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Jingju and Kunqu Opera Percussion

lecture-demonstration and workshop

22 April 2012

UK Limkokwing University of  
Creative Technology

UK Research and Development Centre for Chinese Traditional Culture


London Jing Kun Opera Association

The UK Research and Development Centre for Chinese Traditional Culture (UKCTC) and the London Jing Kun Opera Association (LJKOA) held a lecture-demonstration and workshop on Jingju Percussion at the UK Limkokwing University of Creative Technology. The speaker was Mr Ying Wan, chief percussionist of LJKOA. This was a most informative and invigorating session, with demonstrations from Mr Wan and his pupils from LJKOA: Mr Ruard Absaroka, Mr T H Lam, Mr Rafael Caro Repetto, Miss Xiao Wang and Dr Marnix Wells. The talk was supported by instant English interpreting from Mrs Kathy Hall.


After a brief introduction of the history and functions of percussion within Chinese opera, Mr Wan went on to introduce each percussion instrument, its properties, characteristics and possible sound effects. The talk was a feast for the eyes too, as he had brought with him many types and sizes of percussion instruments: drums, big and small gongs, cymbals, bells and so on. He illustrated how the instruments should be held and struck with their various strikers and how to achieve the desired sound effects to complement, enhance, and punctuate the action and singing on stage. In short, percussion is used to control the pace of the plot, to introduce and end scenes, to create a ‘backdrop’ and atmosphere, to heighten the emotions of both the actors and the audience, and to enrich the imagination.  It plays an equally important part in ‘civilian (wen chang 文场)’ as well as the ‘military (wu chang 武场)’scenes. The split second and well-orchestrated interaction between percussionists, melody instrumentalists and actors which is required takes years of hard practice and professional experience to achieve.


The audience was introduced to the use of the percussion ‘mantra’ (luo gu jing 锣鼓经) which is the backbone of percussion training. Both actors and musicians must be thoroughly familiar with many sets of luo gu jing and how and when they are used. They have to be memorised and recited with the correct rhythms and pacing, so that all involved are ‘speaking one language’. Luo gu jing are also now presented as written annotations in a combination of symbols and characters which imitate the sound of the percussion.


The workshop which ended the session was extremely popular. Groups of all ages came forward, eager to try their hands on the various instruments. .


Ms Yuyu Liu, the Manager of UKCTC, concluded the session by saying that it was truly memorable to see an audience of mixed ethnicities sitting together, reciting the opera percussion mantra with Mr Wan and having first-hand experience in handling the various types of percussion instruments.  She said that the UKCTC would continue to propagate the many treasures of traditional Chinese culture to a wide public.

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