"The sound of silence" is an artcle published in

The Gazette
ARTS Tuesday, March 26, 2002

The sound of silence

Spaces between the notes matter to virtuoso Liu Fang

The Gazette


N.D.G, resident Liu Fang has been playing the pipa, an ancient lute-like Instrument, since she was 6 years old.

Liu Fang doesn't always talk about the many notes she plays on her plpa, a lute-like Instrument that dates back 2,000 years. There's also the silence in her music to consider.

In every genre, a master knows not only when to play, but when not to play. In Jazz, Miles Davis had it down cold. In rock, Eric Clapton understands when to lean back and let a note continue speaking.

Liu, a virtuoso who gives a solo performance at Centre Pierre Peladeau tomorrow night, compared the spaces between the notes to a Chinese painting. "There's no single focal point." Liu said, with her husband and manager, Risheng Wang, providing the translation. "In Chinese art, there are some empty places that provide the harmony. They allow people to come into the picture, like a dialogue

"It's the same with Chinese music. There are empty spots, and people say the silence is full of music."

Liu's latest CD, Chinese Pipa Music From the Classical Tradition, features the unaccompanied musician working the pipa's four strings and 30 frets. The eight pieces convey haunting, almost cinematic soundscapes, as on A Moon-lit Night on the Xunyang River and Ducks Playing in Cold Water.

Each finger on Liu's right hand is adorned with a pick to play the pipa's strings; her left hand plays the notes on the neck.

"The rippling sound comes from the right hand," Liu said. "It's difficult to get every finger pronouncing a note with the same clarity."

Wang explained: "In the wrong hands, it sounds like someone with a limp."

Liu, 26, was born in Kunming, China, and has been playing pipa since she was 6. Her mother was a performer in dianju - "Chinese opera, which includes singing, dancing and acting," Liu explained.

"Because of her work, I listened to music in the womb. She began bringing me to rehearsals when I was 2 or 3. I initially wanted to be an actress, but she said It would be better if I became a musician. She said music would accompany me for my whole life."

Liu was soon playing pipa with a dance and music troupe. She gave her first solo public performance at the age of 9. She was only 15 when she was accepted at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, where she studied until she was 19.

Moving to Montreal in 1996 was the most important thing she ever did, she said. "In China, traditional music is not really encouraged. It became just entertainment after dinner or tea time, with people talking while I played. I wanted to be in a classical setting and communicate with an audience.

"They understood music here. Some even shed tears."

By then, she had married Wang, a doctor in meteorology. "I fell In love with her music first," Wang said. "I heard a cassette and started writing to her - as a friend, so it didn't seem so abrupt." He has since given up his work as a research scientist to manage Liu's career full time, and the couple live in N.D.G.

Liu, who received a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts last year, has crafted her solo performances, recorded four discs and collaborated with orchestras and ensembles in a live setting. She gives about 40 concerts a year and still practices two or three hours a day - "more, if I'm working on a new piece or preparing a concert."

"Technique in music is essential when you are learning the basics," Liu said. "After that, the most important thing is to elevate yourself, maybe learn something outside of music. Reading poetry, seeing paintings and enjoying nature help keep the heart as pure and calm as possible.

"Behind every note, there is soul."

During her interview with The Gazette, Liu proved the point most eloquently when she removed her pipa from her case and began to play.

"I don't like talking with people as much, because it is too easy to have misunderstandings because of language," she said. "By making music, I feel the freedom and Joy that I can never have by talking." ...

Further topic: "What are some definining characteristics of Chinese classical music that you convey in your music?" , - interview with Paula E. Kirman, Inside the world music, June 25, 2001.

Source: The Gazette (Montreal), March 26, 2002


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