Professor Zhou Yingchen: An Advocator for original Chinese Musical Drama

2014-09-09 10:24:33

Professor Zhou Yingchen, Director of the Ethnic Music and Musical Research Centre, has made great efforts in the promotion of original Chinese musical drama. She grew up in a family of teachers. Her parents and elder brother are all teachers, who taught her what it means to have an ideal life.

In 2012, Professor Zhou’s first production “Red Lantern” ran at the Beijing Tianqiao Theater. This is a musical drama in a typical Chinese style. “To fuse Chinese folk music and foreign musical drama harmoniously is an academic question that I have been studying during my years of teaching.”Ms. Zhou said. She was confident that in the future, original Chinese musical drama will utilize elements from traditional Chinese music in its descriptive and narrative pattern. “This will be an inevitable route for the maturing period of original Chinese musical drama.” After 30 years of accumulation, the academic circle has formed a clear understanding of this young art form, and has conceived new thoughts and concepts. “The field has reached its turning point” and this is the point of adopting Chinese elements in the musical drama. Professor Zhou mentioned that San Bao’s “Gang de Qin” is a very brilliant attempt at giving the ancient elements new vigor. “The folk music is a vast ocean for the original musical drama to absorb nutrients.”


As “Red Lantern” is the first demonstration of Chinese folk musical drama, there are plenty of difficulties in the creation process. The production team first found a Taiwanese musician who grew up in an English-speaking environment. However, after 3 months of communication, including flying between Taipei and Beijing for several times, Professor Zhou gave up modifying the semi-finished music products. “The feeling flew out from the musician’s heart; the color and the tune that he was good at were not what we want.” The problem is the temperament. Luckily, Professor Zhou chanced upon another musician. “It was pure luck for me to find him.” Although time was limited after three months were wasted, the tacit and consistent understanding between him and Professor Zhou was the secret in their high working efficiency.

“Red Lantern” was a specific presentation of the Chinese aesthetic style. “Although it may be imperfect, at least we knew what we want and what is reasonable to expect from ourselves, and with further practice and modification the following road be wider.”

The following production “Cao Xue Qin” will be even more challenging in its presentation, for it originates from Chinese classical literature, which is even more unique. Choosing this theme to present in musical drama is a very brave and meaningful attempt, as the theme is difficult to be conveyed to the general public, but Professor Zhou has made up her mind to do it.

It is true that Professor Zhou regards the artistic value as the most crucial aspect of a work, “Maybe we are too stringent”, said Ms. Zhou, “it is our advantage, but is also our limit.” She said that scholars are always persisting on pursuing the artistic value in a production. Since there are  enough commercialized works in the market to entertain the public, scholars believe that their value is to offer high quality works and competitive productions, focusing on  aesthetic value and deeper cultural meaning inside it.“No matter what, we are still an academic team. It is our mission and responsibility to produce works of high quality.” Professor Zhou’s team is like an oasis of academic specialty in the desert of commercial market.

But this does not mean that Professor Zhou despises the commercial value of a production. To her, the ideal situation is the fusion of artistic value and commercial value, forming a win-win relationship. The final target is to increase the public’s awareness of this art form. “It should be deemed a failure if a show cannot survive under the market scrutinize.”

The biggest problem is the public’s misunderstanding on musical drama. This concept is easily be confused with opera, which are totally two different subjects that emphasize distinct aspects. “Opera’s lifeline is music, while that of musical drama is drama. From aesthetic value to the descriptive method, every aspect of those two art forms is different. It is ridiculous to mix up these two completely different subjects.” Since the public respect and appreciate operas from a distance, people also stay away from musical drama, in spite of its being easier to approach.
This has form a tough condition for the promotion of musical drama. Professor Zhou and her team have promoted the musical drama to the best of their capabilities.

With every possible resource being integrated, Professor Zhou and her team began the preparation of Zhong Guancun Musical Drama Festival, which met a lot of difficulties during the process. “From 8 a.m. in the morning to 12 at night, we kept on working with that schedule for one whole month. The layman had no idea how heavy the work was.”When the festival was finally launched, it was aimed at conveying the message and the precise meaning of musical drama to the university students and white collars around. “If even they do not appreciate musical drama, how can we keep on our work?” Luckily, the result turned out to be gratifying. All the efforts had been worthwhile. Professor Zhou has received help and assistance from numerous aspects during the preparation process and after the festival, which sustained her will of carrying on the following promotion of musical drama.

The starting of musical drama class can also be attributed to Professor Zhou’s work. As the education of musical drama is still lacking, Professor Zhou and her team started the class from the spring of 2012 to offer students with opportunities to be exposed to musical drama. Every semester, the class will offer about 100 slots for students to learn high-quality musical drama. “We invite famous and professional teachers for our students, because we want them to know the best that is to offer.”

The class has gained a great reputation due to its high quality. Even postgraduate students and students from other cities were attracted by its fame. However, due to the limitation of classrooms and teachers, a lot of students who signed up were not able to be enrolled.  The class is designed completely for public welfare, according to Professor Zhou. It was only supported by her research funds. “Public welfare requires one’s complete self-consciousness, but not transfers the responsibility to the others.” So Professor Zhou did not seek additional resources from the school. She believed that they should do as much as they can within their capability.

Professor Zhou cherishes the encounters with her students as they provide her with new inspiration. She cherished everything that she has. As time goes by, she formed a deeper understanding of her responsibility as an educator that is to reach out and give. That is the concept that keeps her on this road. “No one can force you to do that. It is because of your love that you persist. The process is tough, yet happy and worthwhile.”

Written by: Guo Danyang