It was the 19th day of the Ninth Moon (Thu 5 Nov 09), said to be the day Guan Yin 观音 ascended to the Heavens* and it was the last of the three da ri zi (big days) dedicated to Guan Yin. In Thian Hock Hock 天福宫, as for the past 20 years or more, Siong Leng 湘灵 Musical Association dedicates a Nanyin 南音performance to Guan Yin. And over the 20 years or more, the devotees of Thian Hock Keng and fans of Nanyin never fail to turn up to pay respects and to enjoy the Southern Sounds.
Nanyin is an ancient music, from the days of Tang Dynasty. It has been preserved through the daily lives of the Minnan people, mainly in the Quanzhou 泉州 are of Fujian, where at the end of the day, members of the villages could gather together and burst into a medley of Nanyin songs. In Quanzhou city these days, one could still see performances in the park or in the tea houses. Nanyin has just been recognised as one of the UNESCO Intangible Heritage.
In Singapore there are two associations where members gather to learn, play and enjoy the Nanyin. They are at the Bukit Pasoh Rd neighbourhood. Siong Leng is one of them.
On this night of performance at Thian Hock Keng, Siong Leng took a new approach in bringing the audience on a journey of story telling illustrated with a Li Yuan Opera and Nanyin Songs as we saw how the maid prevented Tan Sa 陈三 (Cheng San) from leaving, trying to convince him that Gor Niu's 五娘 (Wu Niang) heart was really with him. And then we were told that Tan Sa and Gor Niu tried to elope but was caught just as they approached Quanzhou and brought before the magistrate. The maid, again, tried to plead the case (all through Nanyin songs), but alas, she failed. As Gor Niu made her journey to her destination of punishment (in some foresaken place), she sang of the wonderful days.
Once again, Thian Hock Keng, illuminated with the lights, songs and beautiful Southern Sounds, stood as memory of the early migrants to Singapore. A pillar to modern Singapore that only this grand old dame would know but the sounds and sights will tell.
Now, we wait till 2M19 next year - 3 Apr 2010.
Guan Yin's three days of celebration, from Leon Comber's book: Through the Bamboo Window
Tan Sa Gor Niu is a popular opera to the Hokkiens & Teochews where it tells the story of a Hokkien man and a Teochew lady falling in love, quite ahead of its times