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About the Author
Ken Smith currently divides his time between New York (where he writes for Gramophone magazine) and Hong Kong (where he serves as the Asian–performing arts critic for the Financial Times). He is Co–Music Director of the recordings Dong Folk Songs and Miao Music for China's MediaFusion Group, and he won an ASCAP–Deems Taylor Award in 2008 for his liner notes to Gil Shaham's recording of The Butterfly Lovers Concerto for Violin. Ken is also the author of Fate! Luck! Chance!, published in 2008 by Chronicle Books.

Ancient Paths, Modern Voices Blog

Caution: This Is Not a Toy

First-time audience members at the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra are usually surprised to be handed a toy drum as they enter the concert hall. “This is not a toy,” insists HKCO artistic director and principal conductor Yan Huichang. “This instrument is deeply rooted in Chinese culture.”

He has a point. The rattle-drum (a hand-held, double-sided instrument with swinging beads) has been used for centuries as both a musical instrument and a ritual noisemaker. But come on … anything that inspires this much child-like enthusiasm in the audience—or at the very least, so many infectious smiles—is a toy.

The HKCO has been passing out their rattle-drums (usually with a sponsor’s logo) at special events since 2002, when they inaugurated their signature percussion festival. The lineup of guest drummers, Chinese and otherwise, who’ve participated in the now-annual event makes a strong case for the universality of percussion music, and the last time the orchestra came to the US (for the Kennedy Center’s Festival of China in 2005) it included an outdoor “Festival of 250 Drums” in addition to its regular indoor concert. This year’s percussion festival in Hong Kong featured both Ba Da Chui and Red Poppy on opening night of the current HKCO season.

Take it from a frequent member of their audience in Hong Kong: whenever you see Cheng Dazhao’s Yellow River Capriccio on the program, you’re going to get a drum as you walk into the hall. I already have mine.

Posted by Ken Smith

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