Music Department Colloquium: Levi Gibbs—Encountering Modernity in the Yellow Earth: Innovation in a ‘Traditional’ Repertoire

Wednesday, October 5, 2022 at 4:30pm

FREE! Reservation required.

In the decades following China’s opening up and reform, how have China’s localities and regions found ways to represent themselves to other places and peoples both within the nation and around the world? Using an ethnographic, singer-centered approach, this lecture presents a case study of the Folksong King of Western China, Wang Xiangrong (b. 1952), examining how he and other singers, composers, and scholars adapted traditional material to represent his home region on the big stage. Born in a small mountain village near the intersection of the Great Wall and the Yellow River, Wang joined a regional song-and-dance troupe in the 1980s, had appearances in film and television, performed internationally, and was declared a National-Level Representative Transmitter for the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Northern Shaanxi Folk Songs in 2009. His performances discussed in this lecture show examples of how “small” songs became region- and nation-representing anthems and how rural duets became harbingers of market reform and international collaborations. The latter portion of the lecture will examine the history and evolution of one of Wang’s most popular songs, “The Infinite Bends of the Yellow River,” looking at how its evolving performances fuse together several narratives, including those of the song’s dialogic lyrics, Wang’s choreographed movements and life story, and elements of contemporary Chinese history. When viewed together, these parallel narratives offer audiences opportunities to reflect on individual and collective pasts, emerging moments, and the potential of shared futures.

Levi S. Gibbs is Associate Professor of Chinese Literature and Culture in the Asian Societies, Cultures, and Languages Program at Dartmouth College. His research focuses on the social roles of singers and songs in contemporary China and the cultural politics of regional identity. He is the author of Song King: Connecting People, Places, and Past in Contemporary China (University of Hawai‘i Press, 2018) and the editor of Faces of Tradition in Chinese Performing Arts (Indiana University Press, 2020). His work has appeared in China Quarterly, Modern China, Asian Ethnology, Prism: Theory and Modern Chinese Literature, CHINOPERL: Journal of Chinese Oral and Performing Literature, and Journal of Folklore Research. He is also the editor of Social Voices: The Cultural Politics of Singers Around the Globe, forthcoming in August 2023 from the University of Illinois Press, featuring contributions by Anthony Seeger, Nancy Guy, Michael Bourdaghs, John Lie, Ruth Hellier, Carol Muller, Kwame Dawes, and others.

The colloquium is organized by Assistant Professor of Music John Dankwa and Assistant Professor of Music and Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies Saida Daukeyeva as part of the Music Department Colloquium Series.