Frost Bell

June 6, 2012

Sitting down, sitting still, listening to new music – what are we listening for? The sounds can’t be like anything we have ever heard or the music won’t be new. But if the sounds fail to strike something inside us, they are just noise.

Susan Chan performed “Pianobells” (Zhou Long, 2012) at her solo piano concert in Lincoln Hall, Portland State University, last Sunday. As she rose to her feet, leaned over the left side of the keyboard, reached into the piano and alternately strummed and struck the strings, strange unpiano-like sounds jumped out. They fell against something deep inside me. There was a shimmering and a thunder that seemed both familiar and foreign. It was music that both the listeners and the performer could lean into.

The concert program cited a poem, “Listening to Jun, the Monk from Sichuan, Plucking the Transverse Lute,” by Li Bai (701-762, Tang dynasty). See if it doesn’t shimmer and thunder for you.

Down from the Omei peaks, far in the West

He came, cradling his carved, green lute.

As he wielded his hands for me, I thought

I could hear the pines of a million canyons, could wash

My wanderer’s heart in that rushing sluice

Whose lingering tremors flowed into the frosty bells.

In fading daylight off jade-green crags, who knew

How many layers of autumn clouds went dark?

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