Don't You Know?
A multimedia concert based on the renowned poetry of Li Qingzhao, the most esteemed female poet in Chinese history and one of the most cherished Chinese authors of all time.
This collaborative project, co-created by Min Xiao-Fen, Howie Kenty, and François-Thibaut Pencenat, aims to preserve and celebrate both oral and literary traditions. Drawing inspiration from the traditional Changzhou poetry recitation, a Chinese national-level intangible cultural heritage, "Don't You Know?" showcases a confluence of the past and the present, giving new life to a fading tradition.
Traditional Chinese recitation represents the distinctive voice of the Chinese literati, yet it is a fading tradition. In the present generation, people read traditional poetry as casually as reading a newspaper. However, this was not always the case; poetry and classical texts were once chanted musically throughout China. Sadly, like many other traditional art forms, this practice has significantly diminished over the past century.
Changzhou Recitation, a recitation tradition from the city of Changzhou in southeastern China, was first documented by well-known linguist Chao Yuen Ren, also a Changzhou native. In recent decades, local musician Qin Dexiang recorded recitations from various Changzhou residents educated in the traditional manner. Most individuals who still possess this knowledge are in their eighties or nineties, and younger generations are not inheriting the tradition. Witnessing the decline of this practice has inspired a steadfast commitment to preserving it through this program.
Recitation obscures the boundary between language and music, suggesting that clear distinctions may not have existed initially. Since traditional recitation was always improvised, composing pieces based on the "music" seemed counterintuitive. This program aligns with the creative tradition of traditional Chinese opera, where the creation of music involves a collaborative effort between language, composition, and improvisation. The distinctions between the author, composer, and performer become irrelevant in this context. The entire team—Xiao-fen, Howie, François-Thibaut, the poet Li Qingzhao, and I—are united as creators of a singular program, striving to preserve a vital cultural legacy.