Teaching sounds of music

Updated: 2011-07-01 07:15

By Zheng Jinran (China Daily)

  Comments() Print Mail Large Medium  Small 分享按钮 0

Beijing - Malan village is not marked on the country's national map, nor even on the provincial map of Hebei, for that matter.

It takes at least eight hours, including three transfers, to reach the village from Beijing.

But despite the inconvenience, Deng Xiaolan has been traveling every two months to the village to volunteer as a music teacher since 2004.

Teaching sounds of music
Deng Xiaolan, 68, teaches a child to play violin in Malan village, Hebei province. [Wu Hailang / For China Daily]

"I've long regarded Malan as my first hometown," said Deng, 68.

During the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression, the village of Malan, 300 km from Beijing, served as the printing base of the country's major revolutionary newspapers. Deng's parents, both journalists at the newspapers, were stationed in the village for years.

Deng was born at that time, but her parents had to leave her in the care of local villagers before they were able to pick her up three years later.

"Later my mom gave me a seal with the inscription 'child of Malan' to remind me how much I owe to the village," Deng said.

Since her retirement in 1998, Deng started to visit the village, where locals have always received her like family.

"I still remember the first time I visited the village and some elderly people recognized me," Deng said. "I was very touched."

On the other hand, Deng said her heart sank when she found that the village remained almost unchanged, or worse, over the past half century.

Deng remembered her parents - music fans and versatile musicians like her - talk about what a happy life full of the sound of music they had when stationed in the village.

But upon her visit to the local school, Deng was astonished to find that local students didn't sing at all.

"Few of them could complete a song and none of them had ever seen a musical instrument," Deng recalled.

Deng has since set aside two-thirds of her retirement pension to help locals, and she collected donations to rebuild classrooms for the village's school and construct roads to the village.

An engineering graduate from Tsinghua University, she also uses her expertise to help locals design their houses and village plans.

She spends most of her time with local children, teaching them songs and how to play the various instruments - piano, violin, accordion and flute - that she has brought from home or collected from friends.

Having grown up with the joy of music, life without music is even worse than poverty, said Deng.

"I had a lot of frustration at the beginning. They forgot what I taught the previous times because they didn't practice at all. I had to teach them again and again," she said.

"But then I adopted a new way. Instead of teaching them basic knowledge, I taught them to play a full but simple piece, such as Song of Joy, to practice some skills. So they could play a full song in a short period, which aroused their interests."

Over the past eight years, Deng has taught more than 60 students to play musical instruments and 20 more to sing, accounting for three-fourths of the students from the village.

They have formed an ensemble and from time to time Deng introduces them on a stage in Beijing.

"You know what I am most happy about? Now I hear songs sung by locals everywhere, even by the students' parents when they are doing farm work in the field," said Deng, who believes music plays an important role in people's lives and in difficult times, citing her parents' experience as an example.

"Music brings people joy, inspires innovation and keeps people optimistic. I believe that by bringing them music, I help bring them a brighter future."