiwu, a cello professor of the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, to be the music consultant. In the ensuing years, many cello teachers and cello players have offered free lessons to local children.
Chen's granddaughter, Zhang Yuanyuan, a kindergartner then, joined the club.
"Because of the great cello education resources in Xianxiang, she stopped learning the piano to play the cello," Chen says.
Chen audited almost every cello class that Zhang took and gradually became her cello training partner.
In 2019, an adult cello club was established, and Liu Cheng, who plays the cello with the Ningbo Symphony Orchestra, periodically taught the club members.
Chen joined the club as soon as he heard about it.
His motto is that well begun is half done, so he spent more than 20,000 yuan ($2,900) on his first cello.
"That was almost a year's pension, but it was well worth it," he says.
Since then, he has practiced the cello three to four hours a day. He says he enjoys what he does despite the hard work. "I'm a slow learner. That's why I need to practice more than others."
Lu Jianjun, 51, a farmer, is another member of the club. Learning cello has transformed him from a mahjong lover into an avid music enthusiast who spends almost all his spare time playing the cello near his fishpond.
"I was always interested in music but had no opportunity to learn it before," he says. "Now we are so lucky that the local government has cello teachers teach us twice a week."
Lu's passion for cello has touched his wife, too. "I had thought this cello thing was just a flash in the pan," she says. "But he has continued playing near the fishpond for more than three years, and now it doesn't sound as rough as it used to be. Many villagers have become his audience and sometimes even send song requests to him."
Thirteen residents from all walks of life, including doctors, teachers, farmers and workers, have joined the adult cello club. The oldest member is 84 and the youngest 27, and their stage is not limited to the town.
"We performed on a China Central Television show, called Fantastic Chinese Festival, during one Spring Festival," says Zhou Hongju, a canteen worker and club member.
With three years' training from being an absolute novice, Zhou has built up a considerable repertoire, including two well-known songs, I Love You China and Nanniwan.
The young learners have also made remarkable headway in their cello skills.
Since the youth cello club was established in 2014, it has trained 75 children, many of whom have been admitted to art colleges, such as the Zhejiang Conservatory of Music and the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, and are now pursuing careers in music.
This year 16 kindergartners in the town keen on music have been selected by professor Li, who will offer one-hour cello lesson to them weekly at a moderate charge.
To make the instrument accessible to more families, the local chamber of commerce bought 20 cellos, which are lent to children free of charge.
"We will continue to promote cello education to more people of all ages and help them to achieve their music dreams," says Wang Hongbiao, Party secretary of Xianxiang.
The Second National Youth Cello Music Festival was held in Ningbo from Aug 22 to 26.
During the five-day event, 11 activities, including concerts, public classes, art tutorials and forums, attracted musicians and scholars from around the world and more than 80 art school students and cello players. Nine events were held in Xianxiang.
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