Minnesota composer Gao Hong recently shared with ACF some meaningful insight on her new publication The Hal Leonard Chinese Pipa Method, now available from Amazon. In her own words…

When I wrote this book I had three important readers in my mind:

  1. anyone who wanted to learn to play Pipa,
  2. any guitarist or lute player who wanted to learn or borrow new techniques from Pipa and apply them to their own instruments, and
  3. anyone who wanted to compose for Pipa.

When I came to America 22 years ago, there were not many people who knew what the Pipa was. During a radio interview in Denver, the host announced my upcoming concert. Within a few minutes a listener called in and asked “How could the Chinese woman play a pea-pod?”. Now, since so many wonderful composers have composed Pipa concertos and pieces for Pipa with string quartet and other Western instruments, including Pipa has almost become a new music fashion. I am happy that so many composers are interested in writing Pipa music. The biggest problem was that there was no Pipa book in English for composers to refer to for learning about Pipa techniques, how to best write for Pipa, Pipa fingering, Pipa sound effects, etc. When Lou Harrison was writing his “Concerto for Pipa with String Orchestra” he asked me to record a video with all the Pipa sound effects and techniques for him. (My husband was his student and he knew I was a pipa player). I constantly received emails from composers all over the world asking me to give them advice about composing for Pipa and how to notate the many techniques. Also, I have a student from Moorhead who travels to Northfield monthly to study Pipa with me. He stays in a hotel overnight with his family so he can have two Pipa lessons on consecutive days to make his 11-hour round-trip commute more beneficial.  I searched online and found that there was very little useful info about the Pipa in English. So I decided to write a Pipa method book in English with both western notation and Chinese notation, and with videos for each lesson so students could learn at their own pace in the comfort of their own homes. As a composer myself, I knew there were a lot of composers out there who would love to learn about Pipa techniques and how to notate them, how to best compose for the Pipa, what keys worked best, and what sound effects were available on the Pipa that aren’t available on any other instrument.

I hope more composers will compose music suitable for Pipa with more Pipa-like characters rather than  music that can be played on any melodic instrument like guitar or piano. This book can provide a lot of info and direction in that regard. I know there are many wonderful composers who would benefit from this book. I am looking forward to seeing more wonderful new music for Pipa! Composers can always contact me through my website if they have more questions: http://www.chinesepipa.com/

Gao Hong, a Chinese musical prodigy and master of the pear-shaped lute, the pipa, began her career as a professional musician at age 12. She graduated with honors from China’s premier music school, the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, where she studied with the great pipa master Lin Shicheng. In both China and the U.S. Gao has received numerous top awards and honors, including First Prize in the Hebei Professional Young Music Performers Competition and an International Art Cup in Beijing. In 2005 Gao Hong became the first traditional musician to be awarded the prestigious Bush Artist Fellowship, and in 2012 she became the first musician in any genre to win four McKnight Artist Fellowships for Performing Musicians administered by MacPhail Center for Music.

Learn more about Gao Hong here

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