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110th anniv. of legendary Peking opera drum master Bai Dengyun marked

Reporter: Julian Waghann 丨 CCTV.com

11-11-2016 06:35 BJT

Bai Dengyun, an artist who not only marched to the beat of his own drum, but literally played the drums for Peking Opera’s finest. This year marks the 110th anniversary of the birth of drum master Bai Dengyun. Industry professionals from around the world have gathered in Beijing to celebrate his legacy. Meanwhile, a collection of some rare archive performance footage is also being released.

On the drum is the legendary Bai Dengyun. In Peking opera, the drummer is considered the conductor. The drum along with the ban, or clappers, beat out the tempo and keep time for other instruments. Bai was hailed by Peking Opera masters Mei Lanfang and Cheng Yanqiu as the King of Drums. Yet, in life, he was anything but a king.

“He led a very simple and austere life. For breakfast, he would only have a bowl of soy milk, occasionally with a slice of pancake. Egg would have been a big treat for him. He never indulged in food or luxury. But when it came to his craft, he was extremely passionate about it. He practiced every day until he passed away,” said Bai Qingsan, son of Bai Dengyun.

“My father taught us first and foremost the importance of virtues. He dedicated his entire life to his art and to being a virtuous man,” said Baigang, son of Bai Dengyun.

Bai’s family could not afford to send him to school. Instead, he turned to learning the drum at the age of eight and toured with a local company. Fame came to Bai at an early age, but he continued to hone his craft with such renowned drummers as Bao Guishan.

“Bai is the only Peking opera drum master to have been recorded. This footage was shot between 1982 and 1984. What you see today is the result of multiple restorations of the original,” said Kong Xiangchang, former vice president of National Academy of Theater Arts.

And thanks to these restoration efforts, the film will soon be released in theaters across the country.

“The film will be shown in all of our theater circuits. I hope it will help promote the art form,” said Liang Hansen, president of Beijing Yuancheng Zhongshi Media.

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