Ask the Sky and the Earth
Subtitle: A Oratorio Cantata for the Sent-Down Youth
Duration: c. 45:35
Difficulty: (see Ratings for explanation)
Original Medium: Orchestra, chorus and soloists
Cost: Score and Parts - Unknown
1. A Spring to Feed the Passing Years
2. Our Journey Awaits
3. Push Back the Wild - 4:20
4. River Full of Moon/Dawn in the Rubber Groves - 4:41
5. A Letter from Home/A Letter Home - 8:50
6. We Know the Mountain's Noble Thoughts/The Mountain's Answer - 6:30
7. We're Back - 3:16
8. This Soil. These Hills. - 5:40
(Needed, please join the WRP if you can help.)
None discovered thus far.
Four decades ago, at the call of Chairman Mao Zedong, close to 20 million of China’s urban youth of middle- and high-school age streamed into the countryside to participate in the “up to the mountains and down to the villages” movement. In distant borderlands, on remote islands, in harsh wilderness, these young men and women passed the precious years of their youths, sacrificing formal educations to be schooled in hard agricultural labor. This was a unique course of life -- full of idealism and hardship, drenched by tears and sweat, by turns tragic, romantic, dazed, and ecstatic. Ask the Sky and the Earth attempts to convey the spirit of this epoch, the sentiments of an entire generation as they think back upon their youths and “give thanks to life, give thanks to the land.”
- Program Note by Wei Su
Ask the average American what they know about the Chinese Cultural Revolution and they will tell you: nothing. Many might recognize the face of Mao; most would tell you he did terrible things; some might have heard of the Red Guards, have seen images of crowds of teenagers waving the Little Red Book. But few can tell you more than that.
The “Down to the Countryside Movement,” which began in the late sixties and lasted into the mid-seventies, scattered almost 20 million children of middle- and high-school to remote regions of the Chinese countryside, separating them for years from their homes and families. They were sent to “live among the peasants,” to become better Communists, to build a new society; it was a time of great idealism, and of incalculable hardship for many. Today it is regarded as one of the twentieth century’s most massive utopian fantasies gone wrong. But no matter how history judges it, it shaped the lives of an entire generation of Chinese: it was the defining experience of their adolescence in the same way that the Sixties defined the adolescences of a generation of Americans. It was the air they drank, the water they breathed; it changed who they were, and who they’d become.
Americans know about the Holocaust; they know, to some degree, about the excesses of Soviet communism: these major events of the twentieth century have entered into our popular consciousness through books, through films; they are covered thoroughly in our history classes. Yet we know little about the Cultural Revolution. Why? Because little or no art has emerged out of the Cultural Revolution that can truly span the culture gap. We have no Schindler’s List or Anne Frank’s Diary, no Quartet for the End of Time or Shostakovich Five to carry the strength and power of the Cultural Revolution the same way these works of art do for their historical events.
Ask the Sky and the Earth is unique in that grapples with this difficult history while engaging the audience in an accessible musical language. It has more memorable melodies per square inch than the best of Broadway musicals. It conveys both the idealism and the darkness of the era, using a musical language that evokes the music of the time, giving the American listener -- or singer -- an unusual glimpse into what it was like to be young in China during the late 1960s. I myself have a long relationship with this piece -- I am currently translating the lyrics into singable English and revising the orchestral score -- and when I play the songs for other Americans I’m surprised by how stirred they are by the music. To make something so distant, so foreign, emotionally immediate -- that is the power of this music.
Why is it important that Americans understand the Cultural Revolution? It broadens our worldview -- true. But there’s an even more simple answer: it’s our history too. Almost anyone my age whose parents emigrated from China (I’m 25) has a parent who was sent to the countryside. A vast number of Americans are connected to this history. It’s rarely discussed -- it’s hard to talk about, and the language barrier makes it harder -- but it’s there. It’s time we made it our own.
- Program Note by Austin Woerner
None discovered thus far.
None discovered thus far.
To submit a performance please join The Wind Repertory Project
- Yale University (New Haven, Conn.) Concert Band (Thomas Duffy, conductor; SYGQ Chorus; vocal soloists) – 8 March 2018 (CBDNA 2018 Eastern Conference, New Haven, Conn.)
- Yale Concert Band (New Haven, Conn.) (Thomas Duffy, conductor; SYGQ Chorus) – 26 February 2011
Works for Winds by this Composer
- Ask the Sky and the Earth (orch. Dong Yan; trans. Thomas Duffy) (2009)
- Yale Concert Band concert program, 8 March 2018