Human Flower Project

Jasmine Song for the Olympians

Beijing will serenade medalists with jade chimes, ancient bronze bells and “Mo Li Hua”—a flower song centuries old.


Chinese jasmine (Jasminum polyanthum)

Photo: Ivette Soler, Germinatrix

Like a bad penny, John Williams’s “Olympic Fanfare” keeps turning up, only lots louder than a penny—tooting in your head. Rip Van Winkle, this clip’s for you….

Williams wrote the bloated jingle for 1984 Olympic games in Los Angeles, and twenty-four years later it’s going to require mass neurosurgery to free us of it.

Today, we were gladdened to learn that musical directors of the 2008 Beijing Olympics have taken a different approach, more ancient chimes, less Hollywood horns. Tan Dun calls it “jinshengyuzhen - gold sound and jade vibrations.” Here he describes his musical philosophy and instrumentation in relation to Taoism and Zen.

What most pleased us was Tan’s decision to make “Jasmine Flower,” a Chinese folk song, the theme of this year’s medal ceremonies. Even Westerners may actually have heard “Mo Li Hua” (Jasmine Flower). The song dates from the Qing dynasty, and Puccini made it the theme for his operatic princess Turandot.

If you’re preparing for the games and would like to be able to sing along to “Mo Li Hua,” there are loads of youtube recordings. Our favorite is this duet – recorder and a Chinese zither (Gu Zheng). Another pretty instrumental version comes from this chamber music trio: harp, cello, and violin. And how about played on a banjo at the kitchen table?

If you’re getting the tune down, it’s time for lyrics. Here is soprano Song Zuying dressed in a jasmine white gown at the Kennedy Center. Wearing white sailor suits the Vienna Boys Choir performs “Mo Li Hua” in Seoul. And a schoolteacher, filmed by someone in the back row, gives it the old college try despite snickering.

imageLyrics of “Mo Li Hua” from Gekkin Gakufu, a collection of Chinese popular songs

published in Japan, 1877

Image: wiki

Hao yī dua měi lì de mò li huā

Hao yī dua měi lì de mò li huā

Fēn fāng měi lì man zhī yā

Yòu xiāng yòu bái rén rén kuā

Ràng wa lái jiāng na zhāi xià

Sòng gěi biě rén jiā

Mò li huā yā mò li huā

Here’s a club-tongued translation into English:

Good beauty—jasmine flower

Good beauty—jasmine flower

Sweet beauty,

stems full of buds—

fragrant and white,

everyone praises you.

Let me pluck you down

to give someone,

Jasmine flower, oh jasmine flower.

What a simple, pure honorific. Seems to us Jasmine Flower was intended as a private tribute, “to give someone” beloved. But why not to someone who’s just pole-vaulted very, very high, also?

“From Puccini to the Beijing Olympics, this melody is a gift from the Chinese people to the world’s athletes,” said Tan Dun. But will it be a bad penny? We trust that folk songs endure the ages for good reason, and by means less forcible than network-media implantation.

In any case, get ready – if you watch all 302 Olympic medal ceremonies, you’ll hear “Mo Li Hua” more than 900 times.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 08/06 at 04:13 PM


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