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Swan song for ancient temple music?
   CCTV.COM   2003-06-20 14:06:39   
    Zhihua Temple music is one of the oldest forms of traditional Chinese music that can still be heard today. But it's on the verge of extinction and there's only one monk left alive who can still perform it. Zhang Benxing from Beijing's Zhihua Temple is an old man who is racing against time to preserve the centuries-old melodies.

    A mysterious music lives on in an ancient temple. Eighty-year-old monk Zhang Benxing is playing a gong called a yunluo as he chants an old melody. The sole surviving member of the 26th Generation of Zhihua Temple Musicians, Zhang is the only monk still performing.

    According to Zhang, Zhihua Temple Music was passed down to him over 500 years. It's a combination of imperial court music, Buddhist music and folk tunes. Most of the pieces are songs celebrating Buddhist events.

    The original character of the music has not changed since it first came into existence. The scores are written in "Gongchepu," a traditional Chinese musical notation system. The musical monks passed on their skills generation after generation through strict instruction. But as their numbers dwindled, so did the performances. Most of the instruments and scores have disappeared or are no longer in use, just like the old monk who played and sang them.

    "Zhihua Temple Music is on the verge of extinction. I hope we can save it. There are more than 200 melodies from the Ming Dynasty, but I can only sing 40 of them. The rest have been lost over the past generations," said Zhang Benxing.

    Zhang's biggest dream is to find a true successor. Over the past years, most of his students have learned a bit and left. They say the music is too slow and does not make money. Thirteen-year old Cui Qiang from Beijing's No.19 Middle School is his current apprentice.

    "I learnt Chinese wind and percussion instruments, they're too noisy. But this music is different. I feel so relaxed when I sing it," said Cui Qiang

    Zhang Benxing is trying to pass all his knowledge on to Cui Qiang. He hopes Zhihua Temple Music can still be heard well after he passes away.

Editor: Han Ling

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