Archive for the ‘music’ Category

Monkey takes New York

My family and I just returned from a trip to New York, where we had the pleasure of seeing Monkey: Journey to the West at Lincoln Center. Produced by Blur’s Damon Albarn, Jamie Hewlett and Chen Shizheng, who directed The Bonesetter’s Daughter by San Francisco Opera, the show is a lively and extravagant interpretation of the legend of the Monkey King. Full of acrobatics, martial arts, animated sequences, and a soundtrack that combines Chinese pop with ethereal Philip Glass-style sounds and Buddhist chanting, the show had moments of true beauty and of real hilarity, though it may be hard to follow for those not already familiar with the story. My five and eight-year-old loved it – especially the eight-year-old who knows the story of Sun Wukong inside and out. The production is composed of a series of acts which depict some of the well-known chapters from the legend and introduces many of the key characters, including a fabulous Sun Wukong, Zhu Bajie (Pigsy) and the monk Tripitaka who is leading them to India to find Buddhist scriptures. The Monkey character is slightly darker and more ill-behaved than the cuter, more mischievous depictions in many of the Chinese productions we have seen, but I thought he made the story more compelling. It is all in Chinese with English subtitles. Hewlett, who with Albarn created the virtual band Gorillaz, has produced a couple of short films based on the show:

The full website for the show is here and you can read reviews in the New York Times, Variety and The Guardian.

My children have watched, and loved, the animated version of the Journey to the West produced by CCTV, but inspired by the New York show, I am now going to make it a family project to watch the full TV serial which has been popular in China. Here’s episode 1:


Dragon Songs

I am not a big fan of Chinese children’s music. Yet over the past seven years I have spent innumerable hours listening to it, in all it’s synthesized, saccharine sweetness, and have learned to tune it out to such a degree that after I drop my children off at school, I occasionally leave the CD playing because I no longer hear it. Nevertheless, early on, I bought and downloaded as many Chinese songs as I could, as I was (and still am) convinced that music is one of the surest and fastest ways for children to learn language. Now that my two children are comfortably fluent in Mandarin, I have tried to wean them off the CDs, which has worked without effort for my seven-year-old but not so well for my three-year-old.

So I was pleasantly surprised when I heard the new Little Dragon Tales, Chinese Songs for Children CD, performed by Shanghai Restoration Project featuring Yip’s Canada Children’s Choir. Read the rest of this entry »


Christmas Shopping

Below are some suggestions of holiday gifts for the little linguists in your lives. I have mentioned most of these products elsewhere on this site but they are worth pointing out again because each of them has been well-used and loved by my own kids. Happy Shopping!

What young child doesn’t love playing with magnets on the fridge? Why not have them learn some Chinese while they are at it?

Kingka, a matching game that teaches young learners to recognize Chinese characters and learn the meaning. There are various ways to play it depending on the age and fluency of your children, and the sturdy character cards themselves are a great resource.

A beautiful book that creatively introduces a few characters through a fun story.

A gentle CD of songs and counting rhymes designed to teach the basic sounds of Chinese to very young children. One of my kids’ favorite CDs.

A beautiful soothing collection of lullabies that puts both my kids to sleep every night. My little one now sings “You You Zha” (the name of the first song) to signal she is ready for bed.

There is something about the drawings of Elmer that babies just love.


Baby’s First Words

On a rainy week, we discovered a wonderful CD that both kids have been enjoying while stuck inside the house: Baby’s First Words in Chinese. I had seen the CD around in stores for a while but never got it since our house is so overloaded with saccharine, syrupy Chinese children’s music and, to be honest, I can’t stand to listen to it anymore. But this CD is lovely, even for the adults who are trapped inside the same house. Part of a series, it is intended for babies up to age 2, and contains 50 short tracks of counting and hand rhymes and simple songs, some traditional and some new. The voices are gentle and not grating. And most important of all, both my children responded to the music as soon as they heard it. T, age 1, sings and hums along with it every time it comes on, and L, age 4.5, listens intently, recognizes some of the songs, and loves that they have alternate lyrics to the versions he has learned.

The CD is designed for parents who may not speak much Chinese at home, with a lengthy booklet about the advantages of multiple language learning for child development. All the song lyrics are included in pinyin and English translation so parents can learn them and sing along. It is intended to introduce very young children to the sounds of Chinese when they are at an important stage in their linguistic development, and the songs are organized by age (yet clearly, from our experience, it appeals to older children as well). You can listen to an audio clip and read sample pages from the booklet here.


Hao Baba 父亲节快乐!

While there is no shortage of Chinese children’s songs honoring Mama, songs about Baba are harder to find. In honor of Father’s Day, here is one, Baba Hao 爸爸好 (“Baba’s good Baba’s good, does a lot but says little… Baba’s good, Baba’s good, earns a lot but spends little.”)

You can also learn the Chinese characters for Father’s Day in this video lesson:
Read the rest of this entry »


Happy Mother’s Day!

In honor of the day, here are the lyrics of the song 我的好妈妈 (My Good Mama). Happy Mother’s Day to all the hao mamas out there.

劳动了一天, 多么辛苦呀

wo de hao mama
xia ban hui dao jia
laodong le yi tian, duome xinku ya
mama mama kuai zuo xia
mama mama kuai zuo xia
qing he yi bei cha
rang qo qin qin ni ba
wo de hao mama
wo de hao mama

My good mama
After work, come home
Working all day, so tired
Mama Mama quick sit down
Mama Mama quick sit down
Please drink some tea
Let me give you a kiss
Let me give you a kiss
My good mama
My good mama


Counting Rhyme: Up the Mountain to Find a Tiger (上山打老虎)

A simple and popular counting rhyme teaches kids to count to five while going on a tiger hunt. Listen to it here:

一二三四五,上山打老虎, (yi er san si wu, shang shan da laohu
老虎打不到,打到小松鼠。 laohu da bu dao, da dao xiao songshu
松鼠有几只?让我数一数, songshu you ji zhi? Rang wo shu yi shu
数来又数去,一二三四五 shu lai you shu qu, yi er san si wu)

One, two, three, four, five
Climbing the mountain to catch a tiger
Can’t catch a tiger, caught little squirrels
How many squirrels? Let me count:
One, two, three, four, five


Poem: In the Quiet Night (静夜色) by Li Bai

As I have written before, memorizing songs and poems was one of the first ways L learned to speak Chinese. There is something about the rhythm of classical Chinese poetry that makes it very appealing to children; they can memorize the rhymes without even realizing that they are learning some of the most beautiful, eloquent, and profound works of literature ever written anywhere.

One of the most common poems, memorized by almost every schoolchild in China, is “Jing Ye Se” by Li Bai. Watch an animation on YouTube:

Here is the poem, in simplified characters with pinyin, followed by the English translation: 

  chuáng qián míng yuè guāng
  床 前 明 月 光,
  yí shì dì shàngshuāng
  疑 是 地 上 霜。
  jǚ tóu wàng míng yuè
  举 头 望 明 月,
  dī tóu sī gù xiāng
  低 头 思 故 乡。

Before my bed, the moon is shining bright,
I think that it is frost upon the ground.
I raise my head and look at the bright moon,
I lower my head and think of home.

This site provides a nice version of the poem, with pinyin and English translation as you hover the mouse over each character.


Chinese Songs with Translation

A friend just sent this link, which has a few popular Chinese children’s songs available to download, with pinyin and English translation. Here is the link for Two Tigers 两只老虎 – the most popular song, with the strangest lyrics (and a familiar tune).


A Gem

When L turned two, a friend gave him a Chinese lullaby CD that hadn’t been getting much play from her musically-inclined but non-Chinese speaking children. It turned out to be one of the most treasured CDs in our collection, with its soothing, ethereal interpretations of traditional folk lullabies. Both kids still go to sleep to it every night and L now sings his favorite song from it (You You Zha) to his baby sister, with his own lyrics: “哥哥的妹妹睡觉了… gege de meimei, xuijiao liao….” When our CD got scratched from overuse, I searched for a new one and found that it is sold on both Amazon and at China Sprout. We have also bought another CD by the Beijing Angelic Choir which has also become a favorite during quiet moments.