By Veronika Roemer, Quakertown, PA
"The soul doesn't have to be nourished by anything but heavenly music - the soul doesn't need anything else!"
This is a quote from a survivor of the Theresienstadt ghetto, where the prisoners learned and performed, among other things, the Verdi Requiem. The quote is from the documentary movie "Defiant Requiem." This quote spoke to me deeply, as it reminded me of my last time in China in January 2019. I gave a course in playing the children's lyre to the adults. We met daily for 11 two-hour sessions over six days. Each participant, 12 ladies, had their own lyre, mostly a Chinese model. I used the newly published book "How to play the Children's Lyre," but also added my own improvisation and group games.
I have found in the past that the Chinese have a real talent for the lyre. And so it was with this group. They learned the basic playing technique very fast. As we moved on to playing melodies and improvising, the differences in ability showed a bit, but was minimal. We practiced various group games with movement, passing tones, giving and receiving, and listening to intervals. We learned a few songs from the book and how to play them on the lyre, as well as singing and playing them at the same time. By the end of the week they were able to improvise an accompaniment to a song, and to make up little songs to small Chinese poems. I was very impressed how far we got in such a short time.
Their reaction to it all was even more impressive. I have experienced before how deeply the Chinese people respond to music (and probably other art) that is brought to them in a meaningful and true way. They adored their little lyres, clearly not minding at all that they have only seven strings and a rather quiet sound. They were delighted to discover how difficult it was for them to receive and how much easier to give (during one of the activities), and launched into a lively discussion about that. They practiced "receiving" until they got it! One person created very beautiful melodies when we were improvising. I told her and encouraged her to continue and eventually write down her songs. She was deeply touched by my comment and thanked me repeatedly.
Each session was filled with hard work, humor and good will. It was a delight for me to work with them, and of course I learned at least as much as they did.
After the course I was invited by three ladies from the course to stay in Beijing for a couple of days until my return flight. Among other outings, I was taken to a tea house run by a beautiful and graceful lady. At the end of the visit my friend suggested that we sing a few songs for the lady as a thank you. There were three of us from the course and one small girl. But, instead of listening, the hostess wanted to sing along! So we sang a few of the simple rounds I had taught during the course. The hostess and one of her employees, who wanted to sing along, too, learned the songs very quickly. They were so happy to sing with us, absolutely radiant, and thanked me warmly for the opportunity to sing with us. I had to promise to come again next time I'm in Beijing, and sing some more songs with them. I definitely will!"