The Eight Sounds of Music

China Conservatory of Music








Joel Batchler (武乔尔)

Reporter’s Introduction, Acknowledgements, and Thanks

Ever since childhood, Chinese culture has always grabbed my attention.  What fascinated me the most about it was that it is, today, the most preserved and close-knit culture in the world.  This is not to mention that the language(s) hold the most native speakers by far.  Eight hundred million people speak the Mandarin variety as a first language.  Almost a billion people, one in every seven people, belong to this statistic.  It is almost too much to comprehend.

When I was finally (to my great surprise) given the opportunity to do research in the People’s Republic of China at the China Conservatory of Music (Simplified Chinese:  中国音乐学院, Mandarin Pinyin:  zhōngguóyīnyuèxuéyuàn), which focuses more on Chinese Music rather than Western Music (although both are played); I could not believe my ears.  I immediately contacted friends I had there, set up my invitation for my VISA application, got the paperwork done, and soon after bought the tickets.  As it was a month before the Spring Festival (春节, chúnjiē), the flight was absolutely packed, but it was one of the most enjoyable that I have ever had.

Flying over the North Pole from Newark to Beijing (北京, běijīng), the flight lasted just over thirteen hours.  I was extremely excited when daylight appeared again while we were over the border of Russia and Mongolia, and then I finally could see little towns and cities in China.  My excitement peaked.

Beijing StreetAfter the plane landed and I got through customs, I was shocked to see that the hotel I booked online was located directly in the middle of a hutong (胡同, hútòng) in Old Beijing (老北京, lǎoběijīng) between the Drum Tower district (鼓楼, gǔlóu), and the Forbidden City, (故宫, gùgōng).  I was staying in part of the traditional Chinese culture, and I did it without knowing I had booked it!

I eventually found my way to the conservatory by taking the public bus (公共汽车, gōnggòngqìchē) to Deshengmen, the Gate of Virtuous Triumph (德胜门, déshèngmén); connecting there to take me directly to the school, where I met two wonderful people and friends, Professor Nan Chen (陈楠老师,chénnánlǎoshī) and her graduate student Yifei Zhao (赵诣飞, zhàoyìfēi).  Without them, I would have been completely lost as to what to do or where to go.

Professor Nan Chen and Student Yifei Zhao

A Meal During Joel Batchler's TripIn Beijing, I was able to view the final juries of several students at the conservatory.  I was immersed into the student lifestyle at the school.  I ate at the cafeteria, socialized with Yifei and her friends, and they took me out sometimes to see wonderful sights.  I was even taken as a guest of Professor Chen to a cultural and historical museum of the city, and I also picked the minds of the people there, awestruck with their vast knowledge.    Their hospitality was genuine, and I felt very welcome and even at home.

Beijing Lights at Night

Since I was in China, I also took a small excursion to see a good friend of mine in the south.  I flew in the most impressive and comfortable flight I have ever taken (due not to the seats but to the atmosphere of the people and staff) via a Chinese airline to Hunan (湖南, húnán), specifically visiting the cities of Changsha (长沙, chángshā) and Zhuzhou (株洲, zhūzhōu).  While there, I just happened to stumble across an example of Chinese Opera (戏曲, xìqǔ), and I was absolutely stunned that it was free (donations always welcomed) and open for the public.  Even while taking a little time to myself to visit a friend, I could not escape the reaches of the influence of Chinese Music.  It was everywhere.

To finish this little introduction and background story to the work that follows, I would like to immensely thank Professor Chen, Yifei and her friends, Jun Yang and his family, the wonderful Li family at Purple Courtyard, the People’s Republic of China for allowing my entry into such a culturally rich and magnificent country, and finally Dr. Kristin Congdon, without whom none of this would ever have been possible.

The following work will contain the features of ancient, traditional, and folk Chinese Music known as the Eight Sounds (八音, bāyīn).  They are named so due to the materials that are/were used to build them.  Some slight modifications have been made to some of the instruments (such as silk strings being made of metal), but the core of the concept remains the same.  Each sound will be handled individually, based on the alphabetical name of the sound in Mandarin Chinese Pinyin, not on radical and stroke order of the characters (as is typical in a dictionary), to allow further ease of access both to foreigners and the Chinese alike.

ChinaVine Scholar Joel Batchler






–Joel Batchler (武乔尔/wǔqiáoěr)