Music & Aesthetics

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Steve blagged some journo tickets to see the National China Beijing Opera as they visited town for their one-off Sunday night review, and it gave me the chance to have my first ever taste of this form of theatre that one might assume everyone sees on a regular basis when living in Taiwan or China. It wasn’t quite the Full Monty – instead the performers wore suits and refrained from the make-up – but a line-up of virtuosos from China and Taiwan had been (re)assembled, and clearly peoples’ emotions were piqued.

Photo from

First impressions were, at best mixed. Cacophonous musical barrage ballons that mark the style of music butted up against the entirely-too-harmonios stage design and pastel presentation.

Set in an environment where we were the only foreign / under 50 people in the house, it all made for a rather strange experience. The crowd heckled and clapped at seemingly entirely random points during each set, screaming out in appreciation as might a crowd of Rolling Stones fans. And yet, when I felt moved, the crowd remained silent.

This continued throughout the performance, and I have been thinking about it a great deal over the past few days. Essentially, in the same way as the music that I constantantly critisise in Taiwanese for being bland and monotonous, this music seemed to be rewarded by this crowd of octogenerians not for being expressive, but for restraint. Not for the performer letting go, but for surfing the boundary within a tightly defined set of constraints. As Steve put it so perfectly, the entire ‘Aesthetic’ of the music was completely different – harmony and riot, restraint and revolt are flipped on its head.

So, after almost five years in Taiwan, perhaps I understand something a little bit more, and maybe this window into music also allows me to see how the design scene here rewards restraint and operating between the boundaries. Need to think about that some more.

Finally, while leaving, I realised just how many of the crowd spoke not in a Taiwanese accent, but in thicker tones of Northern China. It’s doubtful that they were tourists, or that they travelled to Taiwan especially for the concert, so it only means that this ‘scene’ of elderly Opera lovers were left stranded here to appreciate the artform. And on this day, the best performers from Taiwan and China came together, spanning old maestros and the considerable battalion of young artists that have chosen to fly the flag once again. It might not quite be to my taste, but it felt pretty special to see the tendrils of tradition reaching out across the waters to bang the drum.

One Comment

  1. Posted 2009/02/18 at 00:27 | Permalink

    Check out Taipei Eye for the “introductory version” with sub(side)titles and explanations in English and Japanese…

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