Colonial influences

Parallel session A4 (Chair: Robert Fraser)
24 Oct 2015
16:30 - 17:30
Recital Hall

Colonial influences

Listening in semi-colonial Shanghai: The Shanghai Municipal Orchestra and its Chinese audience

Irene Pang, The University of Hong Kong

The Shanghai Municipal Orchestra was one of the earliest Western orchestras in China. It started as a wind band in 1879, when part of Shanghai was occupied by the Western powers. Comprising 14 Filipino players and a French bandmaster, the band initially served the Western community by performing dance music and opera medleys in the Public Garden and other social events. Chinese audience was almost absent in these musical activities, since Western music was foreign to them. The existence/non-existence of Western and Chinese audience echoes Bourdieu’s theory of social distinction, which suggests that accessibility to culture differentiates social status.

The first appearance of Chinese audience was noted by a Japanese Musicologist, Hisao Tanabe, when he attended a Municipal Orchestra concert in 1923. This paper examines the emergence of Chinese audience of the Shanghai Municipal Orchestra through the writings of the Chinese art critics. It begins with the discussion by Xiao Youmei, the principal of the National Conservatory of Music, of the reasons for the absence of Chinese audience. We shall then see how and why the Chinese critics paid much effort in promoting Western music in the Chinese community. While writing about their personal experience and the behavior of other Chinese audience, these critics also compared Chinese and Western music and expressed their admiration of Western culture after attending the concerts. After all, these writings record the first attempt of the Chinese in crossing the social and cultural borders.

‘Trying to listen to the music’: the soundsphere of the Shanghai Municipal Brass Band, 1930–1942

Yvonne Liao, King’s College, London

In comparison with the Shanghai Municipal Orchestra, the Shanghai Municipal Brass Band has largely been neglected in scholarship. The Band was a British-administered ensemble, characterised by British-influenced programming as well as a Kneller-Hall approach to performance and sound. The ‘imperial posturing’ of the Band is nowhere more apparent than in the Band’s summer season in the city’s parks, somewhat reminiscent of band entertainment in similar sites in Victorian Britain.

This paper takes musical listening as a matter of historical listening. It focuses on the final decade or so of the Band’s operation and taps into the available evidence to examine the ‘soundsphere’ of the Band—how the Band was received in situ. Drawing on sources from the Shanghai Municipal and Shanghai Symphony Archives, the paper interrogates the degree to which the British musical agenda held sway according to contemporary ears. Specifically, consideration is given to the discrepancy between listening and nonlistening experiences: of the Band’s concerts at the Public Garden, for example, it was stated that they were ‘of very little interest to the public’, with ‘youths and children playing all kinds of noisy games, and approximately a hundred people trying to listen to the music’. In attending to such complications as the politics of space and of foreign sponsorship, the paper raises the question of who and what constituted the ‘audience’ in Shanghai’s parks, and, venturing beyond the sweeping notion of ‘colonial or semi-colonial Shanghai’, asks whether the Band can simply be interpreted as a fraught imperial project.