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2 minutes reading time (404 words)

Vivid imagery in a piece from China

The Chinese composition "The Young Shepherd with his Little Flute" (in Chinese Folk Music for Children, Schott/Hal Leonard) is not only accessible for late-intermediate pianists, but has a colorful image that will motivate students. When I presented a poster session about the piece at the Ohio Music Teachers Association Southwest conference, many teachers were interested in this resource from the Asian repertoire.

Composed by He Luting (1903-99), "The Young Shepherd" exhibits a typical rural scene in early-twentieth century China: a shepherd boy playing a Chinese wooden flute while riding on a water buffalo's back. The composer studied with Huang Zi, who received a master's degree in composition from Yale University, and the piece demonstrates the early experience of Chinese composers with Western counterpoint technique. 

The piece is set in C major and is in a two-voice texture constructed on pentatonic scales. "The Young Shepherd with his Little Flute" is in ABA form, and the return of the A section is embellished like a Da capo aria. Each of two overlapping melodies, in 4/4, is presented in a singing lyrical style. Contrasting dynamics create an echoing sonority, as would be heard in an empty valley. These dynamic shifts begin in the opening measures.

In the B section, the tonality changes to G major, with a shift to 2/4. Unlike the more lyrical opening section, the middle section tends to be vivacious and decorative, with embellishments added to the shorter phrases. Right-hand trills, as seen in measures 26-30, will likely challenge the student, but the section's ornaments are quite repetitive.

The left hand provides lighter accompaniment in a staccato figure. The rhythm is straightforward and not difficult to coordinate. The section's lighthearted acoustics mimic quick-tempo passages in the Peking Opera. 

The return of the A section provides continuity and repose, as seen beginning at the pickup to measure 71.

It is helpful for students to learn that "The Young Shepherd with his Little Flute" reflects the Chinese ancient philosophy of Daoism, in which humans, nature, the universe, and heavenly sound are unified into a harmonious whole. Teachers and students might also enjoy reading Chinese poetry during the lesson time.

As we teachers know, students love to play something that is perceptible and describable, and it is easy for teachers to explain the music with visual arts. This is win-win repertoire that makes the teaching process efficient and saves your lessons from boredom.

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