Daniel Ho & The Suzhou Masters | Embroidering Melodies

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Embroidering Melodies

by Daniel Ho & The Suzhou Masters

Daniel Ho, a six-time Grammy winner, collaborates with several respected Suzhou folk music masters. Their creative rendition of the traditional Chinese Suzhou Pingtan singing represents a beautiful musical fusion of the Eastern and Western performing arts
Genre: World: Chinese traditional
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  Song Share Time Download
1. Five Silken Threads
Daniel Ho & The Suzhou Masters
4:18 album only
2. The Water Sleeves Waltz
Daniel Ho & The Suzhou Masters
3:24 album only
3. Each Lovely Step
Daniel Ho & The Suzhou Masters
5:21 album only
4. Black Silk Robe
Daniel Ho & The Suzhou Masters
4:37 album only
5. Mountain of Pink Peach Blossoms
Daniel Ho & The Suzhou Masters
4:32 album only
6. Garden of Reveries
Daniel Ho & The Suzhou Masters
3:28 album only
7. Along Willow-Lined Waterways
Daniel Ho & The Suzhou Masters
3:21 album only
8. Viewing the Moon On Mid-Autumn Festival (From Legend of the White Snake)
Daniel Ho & The Suzhou Masters
7:11 album only
9. Thinking of Autumn
Daniel Ho & The Suzhou Masters
4:52 album only
10. Beautiful as Peach Blossoms
Daniel Ho & The Suzhou Masters
6:09 album only
11. Seeing Her Again (From Pearl Tower)
Daniel Ho & The Suzhou Masters
4:27 album only
12. Saying Goodbye to Liang Shanbo
Daniel Ho & The Suzhou Masters
4:20 album only


Album Notes

Producer's Words

From a distance, Su Xiu, or Suzhou embroidery looks like a beautiful painting with subjects that include people, historic moments, sculptures, and still life. As you move in and have a closer view, you’ll find that the details of the stitches are discernible in layers—thicknesses, color selection, and breath-taking attention to telling a story.

My traverses through China in recent years have been eye-opening and mind-expanding in a similar way—what seems foreign or hard to understand at face value has become accessible and refined through closer observation and familiarization.

Suzhou in Jiangsu Province is flowing with slow-moving waterways, thoughtfully designed gardens, calm but bustling teahouses, and of course, art. It is a culture long-steeped in a tradition of storytelling popularized in the Pingtan style, and refined stage and aria performances of Kunqu opera in one of its original forms.

Some of the songs on this album are performed in Suzhou dialect. Chinese is a language that is inherently musical. It is filled with tones, inflections, and accents that lend to minimal instrumental accompaniment in traditional repertoire—a three-stringed lute, a lone flute, or one drum. With music as the common thread, I found myself mostly reharmonizing or adding thematic counterpoints to build around their art and allow the deliveries to breathe. The result: a true effort to enter the souls of the characters through whom these poems, lore, and historical highlights are told. Then taking a step back to appreciate these masterpieces all over again with a deeper understanding.

I am overwhelmed with heartfelt gratitude and respect for the amazing artistry and dedication shared by the world-class masters, musicians, and vocalists on this album. It is their commitment to nurturing and passing on beloved traditions that makes concepts in their songs and stories like happiness, hard work, loyalty, and love prevail.


(DHo signature / 簽名檔)

Song Notes
01 Five Silken Threads
■ Music, arrangement: Daniel Ho
■ Guzheng: Su Hanlu ■ Yangqin: Hua Lei ■ Tenor and bass recorders: Helen Rees ■ Bass ‘ukulele, ipu heke, xiao luo, shaker, caxixi: Daniel Ho

Much like the intricate blending of needlework and thread, this composition is equally manifold. The score, written in a meter of five, combines five interlacing sounds: guzheng, yangqin, recorder, bass ‘ukulele, and percussion.

The guzheng begins a simple melody in a meter of two. A recorder soon enters and plays along in two, then evolves into a polyrhythm of five over two. The caxixi follows, suggesting a waltz-like feel in ¾ time. The yangqin, with its dynamic, dulcimer tone, introduces a syncopated accompaniment in five as the bass ‘ukulele establishes the harmonic foundation.

The five parts weave together in melodic and polyrhythmic counterpoints just as thousands of lovingly stitched threads would to a masterful work of embroidery.

02 The Water Sleeves Waltz
■ Music, arrangement: Daniel Ho
■ Yangqin: Hua Lei ■ Chinese flute: Helen Rees ■ ‘Ukulele, bass ‘ukulele, Tibetan cymbals, triangle, egg shaker, udu, rattle, bass drum: Daniel Ho

Hidden in the lilting guise of a pseudo-waltz, this piece was composed in common time (4/4). Water sleeves are a signature visual embellishment in the performance of Kunqu opera. Like hand movements in hula, Kunqu actors and actresses master the elegant twirling and casting movements of long silken sleeves to express an impressive range of emotions. ʻUkulele affected with a digital delay seemed best suited to capture the flowing sequence of wudan, a young female character, dreaming of love. Yangqin (dulcimer), xiao (flute), and plentiful percussion contribute to the floating feeling of the melody.

The Peony Pavilion (originally named Return from Death and also known as Return from Death of the Maiden Du Liniang in the Late Afternoon), written in 1598, is the most famous work of the Ming dynasty opera writer Tang Xianzu. It is based on a legend about the love between a young maiden named Du Liniang and a young man named Liu Mengmei set during the Southern Song dynasty. Highly moving and with aspects of romanticism, the story depicts in detail human nature, society, and the prevalence of emotion over reason. With beautiful melodies not limited by the norms of Kunqu opera rhythm, the piece is amazing both intellectually and artistically, hence being a classic that has been performed time and again over the centuries.

The original 55 scenes of The Peony Pavilion have been condensed to about twelve, with recent adaptations in Kunqu opera. The following three songs are from an eminent scene known as A Surprising Dream, namely “Each Lovely Step” (which describes the female lead, Du Liniang, enjoying the view from the pavilion), “Black Silk Robe” (the theme song of Du Liniang), and “Mountain of Pink Peach Blossoms” (the theme song for the male lead, Liu Mengmei).

03 Each Lovely Step
■ Music, lyrics: Tang Xianzu (Ming dynasty opera writer) ■ Arrangement: Daniel Ho
■ Female vocals: Liu Yu ■ Qu flute: Zou Jianliang
■ Zhonghu: Wang Hong ■ Piano: Daniel Ho

The play’s female protagonist, young Du Liniang sneaks away for her first ever walk through the family garden and marvels from the pavilion at spring in full bloom around her. In this iconic aria, piano fittingly depicts an influx of sensations. About halfway through, an added background vocal harmonizes the falling melody and the zhonghu counterpoint echoes and gives the piece additional rhythmic structure.

04 Black Silk Robe
■ Music, lyrics: Tang Xianzu (Ming dynasty opera writer) ■ Arrangement: Daniel Ho
■ Female vocals: Liu Yu ■ Qu flute: Zou Jianliang ■ Requinto guitar: Daniel Ho

A requinto guitar part comforts Du Liniang as she struggles to understand the excitement and sadness she has felt all at once. Tired from her garden stroll, she falls asleep still trying to make sense of the verdant and fading wonders she has experienced outside.

05 Mountain of Pink Peach Blossoms
■Music, lyrics: Tang Xianzu (Ming dynasty opera writer) ■ Arrangement: Daniel Ho
■ Female vocals: Liu Yu; Male vocals: Tang Xiaocheng ■ Qu flute: Zou Jianliang
■ ‘Ukulele: Daniel Ho

In Du Liniang’s dream, she revisits the garden and encounters a young scholar named Liu Mengmei. Although they don’t actually meet until much later in the story, this scene marks the beginning of their legendary, love-conquers-all romance.

ʻUkulele harmonies highlight the emotions that whirl around in their heart-fluttering duet.

06 Garden of Reveries
■ Music, arrangement: Daniel Ho
■ Piano: Daniel Ho ■ Zhonghu: Wang Hong ■ Dulcimer: Hua Lei

Suzhou is an enchanting city gifted with water-lined gardens and tea groves. A stroll through many of which were sources of dreams (for Du Liniang, the female protagonist from the Peony Pavilion) and inspiration (for the late, great Chinese American architect, I.M. Pei). Opportunities to wander and unwind are endless. Piano underscores wistful and at times pensive imagery.

07 Along Willow-Lined Waterways
■ Music, arrangement: Daniel Ho
■ ‘Ukulele: Daniel Ho ■ Erhu: Wang Hong

Imagine a leaf gently carried along a current as it glides through the tranquil waterways of a small town. In which direction will it float? What turns will it take? Will it stop and swirl for a moment before it picks its destined course? A sense of calm unknown guides the listener and the leaf on a peaceful passage.

08 Viewing the Moon on Mid-Autumn Festival
(from Legend of the White Snake)
■ Lyrics: Qing dynasty tanci Music: Jiang Yuequan, Zhu Huizhen ■ Arrangement: Daniel Ho ■ Sanxian, vocals: Zhou Sanbo ■ Pipa, vocals: Huang Feiyan ■ DHo 6-string baritone ‘ukulele: Daniel Ho

“Viewing the Moon on Mid-Autumn Festival” is a long tanci (a narrative song with prose and verse) from the opera “Legend of the White Snake.” Sung in the antiphonal jiang diao and yu diao forms, it depicts the romantic scene of the male lead, Xu Xian, and his immortal wife, Bai Suzhen, as they gaze at the moon on the night of Mid-Autumn Festival while sitting in a boat on a canal along the famed Shantang Street in Suzhou. The male and female vocals are complemented by bass and campanella tones on a six-string baritone ʻukulele in the Kilauea slack key tuning.

The Mid-Autumn Festival is a Chinese holiday of Taoist origins that celebrates late summer harvest on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month. Traditions at this time include moon viewing parties, lantern lighting, family reunions, and enjoying sweets known as moon cakes.

09 Thinking of Autumn
■ Music: Zhou Yunrui Lyrics: Anonymous ■ Arrangement: Daniel Ho
■ Sanxian: Yuan Xiaoliang ■ Pipa, vocals: Mei Mengdi ■ Piano: Daniel Ho

Introductory tanci, elegant and beautiful, meticulously adheres to the rules of meter. “Thinking of Autumn” is a classic, because it cleverly integrates famous lines from Tang poetry. Sung in the gentle, touching qi diao form to augment its sentimental appeal, the song relates to love between a young woman and the autumn moon.

With ornate inflections akin to a violin or erhu, the female vocals swell in and out of this melody like a bowed instrument and set a contemplative mood associated with fall. The song’s march-like pulse with sanxian (three-stringed lute) accompaniment marks the passage of time, while piano scores a period of reflection and peaceful introspection.

10 Beautiful as Peach Blossoms
■ Music: Yuan Xiaoliang Lyrics: Li Yongzheng ■ Arrangement: Daniel Ho
■ Singing style design: Yuan Xiaoliang ■ Sanxian, lead vocals: Yuan Xiaoliang
■ Pipa, secondary vocals: Wang Jin ■ DHo 6-string baritone ‘ukulele: Daniel Ho

This signature pingtan duet is based on a Tang dynasty (618-907) poem by Cui Hu. It is the beloved springtime tale about a chance encounter that takes place beneath a tree full of stunning peach blossoms. Adapted over many centuries and genres, a young scholar (the poet himself, Cui Hu) expresses his love too late for a beautiful young woman who came to the aid of his parched wanderings. Ephemeral peach blossoms can be thought of as an allusion to time and the urgency of moving on one’s feelings, and alternately, a woman’s beauty in full bloom.

The light and candid accompaniment is played on a six-string baritone ʻukulele in the Kilauea slack key tuning.

11 Seeing Her Again (from Pearl Tower)
■Lyrics: Qing dynasty tanci Music: Xue Xiaofei ■ Arrangement: Daniel Ho
■ Sanxian, vocals: Shen Bin ■ Pipa, vocals: Yu Qun  ■ ‘Ukulele: Daniel Ho

“Seeing Her Again,” from the long tanci, “Pearl Tower,” is sung in the xuexiaofei diao form developed by the tanci performer Xue Xiaofei. The piece also exhibits a manner similar to the traditional ma diao form, which is characterized by a smooth, unhurried feeling in which the pipa plays an especially important role. ‘Ukulele complements a lively delivery with stylings reminiscent of bluegrass played on sanxian and pipa.

Fang Qing, a poverty-stricken young scholar visits his snobbish aunt to ask to borrow money. She rudely rejects him. He eventually passes his civil service exam and revisits his aunt. Disguised as a Taoist priest, he criticizes her then reveals his identity. She is remorseful and he is allowed to marry her daughter (his cousin) who provided him with the gift of a pearl pagoda to pawn for money and help him through his difficult time. Morals abound in this song about being kind to others.

12 Saying Goodbye to Liang Shanbo
■ Lyrics: Pan Boying Music: You Huiqiu ■ Arrangement: Daniel Ho
■ Sanxian, vocals: Yuan Xiaoliang ■ Pipa: Wang Jin ■ Piano: Daniel Ho

“Saying Goodbye to Liang Shanbo” is a tanci standard in the you diao form that comes from one of China’s most enduring love stories, Liang Zhu, or The Butterfly Lovers.

Left with the promise of being match-made with the heroine’s “sister,” Liang Shanbo believes he is saying farewell to his sworn brother and classmate Zhu Yingtai, a young woman who has long been disguised as a male in order to receive an education. The namesake characters reluctantly part ways after an 18-mile send off full of hint-dropping and clueless reciprocation.

A simple piano part outlines and harmonizes this famous goodbye. The harmony evolves as the storytelling continues and adds texture to the piece.

Daniel Ho: Producer, Arranger, ʻUkulele, Guitar, Piano
Daniel Ho’s philosophy of seeing a note through from beginning to end encompasses six GRAMMY Awards, fourteen GRAMMY nominations, six Taiwanese Golden Melody Awards, multiple Hawaiian music accolades, a genre-crossing discography, and a host of proudly designed instruments.

A Honolulu native based in Los Angeles, Daniel is a musician, composer, arranger, audio engineer, producer, and independent record company owner. Daniel Ho Creations has released over 100 albums and published more than a dozen music books.

Daniel’s music has been used in film and television, and he performs original instrumentals and vocals in English and Hawaiian that feature his versatility on 'ukulele, slack key guitar, and piano. Most meaningful compositional works include his GRAMMY-nominated solo 'ukulele album, Pōlani (Pure); his GRAMMY-nominated piano album, E Kahe Mālie (Flowing Gently); and his all-original Hawaiian vocal and instrumental album, Aukahi (Flowing Harmony).

His collaborative contributions span Hawaiian, world, classical, and contemporary instrumental music, with a respectful approach to frame traditional music and uplift partnering artists in a compositionally compelling way. In world music, Daniel has bridged traditional Taiwanese aboriginal music with a Western sensibility, and he garnered his fourteenth GRAMMY nomination in the company of Wu Man and Luis Conte for Our World In Song. He worked with The Grasslands Ensemble in the release of Between the Sky & Prairie, which won Best Crossover Music Album and Best Arrangement at the 29th Golden Melody Awards for Traditional Art and Music. With a goal to expand the 'ukulele’s presence in classical music, his album Aloha España, features 'ukulele duets with famed classical guitarist, Pepe Romero. He also partnered with rock guitarist Tak Matsumoto (of Japan’s 90-million album-selling group B’z) on a finely crafted stadium-rock-meets-tropical-isle instrumental album, Electric Island Acoustic Sea.

Daniel’s latest innovative passion is exploring the origins of sound in instrument design. He is a YAMAHA Guitar artist, clinician and consultant. He has teamed up with classical guitar luthier, Pepe Romero Jr. to conceptualize the Tiny Tenor and XS Soprano 'ukuleles. He has also worked closely with Pepe and Ohana Ukuleles in creating percussion instruments: the Bongolele and Shakerlele.

With his sights always on the future, Daniel’s follow through style from start to finish is sure to turn heads and capture hearts, one note at a time.

● 53rd GRAMMY Awards Winner, Best Hawaiian Music Album 2010 (Huana Ke Aloha)
●52nd GRAMMY Awards Winner, Best Hawaiian Music Album 2009 (Masters of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar, vol. 2)
●51st GRAMMY Awards Winner, Best Hawaiian Music Album 2008 (`ikena)
●50th GRAMMY Awards Winner, Best Hawaiian Music Album 2007 (Treasures of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar)
●49th GRAMMY Awards Winner, Best Hawaiian Music Album 2006 (Legends of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar, Live from Maui)
●48th GRAMMY Awards Winner, Best Hawaiian Music Album 2005 (Masters of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar, vol. 1)

Zou Jianliang: qu flute
A national first-level performer, Mr. Zou is standing assistant director of the Suzhou Kunqu Opera Theatre, and board member of the Chinese Opera Music Society. He has served as the main flutist and consultant for numerous Kunqu operas and has won countless awards.

Liu Yu: Kunqu
Miss Liu is a young, outstanding Kunqu opera singer who has studied under the tutelage of the famous performer Zhang Jiqing. Stunning in costume and with her detailed approach to performance, she has gained a name for herself through roles in Legend of the White Snake and a version of The Peony Pavilion performed by young artists.

Tang Xiaocheng: Kunqu
Tang is an accomplished, young performer who sings the role of the young man in Kunqu operas. With his handsome looks in costume and his gentle, pleasant voice, he is both ethereal and unconventional. He is known as a standout performer from the Suzhou Kunqu Opera Theater.

Yuan Xiaoliang: Pingtan, Tanci music consultant
Mr. Yuan is a famous pingtan (a musical/oral performance art) performer. He is the recipient of the Peony Award (the highest honor in Chinese opera), the Wenhua Prize (the highest honor given by the Chinese Ministry of Culture), first place winner of the Louvre Award at the Chinese Opera Festival in Paris, first place winner of the Gold Award at the Zhejiang and Shanghai Pingtan Competition, and awardee of the Global Chinese Outstanding Contribution to the Arts.

Chen Yong: Tanci music consultant
A respected instructor at the Suzhou Pingtan School, Mr. Chen has long been devoted to perpetuating the pingtan art form and the creation of music. He served as a pingtan music consultant for this album. Some of his outstanding students include four performers who have contributed to this album: Zhou Sanbo, Huang Feiyan, Shen Bin, and Yu Qun.

Wang Jin: Pingtan
Ms. Wang is a celebrated pingtan artist. She has won the Peony Award (the highest honor in Chinese opera), first place for the Louvre Award at the Chinese Opera Festival in Paris, first place for the Gold Award at the Zhejiang and Shanghai Pingtan Competition, and is a recipient of the award for Global Chinese Outstanding Contribution to the Arts.

Mei Mengdi: Pingtan
Suzhou Pingtan School graduate Ms. Mei is a skillfully versed member of the Suzhou Pingtan Troupe. She furthered her studies under Yuan Xiaoliang and Wang Jin and learned to master a well-known long tanci, Meng Lijun. She mainly sings in the yu diao and qin diao forms.

Zhou Sanbo: Pingtan
Mr. Zhou is a notable pingtan performer and alumnus of the Suzhou Pingtan School. He specializes in the jiang diao and zhou diao singing forms. His achievements include the Outstanding Program Award at the China Pingtan Festival as well as the New Talent Award and Performance Award at the Jiangsu Chinese Opera Festival.

Huang Feiyan: Pingtan
Ms. Huang is a graduate of the Suzhou Pingtan School. Her areas of expertise are in the jiang diao and zhou diao singing forms. She is the recipient of the China Wenhua Outstanding Program Award and the New Talent Award at the Jiangsu Chinese Opera Festival.

Shen Bin: Pingtan
Mr. Shen is a talented pingtan performer and a member of the Chinese Ballad Singers Association, a board member of the Young Chinese Opera Workers League, and a board member of the Suzhou Municipal Chinese Opera Association.

Yu Qun: Pingtan
With a foundation at the Suzhou Pingtan School, Miss Yu has a dignified and extraordinary stage presence. Her high level of ability is evident in her performances and she works hard to feature the yu diao and qi diao singing forms.

Wang Hong: huqin
A master of over twenty traditional Chinese and Western instruments and skilled at songwriting and arrangement, Mr. Wang has worked in the music industry for over 30 years. Rooted in traditional style, his performances equally feature the diverse characteristics of world music, as seen in his original creations.

Hua Lei: yangqin
Miss Hua is a young dulcimer player in the Nanjing Chinese Orchestra. She has traveled with the orchestra to perform in more than twenty countries. Her attention to detail and mastery of her instrument is highly praised by audiences.

Su Hanlu: guzheng
The talented Miss Su is a guzheng player who studied at Nanjing University of the Arts. She has traveled abroad extensively with the Nanjing Chinese Orchestra. She continuously moves audiences with her beautiful performances.

Helen Rees: Xiao, recorder
England native Helen Rees is a musician and ethnomusicologist living in Los Angeles, where she teaches at UCLA. She has spent many years researching traditional music in Shanghai and southwest China. This has led to collaborations with local musicians and scholars on twelve ethnographic albums of Han Chinese and ethnic minority music from Yunnan Province. She is a recipient of awards from the British Council, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation.

Produced by:
Wind Music International Corporation
13-Month Culture & Communication Co., Ltd. (Beijing)

Released by:
Wind Music International Corporation (outside of Mainland China)
13-Month Culture & Communication Co., Ltd. (Beijing) and China Record (Shanghai) Co., Ltd. (within Mainland China)

Production supervisors: Yang Chin-tsung, Lu Zhongqiang
Project directors: Yu Su-ying, Nola Ni
Producer: Daniel Ho
Co-producer: Huang Peiti
Production administration assistant: Wen Ting
Music: Daniel Ho (tracks 1, 2, 6, 7), Tang Xianzu (tracks 3 – 5), Jiang Yuequan, Zhu Huizhen (track 8), Zhou Yunrui (track 9), Yuan Xiaoliang (track 10), Xue Xiaofei (track 11), You Huiqiu (track 12)
Lyrics: Tang Xianzu (tracks 3 – 5), traditional tanci songs (tracks 8, 11), Li Yongzheng (track 10), Pan Boying (track 12)
Recording (US): Daniel Ho
Recording (Suzhou): Wu Chaoxiong
Recording assistant (Suzhou): Wang Lei
Mixing: Daniel Ho
Mastering: Daniel Ho
Tanci music consultants: Chen Yong, Yuan Xiaoliang
Consultant for guzheng & dulcimer recording: Wang Hong

Project directors: Yu Su-ying, Nola Ni
Project executive: Tang Wun-jyun
Chinese liner notes: Yu Su-ying, Tang Wun-jyun
English liner notes: Lydia Miyashiro-Ho, Daniel Ho
Chinese translation: California Translations
English translation: Chen Feng-zhu
English editors: Lydia Miyashiro-Ho, Wu Susan Su-chen
Photography: Yu Su-ying, Lydia Miyashiro-Ho
Documentary: Fang Zhou
Graphic design: Keystone Design Co.
Promotion: Patricia Greene (US, Canada); Tsao Cih-fang, Hsu Yu-wei, Hu Jing (Mainland China)
Digital marketing directors: Yang Yi-kuei, Chang Chien-ju
Digital marketing: Chiu Liang-chun, Li Tsong-yin
Copyright management: Liao Ching-hui, Wang Qing (Mainland China)
Performance management: Chou Cheng-ru, Chunxiao (Mainland China)

Special thanks:
Suzhou Kunqu Opera Theatre
Suzhou Pingtan School
Suzhou Hi-tech Zone Culture & Sport Center
Suzhou Hi-tech Zone Culture & Sport Center Recording Studio
Town of Tong’an, Suzhou
Suzhou Crazy Culture & Tourism Co., Ltd.
China Kunqu Opera Museum, Suzhou
China Suzhou Pingtan Museum
Suzhou Silk Show Town

● Daniel Ho plays YAMAHA Guitars, Romero Creations ukuleles, and records, mixes, and masters with Universal Audio hardware and software.



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