“Come Together” and “River” - More than Just a Collection of Old Poems
06, Oct 2005 15:54
The next day, the musical endeavor “Come Together,” was officially on its feet and running.
The fusion of Lai Ho’s works with music was not a chance experiment. A model of the “Taiwanese New Literature” movement, Lai Ho’s poems contain a rich musicality and a mature structure that mark the transition between old and new forms of literature during the Japanese colonial period in Taiwan. He developed many of his free-form poems containing traditional elements to fit the melodies of folk songs. He even put annotations on some of his poems suggesting the musical form that should be used when sung. Historical records also show that Lai Ho was involved in the systematic collection of folk songs and folk literature, including historical stories, local legends, and lyrical poems.
Lai Ho’s creations span the entire spectrum of literary styles, including various types of poems, novels, essays, and free-form writing. While his works cover serious issues, they are never lacking in a distinctly literary quality. Because he was so closely involved with the literary movement in the Japanese colonial period, and his poems speak so lyrically of humanism and resistance to both Japanese rule and the existing class structure, they contain strong ties to the common people. This explains, to a certain extent, why the songs we composed for “River” are largely ballads containing both creative and traditional elements, and a mixture of warmth and unswerving resolution.
“River” is more than just a collection of songs written for old poems on out-of-date subjects. During the production of this album, we delved deeply into the last century to attain a better understanding of Lai Ho and his works. We came to know the movements in which he was involved, and were able to grasp his feeling of helplessness, which stemmed from an inability to address or resolve the inequalities of his day. At the same time, though, we were afforded an understanding of the true power of music to preserve the face of an era, transcend the ages, and break through the existing barriers of class. The poems of Lai Ho in particular, with their strong connection to the average citizen, have a unique ability to move people and fill them with the courage they need to face the restrictions in their lives and in society as a whole.
In the summer of 2005, we began to sing the works of Lai Ho throughout Taiwan under the title “Come Together” and our music won the support of literary professors, social and student activists, and literature enthusiasts. We were overwhelmed and indeed grateful for the enthusiastic response and offers of assistance. We are indebted to the Lai Ho Foundation for releasing this album, and for providing us with a historical background and frame of reference. And we would also be remiss if we did not thank all of the people who offered us gracious assistance by posting suggestions for pronunciation and notes about the historical background on our production weblog. It was this community effort which enabled our project to remain faithful to its name: “Come Together.”
Following our final performance on August 20th, the composers and musicians that “came together” in the spirit of Lai Ho parted ways, heading back to school, off to work, and overseas for further education. With the album in post-production, people began to enquire about the release date. The media began to take note and some even spoke of the important role that the album would play in connecting the disparate fields of literature and music in Taiwan. But no matter how diligent we were in our efforts to create epic songs that captured the spirit of an era, our group of young musicians soon realized the sheer impossibility of doing justice to the breadth of Lai Ho’s work. There was no way that we could even begin to tackle all of the hardships and suffering seen throughout the history of this island in just one little CD.
What would Lai Ho think if he could see our group of young people penning songs for him more than half a century after his passing? What would he think of the still prevalent societal ugliness? This summer, during the production of “River,” our youthful tears injected a new burst of vitality into the passionate life of Lai Ho; and our melodies coaxed his spirit from the confines of history.
It's hard to say whether the spirit of Lai Ho contained in our work can sustain a renewed interest in Taiwanese culture. At the very least, though, we can say with confidence that in this summer of our cooperation, people were once again inspired to “come together” for the sake of literature.