Suona inheritors vitalize traditional art forms

(| Updated : 2023-05-11

Print Print


Suona master Liu Wenwen [Photo provided to]

Hundreds of Birds Paying Homage to Phoenix, a 40-second performance by suona player Liu Wenwen, has gone viral recently, triggering a wave of revitalizing traditional Chinese instruments.

Liu Wenwen, who was born in Rencheng district, Jining, Shandong province, graduated from the Shanghai Conservatory of Music in 2018 with a master's degree as the first suona student in China. She has since received her PhD at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music and is using her expertise as a suona master to introduce this traditional Chinese instrument to a wider audience.

Her father Liu Baobin is a seventh-generation inheritor of suona and has been devoted to teaching the traditional Chinese instrument since he retired. He currently offers online suona courses for students around the world.

Liu Wenwen's mother Liu Hongmei has also viewed suona as a lifelong profession. For decades, Liu Hongmei has gathered information and techniques regarding various types of suona and local operas. She then records them into written materials, hoping to better understand and preserve the ancient musical forms. "I send the draft materials to Wenwen and she will give me feedback," she said.


Liu Wenwen (left) performs with the China National Symphony Orchestra under the baton of conductor Tan Dun during a concert at the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing on Dec 30, 2018. [Photo provided to China Daily]

She recalls that her daughter started to learn suona at 3 or 4 years old. "I often woke her up at 4:30 am to practice suona at a nearby children's playground. After about two hours of training, she went to school and continued practicing for half an hour during lunch and as soon as she got home later," she said.

When Liu Wenwen was in the first grade at elementary school, she was already performing suona on stage. Her mother took her to small theaters frequently to play suona and helped her dress up and do makeup.

Nowadays, Liu Wenwen has become a renowned young suona player both in China and abroad. In addition to teaching at school, she often travels to participate in world-class music concerts. Despite her busy schedule, her connection with her mother has not diminished. 

Liu Hongmei has collected dozens of new suona samples that Liu Wenwen has not released in recent years. "Every new composition is sent to me as soon as it is produced," Liu Hongmei said. After receiving the sample, she listens to it repeatedly for two or three days, writing down the seconds where the skills are not up to par or the pitch is not right.

Liu Wenwen's rise to fame and success has been supported by her family. At Liu Wenwen's doctoral graduation concert in February, Liu Baobin and Liu Hongmei invited more than 20 family members and apprentices to perform an inter-family traditional music show.