Chen Yi

Chen Yi

Chen Yi is an important composer who is still composing music today! She was born in Guangzhou, China in 1953.

The music you will hear this month is very different than the music you usually think of when you hear "classical music". I encourage you to be a "brave" listener and remain open-minded as you hear sounds that you might never have heard before!

Part 1

Chen Yi composes music in a style that combines Western music (music that follows traditions from Europe and North America) and Chinese music. Her music often sounds dissonant (or "crunchy") to people who are used to more traditional classical music, but the way she arranges the notes results in surprising, new, and beautiful sounds!

Take a listen to this piano piece. The music is meant to go along with an old Chinese legend. (You can read about the legend and Chen's remarkable life story in the description of this piece on YouTube!)

Part 2

Chen has said that she grew up playing the piano (starting at age 3) and the violin (starting at age 4). She clearly understands how to write for many different instruments! You can hear that in the way that she writes for combinations of instruments in bands and orchestras.

A band is traditionally made of wind instruments that use air to make sound (like flutes, clarinets, trumpets, trombones) and percussion instruments (all the various types of drums). How many instruments can you name in this band?

Part 3

Chen doesn't just compose for instruments, she also writes for the human voice. Listen to her composition "Spring Dreams".

This isn't how you normally expect a choir to sound! Can you hear the sound of spring breezes and singing birds?

Part 4

Chen Yi composes music that also includes traditional Chinese instruments. Most of the instruments in a classical symphony orchestra come from Europe, but there are many other instruments that are found around the world. In this piece, you will hear the sound of the erhu, one of the most popular Chinese instruments. (If you've never seen one before, that a look at the picture!)

Part 5

Let's return to the instrument that Chen Yi first learned: the piano! In this movement (part of a larger set of pieces), you'll hear the music shift back and forth between music that sounds very dissonant ("crunchy") and very cheerful like a folk song. You'll also notice that both the pianists are asked to strike the strings inside the piano with their hands. How would you describe the noise this makes?!

Thanks for listening to music by Chen Yi!

If you would like to hear a little bit of her life story in her own words, take a listen to her talking about her childhood, education, and her compositions!