There is always such an echoing voice leading the culture of times. Today, we will introduce an art of singing named Qingyin and tell the stories of its successor.
Ren Ping: Third Successor of Li School of Sichuan Qingyin; Winner of Performance Award of the Peony Award, the most prestigious award in Chinese Quyi circles; Head of Chengdu Municipal Quyi Troupe
Quyi, Chinese folk vocal arts comprising several basic techniques - speech, mimicry, comedy and song. A performer may tell a story in such forms as narration and ballad singing, accompanied by music. Over the last hundred or so years, Sichuan has witnessed the emergence of numerous types of Quyi, including Qingyin(traditional ballad-singing in Sichuan dialect), Jinqianban(Sichuan clapper ballad), Zhuqin(bamboo drum song),Yangqin(dulcimer) and Chedeng(lantern drama).
"Shuchang" is the exclusive theatre of Quyi. Ren Ping hopes that a Shuchang can be established in Chengduto perform exclusively traditional productions of Quyi in Sichuan. In her ideal performance, "Qupai(folk tunes of Quyi's music) should be strung out like pearls"; "performances of Quyi should be arranged properly with an intermission". For example, "Jinqianban should be used to tell history of Chengdu; Pipa, a four-stringed Chinese musical instrument, should be played to sing local customs and conditions; Qingyin ought to be applied to singing about local foods…" Moreover, "the performance should stop at the right point to attract repeat audiences." The Shuchang has still not been constructed in Chengdu. However, Ren Ping has already practiced her appearances and performances in every scene on the stage of her mind.
Polisin Voice Skills
Ren Ping is petite, with a clear and melodious voice, with which she was admitted to Chengdu Municipal Culture and Art School, becoming a student in the first batch of Quyi students opened in Chengdu after reform and opening-up policy took place. Students learned different types of Quyi, such as dulcimer, crosstalk and lantern drama. Thanks to her notable voice, Ren Ping mainly studied Qingyin, becoming a disciple of Cheng Yongling, a master of Qingyin in Sichuan.
Ren Ping explained that Qingyin had become popular along with the rise of tea-house culture in the early days. During a performance, the performer may both sing and beat guban (a small drum and clapper) accompanied by Pipa or Yueqin(a four-stringed plucked instrument with a full-moon-shaped sound box). Hence, Qingyin used to be referred to as"Chang Pipa" (singing accompanied by Pipa) or "ChangYueqin" (singing accompanied by Yueqin). Performers of Qingyin on stage interact directly with the audience. They depict a stereoscopic audio-visual scenario to the audience via their gestures, tunes, and each and every movement. Consequently, "demand is high for performers of Qingyin. They need to appeal to the audience quickly upon their entrance to the stage."
Nowadays, Qingyin is performed in momentous occasions such as evening or festival celebrations. Young people may be unfamiliar with features of Qingyin. Ren Ping stated that "Qingyin tells a story mainly through singing, supported by narration." In addition to a solid voice, the performer has to master various vocal skills. "Ha-ha aria is the first and foremost vocal skill in Qingyin. It is described as 'like pearls large and small cascading down a jade plate' and regarded as a Chinese coloratura soprano. Secondary skills are the alveolar trill and Guankou, that is, tongue twisters."
Ren Ping has described Qingyin as the "daughter of Suzhou Pingtan (a regional variety of Quyi) married faraway". It is a combination of popular local tunes in Sichuan. The interview with Ren Ping took place in a cafe. During the interview, she sang an off-the-cuff excerpt from Flying Kites (Xiao Fangfengzheng), a famous piece of Qingyin: "In March…" during which the tune is "do-mi-re-mi-sol-la", which is similar to the tune of The Wandering Song stress.
"Qingyin focuses on singing under various Qupai, which can be divided into major melodies and minor melodies. Currently, only eight major melodies and 50 or 60 minor melodies have been preserved, the former mainly telling stories and the latter presenting a showcase of vocal skills." After being passed on from generation to generation, Qupai have been preserved in modern Qingyin and local dialects have been applied to telling stories.
After hearing Qingyin sung by local girls, Ren Ping thinks the performance can precisely reveal vivid features of Sichuanese dialect, such as "Yanqian Rhyme" (the finals of Chinese syllable with an, ian, uan and üan). It also directly displays the talents of those clever and beautiful girls from Chengdu. They can sing tunes tactfully, with numerous vocal skills, enchanting the audience. Ren Ping smiled and said, "We jokingly call it 'kneading the voice'."
A Journey on Stage
After graduating in 1994, Ren Ping has worked in Chengdu Quyi Troupe. "The three of us chose to learn Qingyin, and one has moved on to sketch comedy." This is common in the industry. The Quyi market has been in a depression for a while. Hence, Ren Ping has also performed the sketch comedy.
"I come from a well-off family. However, I insisted that I should be able to support myself." "I consulted my master before performing sketch comedy. I might have performed it too many times...But Qingyin is an elegant and refined art form. She came to me in 2008 and gave me three days to choose between sketch comedy and Qingyin. My master is graceful and has never spoken to me on such serious terms before."
Ren Ping sings the most enchanting melodies on stage and has a carefree character. While talking about her experiences performing sketch comedy to support herself during the 'downturn of the Qingyin market' then returning to Qingyin entirely, she stated that she was lucky:"I am content that I can both enjoy myself and be self-reliant."
A performer's mental state reflects itself within the art form in countless ways. For Ren Ping, performers should be relaxed to perform Qingyin. "It would be annoying to watch performance of a vocal performer in bad mood, who has to act while feeling angry and vengeful, wouldn't it?" She leaned against the back of the seat, laughing behind her hands, and said: "In fact, I have been 'boyish' since I was little, and always quite carefree."
"Members of the Chengdu Quyi Troupeare nice. They will come when called, not obsessed with personal gains or losses." Over 30 members have been recruited in the current Chengdu Municipal Quyi Troupe. They can perform Qingyin, Yangqin, Zhuqin and Jinqianban, the four national intangible cultural heritages, and other types of Quyi such as Panzi(singing with rhythm of chopsticks hitting the plate) and comedy. "Numerous acts have been preserved in our troupe. All of our members can perform them on stage."
Thanks to the attention paid to traditional Chinese culture, Chengdu Quyi Troupe has been invited by groups of primary and middle schools in Chengdu to help spread traditional Chinese culture among teachers and students. Meanwhile, they never stop performances. One of RenPing's favorite activities is to practice singing with her master ChengYongling. Similarly, young performers also like to practice with Ren Ping.
"Once, a young performer called me before going on stage. I shed tears of joy over her progress and achievements." She encourages performers to take part in big performances and competitions: "An art form needs mass participation. A troupe cannot be popular until it cultivates multiple famous performers." " Flowers should bloom together." She stretched her hands when saying these words, as if announcing them.
Excerpted from HELLO Chengdu January Issue.