Hokkien orchestral concert at Thian Hock Keng June 1, 2006Posted by kentneo in Customs.
Text by Victor Yue
This is the second time this year that the Thian Hock Keng (Tian Fu Gong) – the famous Mazu Temple at Telok Ayer St – opens in the evening for a musical event. The same Nan Yin troupe [said to be based at 2 Bukit Pasoh Rd .. I could not get the name of the troupe, maybe, Kent and Tim who are there could ] was performing the second time this year and again, in commemoration of the birthday of Guan Yin – 19th of the 6th Lunar Month. The next one will be on the 19th of 9th Lunar Month.
Going into Thian Hock Keng in the evening is somewhere different from the day. With lights all up as well as the additional floodlights on the courtyard .. where the main entrance to the courtyard is, it was made into a stage .. the temple gave out a different aura. It is interesting to note that the young were amongst the performers, but not the audience. I could almost safely said that Kent was the youngest in the audience! Most are greying hair or balding old men and ladies. Interestingly, these would be the Chinese educated or uneducated folks, who came all the way to listen to the Nan Yin (Nam Yim in Hokkien).
The old men were excited upon listening to the live performance of Nan Yin, that they chattered away about the old times .. took a while for them to settle down to listen the beautiful and melodius voices from the girls. That a tradition that dated back to the Tang Dynasty .. when, I suppose, the Hokkien started calling themselves Tng-lang (Tang Ren) .. it is said that the Nan-Yin songs and structures continued to be preserved.
Kent thought that the singing reminded him of Noh of the Japanese traditional theatre. Hmm, is there a relationship here? Since Tang Dynasty was the time when much of the Chinese culture was transported to Japan. Maybe, the historians can tell us more. In one item, there was a dance .. for a moment, I thought the lady wore a kimono well, save the Obi. The dance was slow and elegant.
The highlight of the evening must the the piece on the horses walking and galloping where this boy (below 10?) played the wooden-fish (Mu Yu – the wooden block that the monks use for hitting as part of their chanting), bringing the tempo up and down. Another Nanyang piece as we called it, was kind of percussion where they have two guys playing the drum with one foot on it as well, called the Ya-tui (muffling with one leg) or something like that. The ladies with their bamboo blocks did wonders making the rhythm hitting them and even making them roll. I trained my video camera on their hands but still could not figure how they made the bamboos emit the rolling sound. Playing againsts these was this guy who played the kompang! Yes, Nan Yin has arrived in Nanyang. I vaguely remember seeing this guy – a Malay-looking chap – who played the gu-zhen once in ACM at Armenian St. Tonight, he also played the gu-zhen.
Midway through the concert, the organisers led in a simple paying of respect to Guan Yin by bowing three times, led by this lady, who I think is the patron of this Nan Ying group. I missed the Hokken that they used the last time. Tonight they spoke in Mandarin. And it was a simple ceremony versus the chanting by a Buddhist monk the last time.
Rounding up the concert was a rowdy piece with all the percussions and the heralding by the ‘suo na’ [as I learnt of the name of this la ba .. trumpet like instrument from Kent . Another great concert played to an almost full house .. of mainly oldies.
This old lady who still sings in the Nan Yin group was very friendly and seeing that I bought one of QuanZhou’s awardwinning Nan Yin VCD (according to her), she offered to let us know of the next event. So, we exchanged phone numbers.
Maybe, some Chinese temples could invite them to perform short concerts to entertain their oldies, and well, reintroduce this interesting and beautiful music to the young. Compared to the disco and rap, well, this requires some getting used to .. and if you want to learn, more efforts in trying to pull the sound through different harmonics.
So those who want to listen to a piece of music descended from the Tang era, see you there on the 9th of 9th Lunar Month?