Friday, November 16, 2007
Zhangye Rock City
Along with the English language, Western culture is making inroads in China. American movies, for example, are readily available on DVD in Zhangye and all over China. Many of the textbook readings for English students talk about Western countries and their culture and history. But one of the areas that I've felt is lacking is Western music. There are a few English songs popular in China, and a top five list would look something like this:
1. The Carpenters - Yesterday Once More
2. Michael Learns to Rock - Take Me To Your Heart
3. Celine Dion - My Heart Will Go On
4. Groove Coverage - God is a Girl
5. Emilia - Big Big Girl
Many Chinese students can sing these songs and any foreigner living in China will smile in recognition, but anyone reading this at home will think "huh?" Students are always surprised when I tell them the English songs they like are practically unknown in America (and no one would like them), and at home I haven't heard "My Heart Will Go On" for maybe 10 years.
Thus, this term I've made it my mission to introduce real Western music to the students. I wanted to start an English Music Club much earlier but never had a decent singer available to help out; this term my friend Stefanie is here, and "Zhangye Rock City" was started. Only 30 or 40 students show up per week, but we enjoy it and the students (mostly my freshman) are enthusiastic about it.
Picking songs is a little tricky, as they need to meet a lot of criteria: A) students will like the song B) we like the song, or at least don't mind it C) the words are sung very clearly, and not too fast D) there are not too many words E) the singing is not too low, as 90% of the students are female F) it was popular in the West, or at least can represent Western music. So as much I would love to go over a good PJ Harvey or Arcade Fire song, we stick to things like "The One I Love" by REM and "Last Kiss" as done by Pearl Jam. Last time we did "Do You Realize?" by The Flaming Lips. Chinese popular music tastes are quite firmly in realm of melodramatic love songs, so "Last Kiss" was particularly popular.
The way this works is we give the students copies of the lyrics, discuss the song, listen to it several times while singing along, and finally play it without the recording. Below are videos from music club of "Maps" by Yeah Yeah Yeahs and "Imagine" by John Lennon. The instrument that Stefanie plays is an American folk instrument called the Autoharp that she dragged all the way from California to northwest China. Suggestions for other songs to use in music club are welcome.