‘P.S.—Nov. 10.—I have been thinking much of your，
"The Century Theater in New York City has special apparatus for producing wind effects, thunder and lightning simultaneously. The wind machine consists of a drum with slats which are rotated over an apron of corded silk, which produces the whistling sound of wind; the lightning is produced by powdered magnesium electrically ignited; thunder is simulated by rolling a thousand pounds of stone, junk and chain down a chute ending in an iron plate, followed by half-a-dozen cannon balls and supplemented by the deafening notes of a thunder drum."
Although, however, Chinese play-goers do not demand the expensive outfits and stage sceneries of the West, I must note here that not even on the American stage have I seen such gorgeous costumes, or robes of so rich a hue and displaying such glittering gold ornaments and graceful feathers, as I have seen on the simple Chinese stage I have just described. Western fashions are having a tendency in our ports and larger cities to modify some things that I have stated about Chinese theatrical performances, but the point I wish especially to impress on my readers is that theatrical performances in China, while amusing and interesting, are seldom melodramatic, and as I look back on my experiences in the United States, I cannot but think that the good people there are making a mistake in not utilizing the human natural love for excitement and the drama as a subsidiary moral investment. And, of course, all I have said of theaters applies with equal force to moving-picture shows.
Chapter 15. Opera and Musical Entertainments
Opera is a form of entertainment which, though very popular in America and England, does not appeal to me. I know that those who are fond of music love to attend it, and that the boxes in an opera house are generally engaged by the fashionable set for the whole season beforehand. I have seen members of the "four hundred" in their boxes in a New York opera house; they have been distinguished by their magnificent toilettes and brilliant jewelry; but I have been thinking of the Chinese drama, which, like the old Greek play, is also based on music, and Chinese music with its soft and plaintive airs is a very different thing from the music of grand opera. Chinese music could not be represented on Western instruments, the intervals between the notes being different. Chinese singing is generally "recitative" accompanied by long notes, broken, or sudden chords from the orchestra. It differs widely from Western music, but its effects are wonderful. One of our writers has thus described music he once heard: "Softly, as the murmur of whispered words; now loud and soft together, like the patter of pearls and pearlets dropping upon a marble dish. Or liquid, like the warbling of the mango-bird in the bush; trickling like the streamlet on its downward course. And then like the torrent, stilled by the grip of frost, so for a moment was the music lulled, in a passion too deep for words." That this famous description of the effects of music which I have borrowed from Mr. Dyer Ball's "Things Chinese" is not exaggerated, anyone who knows China may confirm by personal observation of the keen enjoyment an unlearned, common day laborer will find in playing a single lute all by himself for hours beneath the moon on a warm summer evening, with no one listening but the trees and the flitting insects; but it requires a practised ear to appreciate singing and a good voice. On one occasion I went to an opera house in London to hear the world-renowned Madame Patti. The place was so crowded, and the atmosphere so close, that I felt very uncomfortable and I am ashamed to acknowledge that I had to leave before she had finished. If I had been educated to appreciate that sort of music no doubt I would have comprehended her singing better, and, however uncomfortable, I should no doubt have remained to the end of the entertainment.
While writing this chapter it happened that the following news from New York was published in the local papers in Shanghai. It should be interesting to my readers, especially to those who are lovers of music.
"`Yellow music' will be the next novelty to startle and lure this blase town; amusement forecasters already see in the offing a Fall invasion of the mysterious Chinese airs which are now having such a vogue in London under the general term of `yellow music'.
"The time was when Americans and occidentals in general laughed at Chinese music, but this was due to their own ignorance of its full import and to the fact that they heard only the dirges of a Chinese funeral procession or the brassy noises that feature a celestial festival. They did not have opportunity to be enthralled by the throaty, vibrant melodies -- at once so lovingly seductive and harshly compelling -- by which Chinese poets and lovers have revealed their thoughts and won their quest for centuries. The stirring tom-tom, if not the ragtime which sets the occidental capering to-day, was common to the Chinese three or four hundred years ago. They heard it from the wild Tartars and Mongols -- heard it and rejected it, because it was primitive, untamed, and not to be compared with their own carefully controlled melodies. Mr. Emerson Whithorne, the famous British composer, who is an authority on oriental music, made this statement to the London music lovers last week:
"`The popularity of Chinese music is still in its childhood. From now on it will grow rapidly. Chinese music has no literature, as we understand that term, but none can say that it has not most captivating melodies. To the artistic temperament, in particular, it appeals enormously, and well-known artists -- musicians, painters, and so on -- say that it affects them in quite an extraordinary way.'"
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