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Zhao explains Jewish influence on Chinese music

Pianist Grace Zhao presents “In a Remote Place” Monday in the Presidents Dining Room. Zhao graduated from the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music and completed her doctorate in musical arts. / photo by Jessica Harsen

Pianist Grace Zhao presents “In a Remote Place” Monday in the Presidents Dining Room. Zhao graduated from the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music and completed her doctorate in musical arts. / photo by Jessica Harsen

Karla Rendon
Assistant Editor

Simple piano lessons from Jewish composers Wolfgang Fraenkel and Julius Schloss, turned China’s classic folk musician, Sang Tong, into one of China’s pioneer composers who was remembered for fusing Chinese musical idioms with Western composition techniques.

Monday marked Grace Zhao’s faculty lecture, “In A Remote Place–1930s Jewish musicians in Shanghai and their Contributions to Chinese Classical Music” in the President’s Dining Room where she spoke about the influence that Jewish composers gave Chinese composers when they left as exiles to Shanghai.

Zhao informed her intimate audience of 30 that Western music and influences were originally outlawed in China during their Cultural Revolution in preference of traditional Chinese pieces versus covers of Beethoven and Bach.

Years after being musically educated by both Jewish exiles, Tong had written an article of his teachers.

“He talked about how these two Jewish composers really influenced his thinking,” Zhao said.

“He never really studied counterpoint and new composition techniques until he was in their classes,” Zhao said.

“It really opened his eyes to this whole new way of composing.”

Zhao performed several pieces of compositions by said composers. The most prominent of her short performances was Tong’s, “Little Cabbage,” a musical tale of girl who lost her mother when she was young.

After playing the song for her guests, Zhao explained how she finds the piece interesting because there were only a handful of compositions in China that were atonal due to the ban of Western impacts.

“It was so exciting to hear new research in an important area,” Al Clark, associate vice president of academic affairs, said.

“What made it more exciting is that not only is Zhao doing the academic research, but was also able to interpret the music,” Clark said.

“Her playing was the frosting on the cake,” he said.

Later in Tong’s article, he explained the encouragement Fraenkel gave him to be innovative with compositions while Schloss talked to him about using 12-tone technique, the practice of performing a 12 note composition.

“I thought this lecture was interesting since I’m really interested in the World War II era,” senior psychology major Cristobal Gutierrez said.

“It was interesting to me to see the combination of the history and music aspect of it,” Gutierrez said.

“It was like killing two birds with one stone. I would describe this as the best of both worlds,” Gutierrez said.

“What I took away from this lecture was the importance of musical traditions and how they influence each other,” Clark said.

“I thought it really focused on the impact that Western music had on China,” he said.

Karla Rendon can be reached at karla.rendon@laverne.edu.

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