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These ladies are armed with a musical fusion of sounds that span across both space and time.
The Twelve Girls Band command the musical fusion of modern and classical Chinese elements like a well-lead army. On August 12th, the curtains of a packed Royce Hall slowly opened, marking the U.S. debut appearance of a pearl-skinned, elegantly long-limbed musical force. Uniformed in blood-red halters, posed in preparatory stance with their respective instruments, the ensemble lined the stage in three neat rows. As an anticipating audience held its breath, a catchy synthesized percussion rhythm bellowed from a seemingly unknown source and the twelve played with a virtuoso force that could have lit the stage ablaze.
They performed in such intense, high-energy fashion and playfulness, making the more complex arrangements appear effortless. The numbers brimmed with pop-performance standards: upbeat, exaggerated sashaying, unrelenting smiles, all in orchestrated unity before a huge backdrop of projected colorful images and geometric patterns.
Playing traditional Chinese instruments, the Twelve Girls Band showcase a sound that is an infusion of high-pitched strings and which bear a hint of nostalgia of Chinese traditions and cultural past, with poppy, synthesized, rapid-paced rhythms and melodies. An electronic percussion provides an underlay for the ensemble’s strings-and-woodwind sound. With their synchronized bopping heads, furiously moving mallets and infectious energy, the vibrant twenty-some things from the People’s Republic of China mix the modern with the traditional bounded in a seamless musical embrace.
The evening’s set at the world-renowned concert hall included simple arrangements of a more poppy nature, including a rendition of Coldplay’s hit “Clocks.” Another particularly memorable moment during the ensemble’s set included renditions of the familiar tune “Reel Around the Sun” from Riverdance, which highlighted their ability to reproduce improvisational jazz styles. A medley consisting of classical motifs, such as Beethoven’s 5th, bore a striking similarity to the Saturday Night Fever medley, beginning with a funkesque prelude before a succession of synthesized strings. The medley was executed with great bravado, comprised of small solos showcasing individual members’ talents. One member played the erhu fiddle with a highly escalating tempo and scale that was perilously close to being jarring. However, balance was graciously maintained.
In the middle of the performance, some of the members were spotlighted to introduce and demonstrate the different types of instruments, which included the pipa--a pear-shaped string lute--the dual-stringed fiddle erhu, the bamboo flute diza, and the dulcimer-like gu zheng. In a humble manner, with an English translation to follow, they displayed their knowledge and bowed graciously afterwards. Although somewhat informational, this part of the show seemed more like filler and slowed down the energy and cohesiveness of the performance.
It is obvious that the ensemble is a polished product; its members carefully hand-picked and an innumerable number of hours spent on meticulous marketing strategizing. But unlike many formulaic pop phenomena, this ensemble demonstrated during tonight's performance that their wide-range appeal and popularity are undeniable. It’s no wonder that they have managed to join the ranks of Mariah Carey and Celine Dion in Japan, snagging the “International Artist of the Year” title at the 2004 Japan Golden Disc Award ceremonies.
The Twelve Girls Band manage to cater to the tastes of both those who crave the easily palatable sound of pop and classical music lovers. Their performance is somewhere in between a unified mass of youthful, hip energy of one-big-girl-band and the discipline of a trained regime. It’s no wonder that they can make middle-aged men whoop, teenage girls squeal, elderly women cry tears of nostalgia, and spark a desire in young children to pick up an erhu and start jamming. They are, after all, an army of twelve, and then some. What choice have you but to surrender?
Date Posted: 8/14/2004