A westerner’s intriguing pursuit of the eastern guqin

Jointly organised by CW Chu College, S.H. Ho College and the Department of Music, “Music beyond Sound: an American’s World of Guqin” screening, performance and discussions was held at the Theatre of Chan Chun Ha Hall on 28 November 2022, where students and staff members filled the venue.

The documentary features a renowned American guqin master John Thompson, followed by the protagonist’s captivating live performance and a discussion session. Thompson and Lau Shing-hon, producer and director of the documentary, engaged the attendees with their insightful dialogue.

(From left) Professor Frederick Lau, John Thompson and Lau Shing-hon at the discussion session

Completed in 2019, Music beyond Sound: an American’s World of Guqin tells Thompson’s story and his quest to master the art of guqin, a plucked seven-string instrument which is favoured by scholars and literati and said to have a thousand years’ history. At the beginning, Lau only planned to record the music performances of Thompson. It was until he discovered more about Thompson’s dedication and importance, he came up with an idea to feature the guqin master in a documentary in ten years.

In his childhood, Thompson learnt to plan the piano and violin, and obtained a bachelor’s degree in musicology and a master’s degree in Asian studies. He went to Taiwan in 1974 to study qin with guqin master Sun Yuqin, then with Dr Tong Kin-Woon in 1976 when he came to Hong Kong, in which he settled and with which he developed a lasting relationship.

Spending close to five decades on the art of guqin, Thompson has recast the music based on his interpretation of 15th and 16th century guqin tablatures and recorded over two hundred of them, the highest one recorded by a player. His songs have been all the rage, evidenced by thousands of daily hits on his website. His contributions to the communities of arts and music are tremendous. He has performed and taught guqin to audience around the globe with a diverse portfolio of collaborative performances with artists from near and far.

The jointly organised documentary screening event has enriched cultural understanding among the attendees. They took a closer look into the westerner’s passions in guqin and dedication to refreshing it with contemporary expressions. The cultural evening is exemplary of cultural exchange between the East and West.

Content and photos by S.H. Ho College

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