Special focus introduction: Chinese American music.

Author:Chiang, May May
 
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Similar to the term "Asian American music," "Chinese American music" is a term and category that is difficult to define. It seems straightforward to assume that Chinese American music is music by Chinese American(s). However, this assumption excludes music imported from the ancestral homeland by Chinese Americans that they perform and enjoy, and music with Chinese American elements composed by non-Chinese composers. While ethnomusicologist Joseph Lam argues that we should accept "Chop Suey" from Rodgers and Hammerstein's Flower Drum Song and Earl Kim's "non-Asian-sounding" Violin Concerto as Asian American music because of the assimilation characteristics of Asian Americans that these pieces reflect, it is understandable that some scholars may disagree given the invisibility of Asian American artists in mainstream American society and the need to promote works by Asian Americans. (1) Applying Lam's argument to Chinese American music, it seems correct to examine works like "Chop Suey" and avant-garde Chinese American classical music works in order to understand the Chinese American experience fully.

On the other hand, borrowing from Deborah Wong's preferred definition on Asian American music, Chinese American music can be considered as Chinese Americans making music. (2) As Chinese Americans often collaborate cross-ethnically with other artists and are interested in non-Chinese musical genres, Wong's definition provides us a way to be inclusive. In my opinion, Chinese American music should include, but not be limited to, Chinese operas in America, Chinese instrumental music and ensembles in America, Chinese narrative singing in America, Chinese popular and rock music in America, Chinese American jazz, Chinese American hip-hop, Chinese American musicals, Chinese Americans in classical music, and Chinese Americans in (any) music.

The investigation on Chinese American music can reveal much about the communities, social and political history, racial and ethnic pride, social and ethnic identities, and ways of life of Chinese Americans. For example, a study on Cantonese opera reveals the hardship and discrimination that early Chinese immigrants experienced. With the enactment of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 and the arrival of the Great Depression in the 1930s, these early Chinese immigrants set up Cantonese opera clubs as community centers within the Chinatown boundaries and took care of each other by providing housing and financial help to...

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