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Suzhou Pingtan

Introduction of Suzhou Pingtan

Suzhou Phan is a general term denoting Suzhou pinghua and tanci namely, story telling and ballad singing in the Suzhou dialect. Flourishing in Suzhou, it also enjoys great popularity inJiangsu and Zhejiang provinces as well as in Shanghai, the biggest metropolis in east China. The art has a long history, and its popularity can be traced to the reign of Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty.

Wang Zhoushi was the leading performer of Suzhou tancj and even performed before the emperor himself. During the reigns of jiaqing and Daoguang, four people emerged as star performers - Chen Yuqian, Mao Changpei, YU Xiushan and Lu Ruiting. Others, including Ma Rufei, Zhao Xiangrhou and W3ng Shiquan were the leading performers in tbe Xianfeng and TongZhi periods, also during the Qing Dynasty Still more artists came to the fore in the over-2oo-year history of Suzhou pinghua, and this art enjoys undying popularity to this day.

Suzhou phan (Fig. 1 -1 5) is performed solo, in duet or as a trio, involving singing and story telling. The small three-stringed Plucked instrument and piP8 are used as accompaniment. The b8n, or wooden clappers, produce various styles of tone and melody. tingtan has absorbed popular folk tunes. For instance, shu tone, came from other quyforms and is the basis of other styles. Due to different performance styles, Shu tone is divided into the Chen Yuquan, Ma Rufei and YU Xiushan Schools. in the course of a century or so of development, new styles were formed which inherited the legacy of the three schools. Liu Tianyun and Yang Zhenxiong inherited the Chen School: and Xia Hesheng and Zhu Huizhen inherited the Yu School. Ma School exerted the greatest impact on posterity, with Successors who formed schools of their own, such as Xue Xiaoqing dtao, ShenJianan diao and Qin diao (developed by Zhu Xueqin on the basis of Xue diso). Zhou Yuquan developed into a school on the basis of Ma diao, while Jiang Yuequan developed into a school on the basis of Zhou diao Due to this development, Suzhou pingtan has a great diversity of styles in singing and story telling. (Fig. 1 - 1 6)

The Different Schools of Suzhou Tanci

Chen Dfao

This school was founded by Chen Yuqian, who was born in Suzhou. He lived during the reigns of the Emperors Qianlong and jiaqing of the Qing Dynasty At first he was a Kunqu Opera singer, but later studied Suzhou tanci He sang with a great and mellow tone quality akin to that used for kunqu arias. He added an undertone to make his singing more varied and pathetic. People with a high level of skill sing in the Chen School style in their own ways. For instance, Liu nanyun sings Lin Chong Walking in the Snow with great success, and he usually waits for the audience to request the number. Yang Zhengxiong sings Wu Song Subduing the Tiger in a unique style. Nowadays, the Chen School style of tanci is rendered by artists playing the role of a middle-aged or old person.

Yu Diao

The Yu diao was founded by Yu Xiushan, whose date of birth and hometown are unknown. However, he lived during the reigns of Emperors jiaqing and Daoguang of the Qing Dynasty. Yu absorbed influences from the folk music of the South Yangtze region to enrich the rhythm of Suzhou tanci The melodies of the Yu School have a broad spectrum, with high and low pitches, mild, unbroken and very beautiful. The song Remorse in the Palace is its representative work.

Xia Diao

the Xia diao inherited the Yu School in intonation. it was founded by' Xia Hesheng (1899-1946), a native ofjiashan, Zhejiang Province. He studied the Yu style under Xia Yindao, who was his uncle and the elder brother of his father He later studied under Qian Youqing, who was noted for his performance of Misojto Feng and Three Smiles. Xia Hesheng surpassed his teacher, becoming renowned for his high-pitched voice. He used falsetto for the first part of a sentence, followed by a true vocal hord in the second. The two are blended together in a natural manner .he sang Miao jin Feng by adding many innovations and became known as the "king" of his profession for his rendition of this well known number.

Xu Diao

Xu diao is the school of Suzhou tanci created by Xu Yunzhi (1901- 1978), whose original name was Xu Xiexian. He studied Suzhou pingtan under Xia Hesheng from the age of 14, and made his stage debut at 16.He studied Yu diao and Xiao Yang diao in early years, and later incorporated elements of folk music and musical drama into his melodies. With a wide vocal range, he sang with a bright voice. Xu Yunzhi had nine different voca1 musical ranges, including long and short intonations, long-long intonations, varied intonations and new intonations. He enriched the Suzhou tanci with his powers of expression. His tunes are mild and the movement is slow The Chinese term for this kind of tune is mihun tune or glutinous rice tune. He is best remembered for his performance of Three Smiles.

Ma Diao

This is the most popular form of Suzhou pingtan, founded by Ma Rufei, a native of Suzhou, who lived during the reigns of Emperors Xianfeng and Tongzhi of the Qing Dynasty He studied Chinese literature, particularly poetry and the classics, in his childhood. His father, Ma Chunhang, won renown as a Suzhou mpn artist with his rendition of The Pearl Pagoda.

Ma Rufei learned how to sing this item, from his cousin, Gui Qiurong. In this way he came to inherit the legacy of his father's profession. Tang Yn Walks into the Garden (Selection from "Meeting at the Plum Pavilion", in Three Smiles) Tang Yin walks into the garden. He saw green pines and cypresses. The trees are bare and gaunt, over hanging with purple leaves. He saw pavilions and building, layer by layer Ma diao is devoted chiefly to reciting stories, and the musical content is rather weak. The recital has a quick rhythm which flows on and on. With the endeavors of later artists, Ma diao began to form a system of its own. Wei Yuqing developed the Wei diao, and his son W6i Hanying inherited and invigorated the music. In addition to the above, there are the Yan diao Shen diao, Yao diao and Li diso, which have blossomed into schools in their own right A great number of artists sing Suzhou tanci Since the founding of the People's Republic of China, the policy has been to "let a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools contend". Suzhou tanci has become popular not only in jiangSu, Zhejiang and Shanghai but also in every other part of the country. Reply to Li Shuyi to the Tune of Dis Lian HUa rendered by Xu Lixian in the form of Suzhou tanci is especially popular it is usually kept back as an encore in concerts. Da Lian Huan Sung by Yang Naizhen is also well known nationwide.

Since the 1980s, performers of Suzhou tanci have traveled many times to Hong Kong and Macao to make this art form better known. Many have also traveled to japan, Southeast Asia, the US and Canada, where they introduced it to overseas communities with great success.

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