In tune with the times

Updated: Mar 29, 2022 China Daily Print
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Deng Xiaolan practices with children of the Malan Band that she established in Fuping county, Hebei province, in June 2011. CHINA DAILY

For 18 years after her retirement, Deng Xiaolan volunteered to teach music in a rural village in Hebei province. Her inspirational teaching and the enthusiasm and talent of her pupils culminated in the children singing the Olympic anthem at the opening ceremony of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics on Feb 4.

Deng passed away at the age of 79 on March 21 at the Beijing Tiantan Hospital.

Deng's involvement with the rural children can be traced back to her parents. Her father Deng Tuo was the publisher of Jinchaji Daily, a newspaper based in Malan village in Fuping county, Hebei province, from 1939 to 1948. It was a predecessor of People's Daily.

Deng Xiaolan was born in 1943, a year that witnessed the spilling of blood inside the village. Amid the Japanese aggression, 19 Malan locals were killed for heroically refusing to divulge information about the newspaper.

Under the influence of her parents, who both had a passion for music, she learned the violin and singing when she was young. She joined the school band after entering Tsinghua University, and also taught her colleagues to play the violin after graduation.

In 2003, when Deng Xiaolan returned to the village along with former members of Jinchaji Daily to pay homage to the martyrs, a group of local children also attended the ceremony.

She wanted to sing a song together with the children in commemoration, but none of the children knew the well-known songs she named. Even when she asked if they could sing the national anthem, only two children raised their hands and their singing was out of tune.

"I personally like music a lot. Music is like my friend, who's always there whether I'm happy or sad. When I arrived in Malan village, I learned that the children couldn't sing. If they couldn't sing, then they wouldn't know how to appreciate music. Life would be so pale if it doesn't have music, such a richly colorful part of life," Deng said in an interview with Phoenix TV.

Deng talks with residents of Malan village in Fuping. CHINA DAILY

"My parents lived and fought here when they were young, and they wanted the locals to live a happy life. I felt so saddened that the children here couldn't sing. So I thought if I had the chance, I must teach them to sing."

Deng began to travel between Beijing and the village since 2004 to teach the children music. She recalled that when she first arrived at the village's primary school, the school had four dilapidated single-floor houses and two teachers, and the children never had any music lessons.

She then collected instruments from her siblings and friends, including a violin, keyboard and accordion, and took them to the village, and also rebuilt the school houses by raising funds and using her own pension. As the children had no background in music, she had to teach them basic music theory, such as scales.

"I don't know what path they will set foot on in the future, or what obstacles they might encounter. Maybe they'll at times feel powerless and helpless, and music will be the best buddy for all their lives," she said.

Two years later, she established the Malan Band, the first members of which were six children from the village.

In 2008, she took the band to Beijing for the first time, hosting a recital at the city's Zhongshan Park. And in 2013, she hosted a children's music festival in the village, which became a recurring event where the children could showcase their singing and instrument skills.

Over the years, she had raised funds to build a three-story house named "the music castle" for the students to study music, and an outdoor stage for the music festival.

Deng gives her students piano lessons. CHINA DAILY

"It is my sole wish that they could sing, and find some happiness from music," Deng said.

Among more than 200 students taught by Deng, many left the mountainous village to receive university education, and more than 10 students are studying art at university or have entered a career in art education.

For the 2022 Winter Olympics opening ceremony, 44 children from Malan village and neighboring villages in Fuping county formed the Malan Flower Choir and sung the Olympic anthem in Greek.

"In the last 18 years of her life, our mother devoted most of her time and energy to music education for children in Malan village, which brought her joy and contentment," her daughter Liu Mingming and son Liu Jiwei wrote in the obituary.

"The Olympic anthem sung by the Malan Flower Choir at the Winter Olympics opening ceremony received widespread acclaim, which took her joy to another level. It is the greatest consolation to us that she passed away peacefully at the peak of her life."

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