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Chinese Traditional with Qian Yi

Chinese traditional music refers to an array of musical traditions performed primarily in rural areas and communities, growing out of the music of peasants during the Imperial Era. These traditions included styles of Chinese opera that were often unique from the operas performed for the emperors. Even when performed by folk troupes in rural towns, Chinese opera brings music together with dance, pantomime, acting, costuming, and staging. Both folk music and opera from China use pentatonic scales, and can include string, woodwind, and percussion instruments. Singers often perform solo or in unison with accompanying instruments. In vocal performance, musicians often place a strong emphasis on expression and melisma.

Qian Yi performs a wide range of Chinese music, but she is most closely associated with opera. She began her study of Kunqu, an aristocratic style of opera, at the Shanghai Chinese Opera School at age 10. She came to the US to perform the lead role in the 19-hour opera The Peony Pavilion almost 20 years ago, and has continued to bring her extensive knowledge of Chinese traditional music to American audiences as both a performer and educator ever since.

Meet Qian Yi!

Introduce your students to Qian Yi with this “Meet Qian Yi” video. Visit the video index to watch all the videos for Qian Yi and the other Program Six artists.


Jasmine flowers
Lesson 1: Learning “Mo Li Hua”
Students learn the song “Mo Li Hua” with its accompanying movements, and create pentatonic melodies and hand gestures of their own.
Chinese lion dancers
Lesson 2: Learning “Gong Xi, Gong Xi”
Students explore the different rhythmic elements of a popular Chinese New Year song and its traditions.

Resources for Teachers

The following resources provide background information about the musical genre and culture. Some are intended to be shared with students; others are for teachers who may want to explore further on their own.



Literacy Extension

Image Credits

“Jasmine” by Carolyn Jewel is licensed by CC BY-NC 2.0.
“Chinese New Year 2019” by Tim Dennell is licensed by CC BY-NC 2.0.

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