Tag Archives: China Music Now

Schlepping high culture in the Large Smelly Boymobile

Haiqiong Deng, zheng (but not Dungeons & Dragons) virtuoso

Haiqiong Deng, zheng (but not Dungeons & Dragons) virtuoso.

While my brain has been on sizzle
in other realms of the arts world, apparently a blog has been going on in my own house. The entire world can check in on what my current first husband has been up to, but I’m afraid to say I’ve been rather ignorant about it.

I feel a little sheepish about writing, actually. Recently, Mr. Scatter wisely and broadly covered America’s current fascination with Chinese culture, Martha Ullman West (otherwise known as Art Scatter’s highest paid correspondent) boldly encompassed the week’s vast dance scene and … me? Well, let me tell you about Cheez-Its.


A week ago Monday, Haiqiong Deng took a break from her concert tour to fly in from Boston and perform in Third Angle‘s China Music Now concerts.

United Airlines Boieng 767-300/Wikimedia CommonsHaiqiong (hiCHONG) is a virtuoso on the zheng (chung), an ancient Chinese instrument similar to a zither. Hers has 21 strings, each with a bridge that can be moved. For weeks it had been the big mystery instrument to me. I knew it was big, but I didn’t know how big. I couldn’t wait to hear what it sounded like.

When the Third Angle staff (I’m the managing director) were figuring who could pick her up from the airport, we had two questions to consider: Who wasn’t playing in the symphony that night, and who has a vehicle long enough to fit a zheng in it.

Guess what? I won.

A prime example of low cultureI was thrilled. And then panic set in. Did I have enough time to clean up the Cheez-Its?

Once a week, Mr. Scatter picks up six Large Smelly Sixth-Graders and schleps them to Dungeons and Dragons. You’ve heard of Soccer Moms? He’s a D&D Dad.

The boys pile in and then immediately grab for snacks and juice boxes. They’re usually pretty good about stuffing the trash into the garbage sack, but it’s six boisterous boys and crumbs fly.

A few hours before I was to meet Haiqiong at the airport, I realized I wouldn’t have time to get the van cleaned, but I had a few minutes to give it a once-over and open up the cargo hold. It was dusk and getting hard to see, but as soon as I plunked the back seat down one brilliant-orange square Cheez-It practically glowed.

I picked it up, noticed the van’s bulging trash sack and then threw it all in a garbage can. I took note that I didn’t have a replacement bag, but I told myself I’d worry about it later.


The baggage claim area at Portland International Airport has a sign: “Many bags look alike, please check tags.”

Haiqiong and I were chatty nonstop. People were everywhere, lots of luggage was going around the conveyer belt and we were chatty chatty chatty. She stopped at one point and grabbed a big suitcase off the belt and then we went on chatting. I occasionally eyed the conveyer belt for what I knew must be a hard-to-miss large something. I was curious. This was an important piece of Third Angle’s program. We flew her in specially to play it. What did it look like?

The crowd got thinner and thinner. The luggage disappeared bit by bit. And we continued to chat.

Dungeons & Dragons miniatures: NOT high culture/Wikimedia CommonsAnd then after a while, I got this eerie feeling. I looked around. Nobody was there and not a single piece of luggage was going around the belt. Where was it?

As I tried to quell this horribly unsettled feeling, I looked everywhere and then looked some more. I finally noticed a corral of luggage in a restricted area in a far corner. I got closer. No weird overlarge bag. I got closer. Nothing but rising panic. I got closer. And finally … it came into view: Behind a mound of luggage one really long green bag sat by itself. Relief washed over me.

When I told a uniformed worker the green bag was ours, she pointed to a green suitcase and said, “You mean that one?”

“No,” I said, pointing, “THAT one.” She took one look at the bag — about one foot by two feet by six feet plus — and waved me around the barrier to get it myself.

The zheng was surprisingly light.


On Thursday morning I fired up the van, started to pull out of the driveway and then hit the brakes. I pulled back into the driveway, walked into the house and stood in front of Mr. Scatter. He looked up.

The Large Smelly Boymobile (or reasonable facsimile)“You need the van. It’s D&D day. And by the way, it doesn’t have any gas. Sorry. Gotta go.”

But early in the afternoon in the office it hit me. The van had a bunch of boxes in it that I needed, including one very important sign for the concert that night. Mr. Scatter probably wouldn’t be back from D&D in time for me to get it. And I had left the back seat folded down so that there weren’t enough seats for the Large Smelly D&D Boys.

I made a phone call. How to get the boxes? Mr. Scatter had just filled the van with gas, he had put the back seat up and would drop by the office. Gawd, I love this man.


This is not Haiqiong Deng's zheng. It's the one on Wikimedia Commons.“Can you schlep the zheng?” the Not-So-Mysterious Jane said after the concert late Friday night. “It needs to get back to the hotel.”

“Schlep the zheng? Sure.”

I walked to get the van, my heels clicking on the sidewalk. When I opened it and looked around I suddenly remembered I had never replaced the garbage sack and the whole D&D gang had been in the van the day before. The back seat was littered with empty Cheez-It bags and juice cartons. I quickly stuffed it all in the snack bag and stashed it under a console.

It would have to do. It was time to schlep the zheng and one world-class virtuoso.

— Laura Grimes

China rising: Shen Wei, Tan Dun, Third Angle, Isaac Stern, and the smashing of the Cultural Revolution

Wanfujing Street, Beijing: 100,000 visitors a day. Nggsc/Wikimedia Commons

For every now, there is a then. China, of course, has many thens, but two are on my mind right now: the then of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, which might have outdone Stalin in its attempt to eradicate culture and replace it with ideology; and the then of the big melt, which began with Mao’s death in 1976 and gave birth to China’s rapid ascent to its current level of world power and influence.

Right now, the art of China seems everywhere. And it’s not just the ancient art of terra cotta soldiers and jade figurines. There’s a sense in the rest of the world that we have entered the Chinese Century, and if Beijing is the new Athens/Rome/London/New York, we’d better figure out what’s going on in the place.

Ji Ji, Hi Panda, 2006/Pole Design. Portland Art Museum's "China Design Now."The Portland Art Museum, in a show assembled by London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, heralds the arrival of China Design Now. (“Now” is really then, but a recent then: The show was aimed to coincide with last year’s Beijing Olympics and to capture the wave of commercial and aesthetic design in the world’s most populous country, a wave that inevitably has since washed on.)

In New York, Carnegie Hall is hosting a Chinese cultural festival it calls Ancient Paths, Modern Voices. Chinese composers and musicians have become stars of the international scene, and several are part of the Carnegie’s extended party. Tan Dun conducts his Violin concerto The Love on Monday night at Alice Tully Hall, with soloist Cho-Liang Lin. On Nov. 4 at Carnegie, the St. Louis Symphony performs Bright Sheng‘s Colors of Crimson and Tan Dun’s Water Concerto. This weekend’s headliners are Shen Wei Dance Arts, who will be in Portland Nov. 11 as part of the White Bird season. New York’s 21-day festival concludes Nov. 10 with pianist Lang Lang and the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra.

This “now,” this flowering of Chinese cultural achievement, is an outgrowth of the restrictions of the Cultural Revolution and the intellectual relaxation of control that followed Mao’s death. A few months ago David Barboza recalled in the New York Times violinist Isaac Stern‘s 1979 visit to China, a celebrated journey that resulted in the documentary film From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China.

Beijing's ultramodern "Egg," the National Centre for the Performing Arts. Vera & Jean-Christophe/Wikimedia CommonsI remember that film well — the extreme, almost ecstatic enthusiasm of China’s musicians; Stern’s encouragement and good will; his sense that the older students and musicians he encountered — the ones who’d spent years being “reeducated” in peasant labor and cut off from contact with Western music — seemed technically correct but lacking passion in their playing.

Mao and his functionaries had virtually outlawed anything but traditional Chinese music, forcing musicians (and all sorts of other people) into what amounted to slave labor. Times were tough, and Barboza’s story in the Times quotes one older musician saying that the psychological brutalization during the Cultural Revolution was so harsh that 17 instructors at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music committed suicide.

So it was fascinating, at Friday night’s audience talkback following Third Angle New Music Ensemble‘s superb concert China Music Now at the art museum, to hear composer Ye Xiaogang‘s reply to a question about what effect the Cultural Revolution had had on him and other musicians who went through it. Continue reading China rising: Shen Wei, Tan Dun, Third Angle, Isaac Stern, and the smashing of the Cultural Revolution