Accordions Worldwide Celebrity Interview, Li Cong, China
Celebrity Interviews

President of the Shanghai Accordion Association;
Director of Accordion Worldwide China Site;
Member of the Shanghai Accordion Examination Board;
Tutor at Shanghai Normal University;
Principal of the Li Cong Accordion School.

Moderator: Wallace Liggett
26 October 1999

Q. Could you tell us about the city you live in, where it is located, what is the population, what activities are carried on there, and some of the features, visitors to your city usually want to see?
A. I live in Shanghai which is on the east coast of China. Shanghai is one of the most developed cities in China and has a population of about 14 million people. The city has been rapidly developing in construction, economy, culture, sciences and technology during the last ten years.

A lot of international festivals such as arts festivals, cinemas festivals, costume and tour festivals are held in Shanghai every year. "Wai Tan"(out beach) is the most attractive part of Shanghai, where we can see some world-class buildings such as "Oriental Pearl" TV Tower, Jin Mao skyscraper and so on. All these buildings are famous in China and overseas.

Q. There are tremendous numbers of people living in China. Could you tell us the approximate population and number of accordion players in China?
A.The population in China is about 1.3 billion, which is approximately one-fifth of the total population of the world. China probably has the greatest number of people in the world studying the accordion today, with over 200,000 students nationwide. The total number of accordion players is unknown.

Q. I understand you are a member of the Shanghai Accordion Examination Board. Could you tell us about the syllabus of this organization, number of grades and some idea of what students are required to perform at an examination?
A. The accordion examinations have ten grades and every grade has different requirements. Those sitting examinations must play the given pieces and other requirements corresponding to that grade. Qualified persons will listen and decide if they have reached the standard to be awarded the certificate.

Q. What standing does this examination have with the Chinese government and other musical educational institutions in China?
A. The Accordion Examination System plays an important role in Chinese amateur music education. A lot of children are required by their parents to study some arts such as piano, accordion, orchestral instruments, handwriting, painting and so on. The qualified young people, endowed with certificates to confirm their achievements, are not only encouragemed by their success to achieve new targets. It is also useful for them to obtain these advanced grade certificates so they are accepted into the higher grades of their school and these advanced grade certificates often help them to obtain enrolment in the better schools and universities, where are very difficult to obtain entry to.

Q. Approximately how many students at the various grade levels sit the examinations each year?
A. There are about 2,000 students who attend Accordion Examination every year in Shanghai. This year, the numbers were the most ever, with over 3,500 candidates.

Q. What role do parents of the students usually play? Do they support their children financially and show great interest in their children's advancement?
A. Parents usually play a most important part in children's education, and many are very active and spend a lot money on their child's education. The expense of education constitutes a high proportion of Chinese families total spending.

Q. Do music students usually expect to find work in a musical career after graduating or do they regard music as a valuable extra to round out their education?
A. More and more parents have realised that studying music is one of important factors that helps develop children's potential intelligence. The parents are not necessarily expecting their children to find a good job related to their music education after graduation.

Q. You are the President of the Shanghai Accordion Association. I am sure our readers would like to know about the activities of the association, how it promotes the accordion in that city and in China as well as other parts of the world. Could you tell us about any competitions, festivals, seminars and other activities.
A. The Shanghai Accordion Association (SAA) has over 150 members. Membership is by invitation only and mainly consists of accordion teachers and excellent students. SAA organizes a few of good-sized city-wide events related to accordion every year. SAA invited New Zealand accordion artist Maurice Jones (in 1997) and French accordionist Jean Louis Noton (in 1999) to hold concerts in Shanghai. The council of SAA consists of experienced accordionists who are professionally engaged in playing and teaching accordion and are very enthusiastic for accordion. As professionals, they spend a lot of time playing and teaching the accordion.

Q. Could you tell us something of the historical development of this organization?
A. The Shanghai Accordion Association was founded in 1988. The famous Chinese accordionist Mr. Jiang Guihe was the president from 1988 to 1996. I have been the President of SAA since 1996 on account of Mr. Jiang's health. What I feel very proud of, is that accordion in Shanghai has had rapid development in recent years. We organized a good-sized concert in 1997 and performers amounted to over 2,000. We also organized fifteen accordion concerts in April and May, 1997 and performers amounted to about 2,500.

When New Zealand accordion artist Maurice Jones held concerts in Shanghai, because of our good organization, the 3,500 tickets available for the two concerts fell short of the demand and a lot of people waited at the gate in very cold temperatures for possible tickets being returned.

In recent years, the number of candidates that are sitting accordion examinations has rapidly increased, from 2,300 candidates in 1997, 2,800 in 1998, to over 3,500 candidates this year.

Q. You also hold an important position at the Shanghai Normal University. In New Zealand a Normal School is one where teachers are trained. Is this the case in China?
A. In China, most of the accordion teachers have graduated from normal schools. The young accordion players, if they wish to have a job teaching accordion have two choices. One is go to a music conservatory and another is to go to a normal school. The normal school only admits a small number of accordion students every year. However, by the time they are graduate, they are trained to teach accordion and/or to be a performer.

Q. Would you explain your exact position at the university and what your responsibilities are in this respect?
A. I have been working in the Shanghai Normal University for eighteen years and I have held some important positions in the Music Department including the director of instrumental music staff office, the director of the ensemble and the vice-dean of the Music Department. However, I mainly manage accordion, engage in accordion teaching and research on teaching methods and organize varied accordion events.

Q. You currently direct the Chinese language Accordions Worldwide web site. Are there many Chinese who use the internet? How is this means of communication growing in China?
A. Internet has been developing very swiftly in China, but internet was used mainly by young people. Now more and more people know Internet and understand the importance of exchange and sources of the Internet.

Q. We would like to hear about your family. Could you tell us about them and what they do? Are any of them interested in the accordion?
A. My wife works in the Shanghai University, my daughter is twelve years old and she plays piano and accordion.

Q. Do you have any research in China that gives information about the number of people who play or learn various instruments? If so do you know how the accordion would compare with other instruments? For example, there was a study done in New Zealand in the 1980's and at that time it was found that of the whole population, about 40% learnt a musical instrument at some time in their lives. Approximately 40% of these learned piano, a similar number learned guitar, then the numbers for flute and violin were much lower well under 10% and the accordion was about 4%. Do you have any similar study in China?
A. I don't think there is any formal survey in this way, but as far as I know, among the students who study musical instruments in China, pianists are approximately fifty per cent and in the next place is accordionists at twenty per cent, then next are electronic organ, violin, orchestral instruments and folk instruments.

Q. Are you involved in the teaching of any other instrument besides the accordion?
A. No.

Q. One of our readers has asked if there is any traditional or modern Chinese accordion music available in sheet music form that can be purchased outside of China, especially in the USA? If so how may it be purchased?
A. Please use the Accordions Worldwide Yellow Pages to search for music publishers and write to them. (Ed. Ernest Deffner Publications has some available for sale online).

Q. Has the contact with accordionists from other countries made much difference to the number of Chinese who learn button accordions? The piano accordion has retained its popularity in many countries, although the button accordion has a comparatively larger following in some countries than in others. How is it accepted in China?
A. Button accordions appeared in China in recent years, which resulted from exchanges between Chinese accordionists and overseas accordionists. Some Chinese accordion manufacturers have begun to produce button accordions. Zhang Xiangmin in Hunan Province has begun to teach over 100 students to play button accordions. However, of those who play accordions in China, piano accordions constitute the great majority.

Q. Do many Chinese accordionists play foreign manufactured accordions? How are Chinese accordion factories responding to this competition from other manufacturers?
A. A few Chinese accordionists have accordions made in other countries, especially Italy. But owing to the costly price, only a few of the excellent students and teachers have bought these accordions.

For example, an Italian made accordion with free bass costs about RMB 40,000 to 50,000, which is almost the total income that a ordinary Chinese family earns for two years. Hence, Chinese accordion manufacturers don't mind such competition because the most expensive accordions made in China only cost about RMB 7, 000. This is within the possibility of ordinary Chinese families, although the structure, craft and quality of Chinese accordions is not as good as the Italian accordions. Chinese accordion manufacturers don't feel pressure now and unless overseas accordions manufacturers go to Chinese markets with low prices and standard bass (non-free bass) models, this will not change.

Q. What do you regard as your most important contribution to the accordion world in China?
A. If we are now talking about the contribution, the biggest thing I have ever done for the Chinese accordion world is the establishment of the Accordions WorldWide Chinese language internet site. (Ed. This site is a mirror image of the English language Accordions Worldwide site with several thousand pages of accordion information, the International Weekly News plus a special news site exclusively about Chinese accordion activities.)

Nowadays information and communication are very important, and our site plays the role of a bridge that connects the Chinese accordion world to the rest of the accordion world. At present more and more people browse our website, and it is enabling Chinese accordionists to learn lots of information about accordion development worldwide at any time.

I hope that our site can also become a Chinese accordion database. With the development of human society and the internet, I believe that our site will play an ever more important role in the future.

Q. What are some of the overseas competitions that your pupils have competed in? I understand that some have won international competitions in Australia and New Zealand. Have there been other competitions wins as well? (I have adjudicated at the South Pacific Championships several times and recall placing Chinese competitors first on at least one occasion, and other high placings as well, although I would not know if they were your personal students.)
A. Some of my students have won international competitions held in Australia and New Zealand many times. Mao Ruiyin won those international competitions in 1996 and is one of my excellent students. Now she is a student of Tsinghua University. My student Wu Yu won champion of junior category of 98' Chengdu World Championship held in Chengdu, China in 1998.

Q. Could you tell us about any important accordion events in China, whether they be festivals, camps or competitions? Are there any accordion concerts or concerts where accordionists play with other instrumentalists?
A. The significant activities of the Chinese accordion world include: the International Accordion Festival held in Beijing every Summer, the Accordion Examinations in various districts, the national and international accordion festival and competition held in various districts such as the 98' Chengdu World Championship held in Chendu in1998 and the 98' National Competition held in Wuhan in 1998.

Q. Are there accordion orchestras in your city or in China? What types of music do they play?

A. We established an accordion ensemble in Shanghai which was based on students and it has rehearsed a lot of pieces. The Air New Zealand Orchestra was the first one that brought new concepts about accordion orchestra to China, and they visited China in 1988 and held concerts in Beijing and Shanghai and four other major cities.

Professor Sommers from Kansas City University of USA was the first accordion professor that came to China instructing accordion orchestras. In 1988 she was invited by the Chinese Accordion Teachers Association and came to the Shanghai Normal University to hold lectures on accordion orchestras for a week. She personally rehearsed and conducted an accordion orchestra consisted of over 30 accordionists from throughout China and held a concert in Shanghai Music Hall. Now some accordion orchestra music that she brought into China during her visit to China is still popular, especially the piece "West Side Story".

Q. Is electronics become applied to accordions in China? Is MIDI used by many accordionists?
A. At present, electronic technologies have only been partly used with accordion in China, but some Chinese accordionists such as Zeng Jian in Guangdong Province, Zhang Tianyu in Beijing and Liao Yixuan in Yunnan Province, have begun to use MIDI electronic synthesizers.

Q. What are your personal aims for the future as far as the accordion is concerned?
A. First, to manage and continue the development of the Accordions Worldwide Chinese language internet site;
Secondly, to do more to promote the exchange between east and west accordion music and culture;
Thirdly, to manage our accordion school well and keep close contact with the international accordion world.

Q. Do you have any hobbies or interests apart from the accordion and music. Could you tell us about them?
A. Computers and travelling.

Q. Do you have any final message you would like to give to our readers?
A. To do more things for our lovely instrument.
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