RSS feed RSS Twitter Twitter Facebook Facebook 15 Questions 15 Questions

Interview with Bei Bei He (aka Bei Bei)

img  Tobias

Hi! How are you? Where are you?
Hi! I am well, thank you. I am at my home in Orange County, California.

What’s on your schedule right now?

At this moment, I am working on a collaborative album with Shawn Lee, an amazingly talented and productive musical veteran based in the U.K. This album is a contemporary funky and groovy album that has a beautiful, exotic and international sound. It bridges the gaps between traditional Chinese sounds, cosmic, jazz, funk & soul, and it connects to the past but belonging to the present.
In June and July I will go on tour with the Orchid Ensemble to occasions like The Smoky River Festival in Saline Kansas, the Sun Festival in London Ontario, and the Indian River Festival in Kengsington, Prince Edward Island.

 Questions about composing
Would you say the music scene is in a state of crisis? How hard (or easy) has it been for you finding performance opportunities and audiences for your music?
I don’t think the music scene is in a state of crisis. There are actually many more opportunities for independent artists to gain free exposures, build up fan bases, sell our music, get discovered and booked. Myspace, Youtube and other sites like them are great tools. We as artist have to realize that we now have the tools, then we need to discover how to use them most effectively, and in the end you have to work hard. I personally have greatly benefited from these websites, and I thank them for the possibilities that they created for all of us. 

So you are regarding the internet and new media  as important for the future of classical music?
As very important. They give more channels and platforms for showcasing many different types of classical music that you don’t hear on the radio or in a concert hall because those places usually play what majorities like to hear.

What do you usually start with when composing?
It is often a spark of inspiration that came to me. It can be something I heard from a piece of music, bird singing in the park, a warm up exercise I did on my instrument the Guzheng, or a passage I read in a book. Some times, it is just from myself, like an idea pops up in the shower.

How do you see the relationship between sound and composition?

All compositions have sound, but not all sounds are compositions. Sound is like a piece of fabric or a button of a dress, it is the material for the compositions. In a composition, there are sounds and silences, and they are designed and placed purposefully, together they make a musical piece.

How strictly do you separate improvising and composing?
The end goal of improvising and composing are the same, and it is to create music.   However, a great improviser is a great composer, but a great composer might not improvise at all. Improvisation requires the player to compose their music right there at the moment; there isn’t an eraser or Delete button. What happened right there, it stays there, and it is the composition. On the other hand, when a composer sits down and composes on a piece of paper or computer software, the composer has many chances to revise and make the music to the way that he/she intended. When I compose, I often improvise many times and record them, and then I will refine the best parts from the improvisations and develop them.

Harmony? Dissonance? The freedom to choose both, none or just one?
I am free to choose both. It is like creating tension and resolution; we need them both, because that is how human beings are and how life is, and that makes music not boring but interesting.

Russian composer Alexander Danilevski said: “The musical innovations of the 21st century will not be intonational ones; they will be based on developing a new musical form and dramaturgy.” What are your thoughts on this?

I do not agree with him completely. The music before the 21st century has always not been completely intonational such as many types of music outside of the European classical music circle, for example, the Chinese folk music, Indian music and Arabic music, and many of them are very theatrical such as the Peking Opera. In the 21st century, the fundamental forms of music haven’t changed much; we just have more channels, mediums, and ways to express the basic forms of music differently and with more varieties.

However, new forms of music dose emerge and grow in this century such as soundscapes, which can emphasise on the texture of music rather than the melodies. 

How would you define the term “interpretation”? How important is it for you to work closely together with the artists performing your work?

“Interpretation” is a personal choice, and sometimes it requires the player to interpret based upon a set context. For example, if I am playing a piece such as the Romeo and Juliet, I need to interpret the music based on the story and the emotions involved in the story. It is not very important for me to work closely together with the artists performing my work. I will give them instructions on the general concepts behind the notes, but I will give them the freedom and space to express their soul, so at the end, the piece is not just created by me, but also by them.

Do you feel an artist has a certain duty towards anyone but himself? Or to put it differently: Should art have a political/social or any other aspect apart from a personal sensation?
Yes, I feel so. Arts have always been used for political/social purposes while entertaining people. The nature of arts is a type of expression, just like words you speak or write. We as artists have the power of expression because people listen; they open their ears to you. Therefore, it is important for artists to use this power responsibly.


Can you still remember the first time you heard a piece of classical music?
I can’t recall. In my memory, the very first piece of music that I can remember was a Chinese lullaby sang by my nanny when I was a toddler. 

What’s your view on the relationship between musical education and classical music?
It helps people to appreciate Classical music, but it dose not make people like Classical music.

Would you say that a lack of education is standing in the way of audiences in their appreciation of contemporary composition?
I think it is one of the obstacles, however, lack of the experience of listening to classical / serious music outside of the school is another factor. 

How, do you feel, could contemporary compositions reach the attention of a wider audience without sacrificing their soul?
My music is for my audience. I don’t create music just because it pleases me; I create them to share with people. If the contemporary compositions I wrote have entertained, touched and inspired people, I have reached my goal. We should not put the term “contemporary music” into a box. It does not have a soul, but we, the composers do, and our audiences see that through our works. However, if composers write to only satisfy their own egos, the audiences will see that and respond accordingly.

True or false: The cultural subsidies doled out by governments are being sent to the wrong kind of people and institutions.
I cannot tell since I don’t have much knowledge in this area. In America, artists usually don’t get much support from the government. However, I know some artists who receive these subsidies from the government have this attitude of creating works that only satisfy their own artistic expressions, in other words, they don’t care about how the audiences like about their works. I do not agree with this type of attitude because I feel that if you are getting money from the government, which is  money from tax-payers (your audiences), you should have a sense of responsibility to give back to them through your creative works. We cannot take this money for granted even though it is often called a Grant. We receive it from the people, and we give our works back to them for them to enjoy. This is my attitude towards this.

Many artists dream of a “magnum opus”. Do you have a vision of what yours would sound like?
It should sound like I am fully present and expressive. 

Questions about performing.
What was the deciding moment, which made you want to become an artist?
The time that I really chose to be an artist (not my parents wanted me to be or the schools trained me to be was when I was 23, the summer I was playing on the street of Old Town Pasadena; When I played and didn’t care whether people would stop to listen, when I played and people were touched and entertained, when I played and my basket in front of me was full of money and people bought my CDs.

What’s the hardest part about being a musician and what’s the best?
It is not hard to be a musician. It requires persistence and hard work just like any other professions. The best of being a musician is that I am my own boss, I have flexible schedules, and I love my work.

Do you consider it important that more young people care for classical music? If so, how, do you think, could this be achieved?

No, I don’t think it is important that more young people care for classical music. They are free to care about any music they like. Classical music is not better or worse than any other type of music; it is what it is, people choose to like it or not. I personally like Jazz more than Classical music because I feel much more touched and inspired when I listen to Jazz.

With so many different recordings of a particular piece available – how do you keep yours fresh and different?
I play from my heart and soul with a natural flow of my “Chi” without the intention to sound like other great interpretations of the piece.

What constitutes a good live performance in your opinion? What’s your approach to performing on stage?
It is all good if I am fully present and focused, in another word, when I am totally in the zone. My approach to performing on stage is to focus. I often tell my students that it is like swimming, once you jump into the water (you played the first note), there is no way to come back, just move forward until you reach the other side of the pool. Wrong notes are not wrong notes if you keep flowing in time. Don’t be distracted by mistakes, just focus and keep going.

How do you balance the need to put your personal emotions into the music you play and the intentions of the composer?
I follow the general context/ intentions of the composer with my personal emotions. It is like I am the actress of a play (the composition).

How would you describe the relationship with your instrument?
The Guzheng is one of my tools for my artistic and creative expressions, and it is the most important one to me at this moment of my life.

Have you ever tried playing a different instrument? If yes, how good were you at it?

I played the 7 stringed Chinese zither the Qin, and I was quite good at it.  I really enjoyed play that instrument and I felt it entertained myself more than anybody else.
I played the Piano and the drum sets for a while, and I was very good at them. I love playing the drums, and it helped me in the aspect of contemporary music/rhythm a lot.

Quiet your Mind and Listen (Standby Productions) 2006
Heart of China/ w. Richard Horowtiz (Killer Tracks) 2008

Bei Bei He
Bei Bei He at MySpace

Related articles

V.A.: "An anthology of Chinese Experimental Music 1992-2008"
Dazzling, diverse and dramatic: A ...
15 Questions to John Lindberg/ String Trio of New York
It is celebration time for ...
15 Questions to Lisa Bielawa
Lisa Bielawa's life does not ...
John Adams: "American Classic"
John Cage is a wonderful ...
CD Feature/ Erdem Helvacioglu: "Wounded Breath"
An elegant aura of film-noir: ...
15 Questions to Israel Martinez
Israel Martinez just will not ...
CD Feature/ Jerry Gerber: "Waves"
Embedding virtuosity in irresistibly catchy ...
Net Feature/ Wang Changcun: "The Klone Concerts"
Nurtures the enigma: The missing ...

Partner sites