Xu Yang and her Chamber Orchestra perform.
Unlike the widely-known Pipa, a pear-shaped four-stringed instrument passed down through numerous vicissitudes of China's long history, a similar plucked instrument dating back more than 2,000 years ago, the Ruan (lute with fretted neck and round body), has fallen into obscurity in modern times.
Had it not been for the efforts of Xu Yang and her partners, the instrument would have virtually passed out of the collective memory of society.
Xu was appointed as a lecturer teaching the Ruan at the Central Conservatory of Music in 1998. At that time, the ancient instrument was far less popular among the faculties of privileged conservatories across the country.
Prior to her appointment, Xu staged a solo performance of the Ruan with two Chinese compositions -- The Whole River Red and the Blossoms Cluster-- at a weeklong music festival in 1984, and her music was aired abroad via China Radio International.
In 1996, her first music video album went on sale, and, a year later, she staged a solo show by exploring renditions on the Ruan with modern music elements.
To spread the instrument's popularity, Xu organized the first Chamber Orchestra on her campus in June, 2005, and its performance soon won wide acclaim and won numerous prizes, such as, a silver medal from the Competition of National Music, hosted by China Central Television in 2007. Today, her team enjoys high prestige among domestic musicians.
However, Xu is modest every time when she speaks about the success of the Chamber Orchestra, saying she has simply stood on the shoulders of a giant.
She stated "Our ancestors have left us an invaluable cultural heritage that has survived for thousands of years. Without protecting, preserving and exploring the genre well, how can we proclaim that we are reviving our music let alone achieving the rejuvenation of our culture?"
With a strong impulse to restore the Ruan's popularity, Xu initiated a symposium in 2011 discussing for the first time the revival of the Ruan at the Central Conservatory of Music.
Drawing on her pedagogic experiences in the past three decades, Xu completed a systematic guide for Ruan education and improved and integrated the traditional instrument into modern performance. With her relentless efforts, there have been several outstanding and award-winning Ruan players and teachers who used to be her students.
In 2007, when she was in contact with a music instrument firm, an idea to create a brand for the Ruan came into her mind. After two years of research, she signed an agreement with the Ocean of Music Co. Ltd., a music instrument provider, offering proposals to the company.
By applying her theories, experiences and aesthetic views to the production of the instrument, she has successfully improved the music scales and brought major changes to the ancient instrument.
While the series of altered Ruan have been widely recognized by domestic musicians, Xu is endeavoring to tap the market for spinoff products.
"I expect to build the brand of the Ruan not only as an instrument, but also as a cultural signal to forge ahead the development of national music," she said.
The musician also stressed that the national music should never abandon its traditional appeal and the old merits in the contemporary world; nor should it be passed down with isolated teaching approaches, losing its openness to the new elements and values that shape music in modern times.