Living in China for the last 13 years, my preferred means of transportation has always been the bicycle. Despite an efficient and ever-expanding metro system in Shanghai and an impressive high speed rail network that can take me to any major city in a couple of hours, I still prefer my bike. On my bicycle I can choose my own path. Travelling at my own speed I can experience the country with my own senses. Whether coasting down a mountain side through a bamboo forest or pedaling through a seemingly endless urban industrial zone, on my bicycle I can react to the things around me; I can feel, I can dream, I can create and I can learn.
I’ve always been attracted to folk and traditional music. As a music student at the University of Waterloo, my favourite course was the World Music course. The musical traditions of China are numerous and varied. I first experienced Chinese music through the temple music and folk opera music I heard in Taiwan in the early 1990’s. This prompted me to learn how to play the Erhu (Chinese two-stringed fiddle) and, more importantly, the Kezi Xian (Taiwanese Coconut Shell Fiddle) on which I learned to play a repertoire of folk tunes entirely by rote from a musician named Zhang Shi-Dong, chronicled on my first album, “A Discovery of Chinese Folk Tunes,” recorded in 1997.
After studying Cantonese music with Yeung-Yee Lee in New York and hustling through the contemporary world music milieu of Montreal in the early 2000‘s - bands and folk festivals - I still ended up coming back to China to quietly learn more about the Erhu. In Shanghai, I was enchanted and intrigued by the Jiangnan Silk and Bamboo music club tradition and took up weekly meetings with the master Zhou Hao. Traveling to Yunnan regularly, I was captivated by the vocal and instrumental music, in particular the village dance traditions, of the Yi ethnic minority group. Through these experiences I learned not only how to play more music, but also how to participate in music making as a meaningful communal activity, an activity that continues to be a part of many people’s daily lives.
Through learning and playing music, I make life-long friends, travel to interesting places and connect with a range of cultural traditions. But somehow; still, I love to dream, to reflect and to create. To chronicle my experiences, I am still drawn to the very personal path of composing music: making a work of art that is an ode to the people and places, to the cultures and the traditions, to the working hands and the dancing feet, to the singers and story tellers... So, I started with my Qinqin (3-stringed Chinese banjo) and I added my Erhu and other two-stringed fiddles. I also used some guitar and percussion. This set of pieces that I composed is my new album, Chinese Bicycle Stories. It is a poetic musical journey using the language of Chinese musical instruments and folk traditions. Hope you like it. It’s available on Apple Music, Spotify and CD Baby.
Read the South China Morning Post's article on Jeremy!