My creative autobiographical PhD
Song & Dance of a 3-Time Cancer Survivor
for multi-venue performance and as a basis for new versions
Teaser excerpts at the bottom of this page
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Scores for “Song & Dance of a Cancer Survivor”:
Click "Thesis in PDF format" and go to Chapter 5 (PDF file from p.229, i.e., thesis p.213)
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For John David Morley's (English novelist) response and critical comments on my creative autobiographical PhD, see pages.
Teaser excerpts at end of Introduction
INTRODUCTION TO MY THESIS
I have lived most of my life in the UK. Providence decreed that I am married to Western Classical music, but as a small child in Hong Kong, my first love was Cantonese opera that reached the lower classes, including those shunned by society – the poor, the illiterate, beggars, prostitutes, gangsters… bringing them enjoyment and culture, and I lived among these people as a child. Dante used his memory of his first love Beatrice as creative inspiration. I also use my memory of this first love as creative and staging inspiration while the art form is facing possible demise.
I wanted to write a PhD in storytelling style that can be enjoyed by the general public. University regulations demand inclusion of research and academic writing. However, the creative core Song & Dance of a 3-Time Cancer Survivor, a humorous story in 12 acts is not in academic English (e.g. its title), and I kept to storytelling throughout my thesis as much as possible.
The Cantonese opera that I remember was at its most cross-cultural and multimedia – anything goes for survival. The basis of 'big drama' (i.e., Cantonese opera) was a Quben 曲本 (pronounced chuben: u as German ü; en as in happen) – quasi libretto cum script that was also the basis for new versions. The music was a selection of existing tunes that performers had freedom to modify. A lead performer had a say in all performance aspects of his/her troupe. Performance could be unrehearsed, with ad-lib and changes on the spur of the moment. Many performers had a talent to interact with the audience, stepping in and out of the drama in live performance.
I therefore supplied a Quben in 12 acts with original music that can be played as written but with room for expansion, and production ideas based on my expertise… a reservoir of materials allowing free use and modification by others. I especially hope that creative performers and people who do not have the opportunity to receive professional training would make use of my PhD. The humorous Song & Dance is a good read on its own. My thesis is also a narrative of things disappearing that are not well documented, and my encounter with well-known people and those who were less respected in society.
This project helped me understand why I instinctively write music in a certain way, my venturing into electro-acoustic music, my proclivity for cross-cultural combined arts, and directing and designing my projects. My ultimate aim is to realize the Quben as an Internet opera.
TEASER EXCERPTS 以下一些博士論文片段:
A BEGGAR BOY 我的乞兒仔朋友 (見博士論文第三章)
(When I was about ten) While roaming free on the streets I befriended a beggar boy about my age. He sometimes put his hand into my jacket pocket to see if there was anything there for him. He was unusual because he was Eurasian. In colonial Hong Kong, ethnic Europeans were usually well off and occupied good positions. They did not mix with local Chinese much, let alone beggars... I sometimes saw a pregnant woman begging on a nearby street. The beggar boy told me that she was his mother. He told me that all his relatives were beggars, though they never acknowledged one other on the street... He never mentioned his father. Perhaps his mother worked as a prostitute, and the boy was the issue of a drunken GI or marine, commonly seen on the streets when their ship visited Hong Kong. To be the son of a beggar woman who also prostituted to gwai-lou 鬼佬 or devil men – the Cantonese term for Westerners – would make my friend the lowest of those shunned by society. Yet he knew Cantonese opera via the omnipresent radio broadcasts, the open-air shen-gong 神功戲 and other street performances accessible to all. (See PDF file Chapter 3 Cantonese Opera 3.2.1 (iii) Playmates, And A Beggar Boy, p.95, i.e. thesis p.79)
YOU ARE NOT ALONE 你並不孤單 (見博士論文第五章)
I sustain a smile in company,
my demeanour is courageous,
my condition, not contagious,
yet you who spoke of love have flown,
I am left to groan and moan,
alone, all alone...
(from Act 11, Heroine's Song, Verse 4 – PDF file p.386, i.e. thesis p.370)
You are not alone.
Survive and be well.
In your journey through cancer,
you meet new people,
who are kind and helpful...
When you are well again,
you will see friends, old friends and good friends again,
and those who spoke of love...
(See PDF file Chapter 5, Act 11, p.387, i.e. thesis p.371)
OPERATION BLIND DATE 互不相識的男女的手術約會 (見博士論文第五章)
Surgeon (smile benignly):
We have a date at an operating table for two –
by the window.
This is a blind date –
an NHS patient cannot be sure of which surgeon.
But at least please don’t be late -
you doctors are so used to being late!
You can’t keep time.
You would never make it as musicians!
There is this “Nil by Mouth” sign hung high above my bed.
Nil by mouth -
nothing but a tiny, tasteless pill, by mouth.
Though you wilt and plead starvation -
it is still, Nil, by Mouth.
I am to be emptied inside out.
What a preparation for this blind date!
We prepare ourselves – ‘scrubbing up’.
You have a pre-med ‘cocktail’ beforehand.
Not wearing Chanel No 5,
but some potent antiseptic for our date!
Anaesthetist: (with gestures like a magician)
I will put you under my spell – anaesthetic.
Nurse: (with anxiety)
The patient has already had anaesthetic -
she’s nearly unconscious,
but the surgeon is still not here!
Heroine: (mumbling, worried)
I am still conscious –
I can hear you!
Where the hell is he, the surgeon, my date?!
Surely he won’t be so late,
that I’d come to in the middle of the op?!
Surgeon: (rushes in, cocksure of himself)
I am spick and span, wearing a dashing white suit.
I have a blue gown –
With a fine cut – exposing the part.
What sinister intimacy!
No soft lights this date of ours
but blinding bright ones.
When I wake in the morning
Will I have flowers by the bed?
When you wake you will look like an octopus
with tubes like arms, extending from your body -
the aftermath of this intimacy!
Heroin’s final speech:
When I wake
there are flowers from unexpected visitors –
while I was still in a blissful sleep,
a friend has placed photos on my bedside table
for me to see faces that I know when I come to.
(See PDF file Chapter 5, Act 4, p.278-280, i.e. thesis p.262-264)
THE LIVING TRADITION 活的傳統 (見博士論文第二章)
In 1988, London’s Victoria and Albert Museum advertised in the press, inviting innovative proposals for ‘Special Events’ to take place in the museum. In response I wrote a proposal entitled The Living Tradition, which called for the performance of new works based around images of museum exhibits and involving many creative and performing artists with whom I had worked. The proposal was initially accepted, but as the project developed the V&A official in charge felt uneasy about the ‘creative’ and ‘living’ aspects of the project. I had to answer to repeated queries: Would the relationship between the creative work and the image be historically correct, and in what way would the relationship between the creative work and the image have educational value? The official seemed not to understand that the project would use images of the past as creative/performative inspiration. Creative and performing artists are different from museum curators in that imagination and originality take precedence over historical accuracy or factual research; and creativity has a value of its own. In the end the V&A cancelled the project. However my group performed The Living Tradition at London’s Bloomsbury Theatre on 6th May 1989, in a version for soprano, dancers, three instrumentalists and multi-slide projection of images of V&A exhibits. A later version of the work was performed at the Hong Kong City Hall Concert Hall in 1991, with images from local museums. Even when writing a historical novel or directing a performance of historical drama, though the writer/producer will undertake a certain amount of research, authentic historical details alone cannot ensure the success of the work – ultimately it is the drama that matters. My PhD project is similar to The Living Tradition – its purpose is to create a performative work inspired by Cantonese opera at a time when the art form is in danger of becoming a lifeless museum exhibit.
(See PDF file Chapter 2 Research Context & Method 2.2.2 The Living Tradition pp.62-63, i.e. thesis pp.46-47)
- the core of my creative PhD - is a humorous read. Click the blue title to enter.
HONG KONG WOULD SINK TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA 香港陸沉
During my childhood, Hong Kong was divided into three main areas: the city – Hong Kong Island and Kowloon Peninsula; the villages – the New Territories with old world charm, where villagers still cultivated fields in primitive ways; and many less populated or uninhabited offshore islands. From time to time I stayed in a village for short periods. In the early evenings, elderly villagers relaxed in a small open-air flat area surrounded by stones, telling stories of the past. An old and illiterate village woman once told me a legend about a tiny turtle crawling slowly on the seabed around the outer circumference of Hong Kong: when it finally completed the full circle Hong Kong would sink to the bottom of the sea. Perhaps the legend could be interpreted as a metaphor for the fast change and disappearance of many aspects of Hong Kong culture, in the absence of an oral tradition to pass them on. This PhD thesis is a narrative of things disappearing, and a creative intervention that enables them to continue in a new form rather than sinking to the bottom of the sea.
(See PDF file Chapter 1 Project Background and Metamorphosis, p.38, i.e. thesis p.22.)
STOCKHAUSEN 史托候生 (見博士論文第四章)
In the Seventies, I attended a students' performance at the Royal Academy of Music of Stockhausen's Aus den Sieben Tagen (1968), which allows free improvisation by musicians to the text compositions unrehearsed. At this performance, for the words 'Play a vibration in the rhythm of the universe', one ensemble member hit something on stage with a stick hard (the stick broke); another shook a glass jar with beads inside very vigorously (the jar broke); the pianist kept playing double trills with both hands... The audience became very engaged in what was happening on stage, and the then RAM principal Sir Anthony Lewis (1915-1983) looked happy and laughed. In the RAM performance it would have worked had the charismatic Stockhausen been present. In the Cantonese opera of my childhood, some performers flexibly modified the words of the Quben (libretto cum script), and adlibbed with words and movements unrehearsed. I treasured what I saw because it was a ‘one-off’. Cantonese opera da-lao-guan 大佬倌 (superstar lead performer) could make it work and the performance stayed in the audience's memory. Even when it did not work, some lead performers could step out of the drama to communicate directly with the audience who loved them and could get away with it. As Cantonese opera dwindles over the years, with less new blood that can reach the status of da-lao-guan, a less charismatic performer doing this may be more like a farce, making people to look down and dismiss this Cantonese opera characteristic.
(See PDF file Chapter 4 My Cross-Cultural Combined Arts Prototype 4.1.7 Cantonese Opera pp.190-91 i.e., thesis pp.174-5）
QUBEN Song & Dance of a 3-Time Cancer Survivor 曲本《歌舞慶重生》
Quben 曲本, is pronounced: chuben – u, like the German ü; en as in happen. I canot find a Western equivalence – the closest to describe it might be quasi libretto cum script. Though a Quben contains the words to be sung, a composer plays no part in it, let alone like Mozart and Da Ponte working closely together: and it is Mozart rather than Da Ponte's libretto that takes the credit of Le Nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni; whereas with Tang Xianzu 湯顯祖 (1550-1616) it is his Quben that is the drama The Peony Pavilion 牡丹亭... As creative writing affected by chosen tunes, John Gay's The Beggar's Opera of 1728 is perhaps the closest to the concept of a Cantonese opera Quben... Although The Beggar's Opera has been studied by scholars, the words are not detached from the music and hailed as a piece of great literature like The Peony Pavilion. In fact, Shakespeare's plays with their beautiful and stylized writing are closer to some of the best Qubens, but Shakespeare is not written for the purpose of singing the words from beginning to end, nor is it affected by the sound of some chosen melodies...
I therefore decided on writing a Quben, to be exact, a quasi-Quben in English as inspired by the concept of Cantonese opera to be the main part of my cross-cultural combined arts prototype (i.e., the core of my creative PhD). I used my cancer survival as the story for the drama, as this suits the semi-autobiographical nature of the project: it links with my concern for the survival of Cantonese opera, and the writing is with humour to lighten up what might otherwise seem gruesome to some people. The title of my Quben is Song & Dance of a 3-Time Cancer Survivor. Many Cantonese operas and Cantonese films of my childhood had long titles telling the unsophisticated audience what the story is all about – what you see is what you get; Song & Dance implies self-mocking with humour; and why 3-Time instead of Three-Time? This is how a Hong Kong Cantonese would write it, and it is also more eye-catching and fits the small screen of the Internet better.
(See PDF file Chapter 4 My Cross-Cultural Combined Arts Prototype 4.2.2 The Concept of a Quben pp.195-7 i,e., thesis pp.179-181）
SHEN-GONG PERFORMANCE 神功戲 (見博士論文第三和第六章)
(During my childhood) Cantonese opera was part of daily life for the masses of Hong Kong via omnipresent radio broadcasts, music making of the lower classes, accessible live performances in the theatre, and open-air shen-gong performances. Children’s early exposure resulted in diehard fans and performers... Shen-gong 神功, literally god-reward, is open-air performance on a temporary stage, which traditionally serves as thanksgiving and asking for god’s blessing. I understood no religious significance in the shen-gong performances I witnessed as a child, rather they served as festivities where people gathered to have a good time. Due to the temporary stage and other arrangements, shen-gong performance was flexible, and served as a hothouse for developing improvisatory skills and adlibbing... Even a beggar boy and his relatives, after hearing, seeing and enjoying Cantonese opera performances in the markets, or at shen-gong performances were able to sing and play what they remembered.
(See PDF file Chapter 3 Cantonese Opera 3.2.3 Overview of Remembering p.108 i.e., thesis p.92; 3.4.6 (iii) Shen-Gong Performance, p.126, i.e. thesis p.112, and Chapter 6 Conclusion 6.1.3 Reconnecting with Humble Origin p.421 i.e., thesis pp.405-6）
CONCLUSIONS 結論 (見博士論文第六章)
Having grown up in Hong Kong, a British colony of mixed Chinese and Western culture, and living the rest of my life in the UK as a racial minority, it is understandable that my work has a tendency towards the cross-cultural. Since 1974 when my work first started to receive public performances, I noticed that cross-cultural work in the UK, especially by those of racial minority, is often misunderstood as being ethnic and intended just for the racial minority, and as if all minorities are the same. Though I am professionally trained in Western Classical music and much of my creative practice has been according to Western principles, the Arts Council of the UK asked me to be an external assessor of Indian music and dance performances. I have neither training nor knowledge of Indian culture; my only credential appears to have been that I am of ethnic minority... Long ago I suggested to the then BBC Controller the idea of presenting a one-off programme on cross-cultural music. I was told never, rather than no. Unless there is a wider perception of cross-cultural arts, life will be difficult for those with talents and expertise in this field, wasting their time and talents. It is understandably difficult to recognise or define work as being cross-cultural, since the possible cultural combinations are endless. But I believe it will do the world good to have more cross-cultural work and to look at things from the middle ground. Perhaps in the future there will be fewer unwise policies that bring about much misery. At least the world will be a richer place due to so many new cultural combinations...
My thesis and prototype explain Cantonese opera in a way that Westerners can understand; they also provide a record of what was passing and might not be known in the future. Cantonese opera is facing possible demise; at least those characteristics that were held dear by me and by the masses of Hong Kong in the 1950s and 60s seem unlikely to be practiced in the future. My PhD is an attempt to retain these characteristics in a new format that can be understood by Westerners and enjoyed by the general public, in the same way that Cantonese opera was enjoyed by even the lowest strata of society during my childhood. Western Classical music has a well-preserved history of different periods. Even music of the distant past, such as Gregorian chant, is still studied and performed by specialists. But the recent past of Cantonese opera, with its emphasis on the individuality of performers and their creativity, has been forgotten by younger generations. What I remember might add a piece to the incomplete picture. With the Chinese government enforcing Putonghua, even the Cantonese language in Canton province may be endangered, let alone the transient Hong Kong Cantonese culture of which Cantonese opera was once an important part.
(See PDF file Chapter 6 Conclusions 6.1.4 Importance of the Cross-Cultural p.422 i.e., thesis p.406; 6.2.3 For Cantonese Opera and Hong Kong Cantonese Culture p.425, i.e. thesis p.409)
Click to enlarge my following designs explaining the multimedia nature of my creative PhD and as a prototype for multi-venue performance.
Lower down: PhD thesis in PDF format, related folder, comments, introduction and teaser excerpts etc.
再下面是論文簡述，全文和相關資料的 PDF 及論文片段
The above design used as PhD poster displayed at International Conference which was held at Cambridge University.