Learning Cantonese: 余頌恩 Grace Yu on Art as Life-force

「我覺得有生命力嘅音樂同藝術背後係有 message、有訊息嘅 | 有魄力嘅藝術家、音樂人佢哋生命都可以流露出一份有生命力嘅 message | 而呢個世界已經有太多冇生命力嘅生命㗎喇」


余頌恩 Grace Yu Chung-yan is a concert pianist and teacher at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. In her view, the reason why we need art is because it transmits生命力 sāng1 mihng6 lihk6 = “life force; vitality”. This “power of life” is essential to every human being, especially at a time when, as Yu points out, “there are already too many lives in this world lacking in vitality”. As a musician, she is also committed to the idea art as (potentially) a supremely authentic expression of life, as well as a kind of flow [流動] that enables an exchange of happiness, sincerity and love between one human being and another. Her short presentation in this video is like a whole creative manifesto in miniature.

In this Kongstories video, you will hear Yu use the structure 冇得+ Verb at 1:10. I discussed this grammar topic in the previous Learning Cantonese post on the landscape painter 黃進曦 Stephen Wong Chun Hei, speculating that it might be used to convey an absolute inability. I think Yu’s use of it here reinforces the hypothesis: the phrase 分享音樂帶出嚟嗰份歡樂、真實同埋愛嘅流動係冇得呃嘅 = “there can be no duplicity in the flow of happiness, sincerity and love that the sharing of music brings” does seem to indicate absolute 100% improbability.

With regard to vocabulary, there is a wonderful example of the Cantonese use of 齋 jāai1, the basic meaning of which is “to abstain from meat, wine, etc. (when offering sacrifices to gods or ancestors)”. In spoken Cantonese, the basic sense of “abstinence” is extended in some very interesting ways. 《香港粵語大詞典》gives a few examples, including 齋啡 jāai1 fē1, the word for “black coffee” with neither milk nor sugar in it, and 齋坐 jāai1 chóh5, which means something like “to sit in a restaurant without ordering any food”. At 1:10, Yu uses it to modify 彈 tàahn4, the verb used for “playing” the piano. 齋彈冇靈魂 literally means “to play abstainingly, without soul”, suggesting that 齋 also conveys a sense of something not being done to its fullest possible extent, or perhaps without giving oneself fully. I also once came across 齋聽 jāai1 tēng1 = “to listen (to a conversation) without contributing to it in any way”.

In addition, listen out for the following useful vocabulary items: 孭 mē1 = to carry on the shoulders; 魄力 paak3 lihk6 = daring & resolution; boldness; 劏房 tōng1 fóng4*2 = a subdivided flat, unit & apartment; 獨一無二 duhk6 yāt1 mòuh4 yih6 = unique; unparalleled; unmatched; and 呃 āak1 = to cheat; to deceive; to dupe.

Please scroll down if you want the transcription, notes and my own English translation. Otherwise, you can view the video here (subtitles in English and Standard Written Chinese). Since it is a YouTube video, you can slow down the playback speed if you wish: at 0.75 and 0.5, the sound quality is still good. And remember, if you want the standard jyutping romanization or to check any of the Chinese in the text, please consult the Sheik Cantonese on-line dictionary.

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Caption: 音樂人生 | A Life in Music

香港係其中一個最多人學樂器地方 | 你一出街,周圍都有孭住樂器嘅學生 | 但係有幾多個學上唔係浄係齋彈靈魂 | 而係尋找到屬於獨特嘅聲音同埋生命力嘅呢?| 我覺得有生命力嘅音樂同藝術背後係有 message、有訊息嘅 | 有魄力嘅藝術家、音樂人佢哋生命都可以流露出一份有生命力嘅 message | 而呢個世界已經有太多冇生命力嘅生命喇 | 所以無論係世界上唔同嘅音樂廳表演同埋講學 | 喺演藝學院同每一個學生互動交流 | 定係喺深水埗嘅劏房教小朋友彈琴 【1:00】| 都係生命影響生命獨一無二嘅機會 | 分享音樂帶出嚟份歡樂、真實同埋愛嘅流動係冇得呃嘅 | 呢啲都係生命最真誠嘅表達 | 呢個世界需要音樂,需要藝術 | 呢個世界更加需要有傳遞生命訊息嘅人 | 我叫余頌恩,香港土生土長,七百萬個故仔成就一個香 . . . 港故仔

● 孭 mē1 = to carry on the shoulders | ● 魄力 paak3 lihk6 = daring & resolution; boldness | ● 流露 làuh4 louh6 = to reveal; to betray; to show unintentionally | ● 音樂廳 yām1 ngohk6 tēng1 = a concert hall | ● 講學 góng2 hohk6 = to give lectures | ● 互動 wuh6 duhng6 = an interaction; interactive | ● 劏房 tōng1 fóng4*2 = a subdivided flat, unit & apartment | ● 獨一無二 duhk6 yāt1 mòuh4 yih6 = unique; unparalleled; unmatched | ● 歡樂 fūn1 lohk6 = happy; joyous | ● 流動 làuh4 duhng6 = ① to flow ② mobile | ● 呃āak1 = to cheat; to deceive; to dupe | ● 真誠 jān1 sìhng4 = sincere; genuine; true | ● 傳遞 chyùhn daih6 = to transmit; to deliver; to transfer

Hong Kong is a place in which so many people are learning to play a musical instrument. Just step outside your door and you’ll see students everywhere [周圍都] carrying musical instruments on their backs. But how many of these students are looking for a voice that belongs to them alone and a vitality, rather than merely going through the motions devoid of soul [浄係齋彈冇靈魂]? It is my feeling that behind any music or art there is a message. An artist or musician with daring and resolution has the capacity to reveal [流露] a message of vitality — and there are already too many lives in this world lacking in vitality, in life-force. So no matter whether [I] am performing in different concert halls around the world or giving lectures, interacting [互動交流] with every single student [studying] at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, or teaching a child in a subdivided flat in Sham Shui Po how to play the piano, these are all unique opportunities for one life to influence another. There can be no duplicity [冇得呃] in the flow of happiness, sincerity and love that the sharing of music brings. All these things [呢啲都] are the most authentic expression of life. This world needs music; it needs art. Even more, it needs people who can transmit messages of life [生命訊息]. My name is Grace Yu Chung-yan. I was born and raised in Hong Kong. Seven million stories go to make up [成就] one [of the] Hong . . . Kong Stories.

Muzak at the White Lion, Aldeburgh

Big White Stone_Tung Ping Chau

The muzak, like thick carpet,
soothes the attention — silence,
magnet to all thought’s
discomfort, provokes

only aggravation. Yet for no good reason,
I am jolted out of numbness
by one odd track to the full
sound of music. Suddenly,

from the backdrop, airwaves
submerge my indifference.
I can no longer concentrate
on food, on conversation.

Something fundamental
is rounded up and counted.
Like a beam of shadow
revealed in incense-smoke,

this sketch of melody
is a forgotten note
I can just make out
to myself from birth.

In an accident of fine-tuning,
I am roused and composed
to the life of my sonic twin:
NO-BODY-NEXT-TO-NO-ONE.

 

Photograph: 香港東平洲 Tung Ping Chau, Hong Kong (2016)

Tomas Tranströmer: “Allegro”

Tung PIng Chau Cliff Face TWO 2016

It sometimes seems to me that the world is made up of two kinds of people: a majority in love with the “rule of law” and the exercise of absolute power (it’s nice to have someone strong do all the thinking, and most of your feeling, for you), and those who prefer to see the flawed human spirit shine, especially unexpectedly and when it appears that all else is lost.

“Allegro” is a poem for the shiners. It was included in Tranströmer’s 1962 collection Den halvfärdiga himlen, a title that translates as “the half-ready Heaven”. I take it that what Tranströmer means here is that it is up to us — the human beings — to finish it off. Clearly, too many of us have understood “to finish it off” in completely the wrong way.

(Incidentally, the image of “half-ness” reappears in the wonderful title poem which ends with the lines:

Var människa en halvöpen dörr
som leder till ett rum för alla.
Each and every human being: a half-open door leading to a room for all.)

Defiance is generally coupled with anger. A joyous musical defiance is a rare thing, but the poet manages to make it make sense. He sits down to play at the piano after a “black day”. This may refer to his work at the Roxtuna center for juvenile offenders, or it may have to do with the state of the world. As he writes in “Lamento”:

För mycket som varken kan skrivas eller förtigas!
Too much that can neither be written down nor kept quiet!

The music at once changes the temperature of his mood: using the wonderful compounding property of Swedish, he writes of “driving his hands deeper into his Haydnpockets” before hoisting the “Haydnflag”, an image that suggests that he has reached the most triumph section in the composer’s allegro movement. The only hint of violence in the poem — on the part of those resisting — is in the strokes of “the mild hammers”, musical hammers incapable of inflicting the lightest wound.

The tremendous final image of the intact glass panes echoes the closing words of “Lamento”:

Malarna sätter sig på rutan:
små blek telegram från världen.
Moths settle on his window-pane: / bleak little telegrams from the world.

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thomas_transtromerjpg_220x500

“Allegro”

Jag spelar Haydn efter en svart dag
och känner en enkel värme i händerna.

I play Haydn after a black day and feel a simple warmth in my hands.

Tangenterna vill. Milda hammare slår.
Klangen är grön, livlig och stilla.

The keys are willing. Mild hammers strike. The sound is green, lively, reposed.

Klangen säger att friheten finns
och att någon inte ger kejsaren skatt.

The sound insists that there is such a thing as freedom, and that there is someone who pays Caesar no tax.

Jag kör ner händerna i mina haydnfickor
och härmar en som ser lugnt på världen.

I drive my hands deeper into my Haydnpockets and play the part of a man who can look the world calmly in the face.

Jag hissar haydnflaggan — det betyder:
“Vi ger oss inte. Men vill fred.”

I hoist the Haydnflag — what this means is: “We won’t give in. But want peace.”

Musiken är ett glashus på sluttningen
där stenarna flyger, stenarna rullar.

The music is a glasshouse on that slope where the stones come rolling, come crashing down.

Och stenarna rullar tvärs igenom
men varje rutan förblir hel.

And the stones roll right through it, but leave every pane intact.

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Perhaps for a second or two, by the end of this poem, we are lifted along with Tranströmer’s music to a point where we sense, briefly, what invincibility might feel like for a human being. The question is: What could we learn to live from there?

For Robin Fulton’s expert translation of “Allegro”, please visit the official Tomas Tranströmer website.

Photograph: 香港東平洲 Tung Ping Chau, Hong Kong

Erik Satie (1866-1925)

Erik Satie_MAR 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

— Plus je connais les hommes, plus j’admire les chiens.

The slow progress of aimless cloud
Satie hears in his fingertips
as chords, levitating along bar lines
with shy discipline — melodies
crooked as a dog’s hind legs.
He borrows the rain pianos make
for his own nervous weather:
soft sound waves towards rare feelings
newsreels try to neglect in us
and to a doggedness that undoes
all show of self-esteem. Tender,
quizzical, his repertoire
of entirely minor force kennels art
unnoticed. Slantness
and sweetness join hands in that voice
blue as the mild forget-me-nots we so often
forget we forget we forget
till revived within Satie’s poise.