Chinese Er Hu Music In Auckland Rest Home

Chinese Traditional Music Concert

I have to tell you about how my life in Auckland is enriched so much by the elderly Chinese people who live at a Chinese-run Christian rest home where I play piano every two weeks.

For a couple of years now, one  kindly Chinese gentleman  there has held the stage with his singing of Christian hymns, while I accompany him on the piano.    He has a wonderful repertoire of spiritual songs which he provides the music for, and he can sing any of these in either Chinese Mandarin, or English.

I find Hymn singing to be a wonderfully positive thing to do in rest homes. For a start, most people in New Zealand know these Songs of Praise, but there  are so many beautiful songs which express thanks for being alive, for the flowers, for the trees, and the beauty of the earth. “All Things Bright And Beautiful”.  These are good and positive things for people  to be pondering at the best of times.

I have learned many new hymns from Mr Yu, and we get an enthusiastic response from the mainly Chinese audience when we sing these together in harmony, although I am not sure how many of them understand the words.

This gentleman is one of the few Chinese people who live at this home who can speak English, and he is respected by all the residents for this ability, as he willingly translates anything that they need to know, from English to Chinese.

A month ago, he told me that  his friend Mr Ying,  another elderly man who has recently joined our music group,  plays the Er Hu, an ancient Chinese instrument.  So, between us, me talking and miming, and my hymn-singing friend Mr Yu translating, we encouraged the newcomer to bring along his Er Hu the next time I came.

I felt I had done something worthwhile as a music teacher and therapist by encouraging Mr Ying to play the Er Hu for us.  I felt that the Er Hu concert would be exciting for me, as well as the residents, and that it would provide a stimulating social exchange. I was even more gratified when I learned that Mr Ying had not played his Er Hu in such a long time.  It was all dusty when he brought it out of its case.

Well, needless to say,  we were all treated beyond measure:  Mr Ying is an accomplished musician who played us some simply wonderful music. He played us several famous Chinese songs written by the blind Chinese composer-musician who used to busk for his money by playing the Er Hu. The Er Hu being the same two-stringed instrument which Mr Ying played so beautifully for us.

I was delighted that Mr Ying and Mr Yu had notated one Chinese song for me to play on the piano, along with Mr Ying on the Er Hu.   They had gotten this  transcript photocopied for me to keep. Considering the fact that it was written in a different key, a tone away from where Mr Ying was playing it, we did very well.

Mr Ying learned to play the Er Hu when he went to study to become a teacher.  He was a head master back in China, before he and his family moved out here.

The day that Mr Ying played a concert for us was one of the most joyful and nostalgic of days, musically, which I have ever experienced.  I think everybody felt the same:  As the Er Hu lulled and lilted its way through the very expressive melodies of this legendary blind composer, the Chinese residents sat completely still, some tearful, some smiling, absorbed  in a reverie of the past.


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