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The Story Behind the Twelve Zodiac Animals

As his daughter was learning piano, composer Vincent Ho realized that there were far too few Chinese-themed pieces in the repertoire series she was learning from. Music is at the heart of a culture, so why was it so difficult to find cultural compositions for piano that were appropriate for young pianists? That very moment Ho was inspired to compose a book of twelve compositions for piano, inspired by the Chinese Zodiac animals, and tailored to the educational needs of students in levels 2-7, the very level his daughter Claudia was at the time of this realization. The Chinese Zodiac is a key facet of Chinese culture, one that intrigues all ages. To appeal to younger players Ho approached these works as musical caricatures of each animal. This was not a small undertaking; to ensure that he created sincere musical interpretations of each animal, Ho devoted himself to researching their legends, personality traits, and cultural significance.

For more than 2,000 years the Chinese Zodiac has played a pivotal role in Chinese culture and society. Also known as Shengxiao, the Chinese zodiac is a repeating cycle of twelve years following the moon, with each year represented by a different animal. The story is one that Chinese, Taiwanese, and Singaporean children learn from birth. The story surrounds the Chinese Jade Emperor, who believed that it was imperative to find a way to measure time. The story differs greatly based on region, however a constant between all stories is that a race occured. A race between all the animals, created by the emperor, and the order in which the animals placed would be their rank, and even further their characteristics. Each animal won a place, and each animal showed their true colors during the race. Starting with the mouse, and ending with the pig, each animal showed their true colors during this event. The mouse came first, which proved they were diligent, clever, and hard working. The rabbit coming fourth acted compassionately and luckily, jumping swiftly during the race. From these characteristics it is easy to assume how a song devoted to them will sound. A plethora of sounds, techniques and harmonies combine to create a musical personification of each animal. The hope is that everytime a young student plays this song, they learn more about their culture and are transported back to their roots.

The zodiac provides direction on how people should live their lives. The zodiac influences culture and community in China, and with emigrants around the world it has a very far reach. It is fabled to be a window to your future. Students may not refer to themselves as “freshman” or “sophomores”, rather they will say “I am a pig” or “I am a dragon”. Parents may even choose to conceive a child in a specific year, based on which zodiac they favor or believe is the most prosperous. Whether or not you have faith in the details of the tradition, it is undoubtedly important to understand your culture and the culture of others. Growing up, many children do not see themselves or their history represented in their community. NYF values diversity and community above all else, and this album is truly emblematic of these values. We are proud to be a part of a program that has the power to influence the lives and success of young musicians for years to come.

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