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Composer Chen Yi and the Cultural Revolution


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Moynihan Institute of Global Affairs 

East Asia Program presents 

Composer Chen Yi and the Cultural Revolution

Trauma, dislocation, loss, severed plans, and backbreaking manual labor were only some of the devastating results of the Cultural Revolution for Chinese American composer Chen Yi (b. 1953). However, the Cultural Revolution also fostered major musical influences on her compositions, especially revolutionary tunes sometimes adapted from folk music or rural songs and a variety of traits derived from Beijing Opera via the Model Works championed by Madame Mao. Evaluation and interpretation of these borrowings and markers of Chinese culture vary among scholars. What cultural meanings emerge from her particular fusion of Chinese and Western musical elements? Chen’s retrospective assessment of her experience during the Cultural Revolutionary is noteworthy for her focus on the positive benefits of her “down-to-the-countryside” experiences: Frankly, it was not until then that I found my roots, my motherland, and really appreciated the simple people on the earth and the importance of education and civilization. I learned to overcome hardship, to bear anger, fear and humiliation under the political pressure, to get close to uneducated farmers on a personal and spiritual level, and to share my feelings and thinking with them, to learn to hope, to forgive, to survive, and to live optimistically, strongly and independently, and to work hard in order to benefit more human beings in society.

This event is part of Bringing East Asia to the SU Classroom Series.

J. Michele Edwards

Professor Emerita of Music, Macalester College

J. Michele Edwards, musicologist and conductor, is professor emerita of music, Macalester College, and holds a doctorate from the University of Iowa. Her conducting ranges from musical theater to professional orchestras and included several large choral-orchestral positions. Frequently commissioning and conducting premieres, Edwards is committed to programming compositions by women. An active scholar, Edwards contributed over 20 articles about women musicians to the Grove Dictionary of American Music and a similar number about Japanese and American musicians to New Grove Dictionary. Recent publications include “The World of Women and Beyond: Mabel Daniels and her Choral Music” in Choral Journal and “Women on the Podium” in Cambridge Companion to Conducting. Recent presentation topics include Chen Yi, Tania León, Japanese/Asian music, and Fluxus. In 2020 she and coauthor Leta Miller published a book about Chen Yi and her music with the University of Illinois Press. Edwards served on the editorial board for ACDA’s The Choral Journal (2000–17) and is an active member of the AMS.

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