Datong Music Society
In May 1919, influenced by the May Fourth Movement of the New Culture Movement, ZHENG Jin-wen, the founder of the “Qinse Study Society” in Shanghai, renamed the society to “Datong Music Society” in order to seek unity between Chinese and Western music. He appointed himself as the director of the society. In 1923, the Datong Music Society completed its initial preparations and established a research department (studying music rhythm and theory, learning instrumental and vocal performance, and dance), a compilation department (compiling various music books and scores), and a production department (manufacturing various Chinese and Western musical instruments). In April 1933, a Chinese music editing department was added to collect ancient Chinese melodies, and a Chinese music training institute was established to cultivate Chinese music talents.
Records show that the members of the Datong Music Society regularly rehearsed, held annual performance meetings, and were invited to perform at important domestic celebrations and foreign receptions. Half of the income earned was used for activity expenses, while the other half was used to fund the production of replica ancient musical instruments. The society actively cultivated musical talents through music education. In July 1924, the Datong Music Society held its first summer class at the Liangjiang Women’s Physical Education Normal School, offering courses in qin, se, pipa, silk and bamboo instruments, Kunqu opera, and Peking opera. The classes were taught by ZHENG Jin-wen, WANG Yu-ting, OUYANG Yu-qian, CHENG Wu-Jia, LI Shu-sen, Romanelli, and others. Later, WU Meng-fei, LIU Yao-zhang, YANG Zi-yong, and others joined the teaching staff. In 1928, the “Instrument Making Department” was established, and ZHENG Jin-wen personally taught in that department. In February 1934, the Datong Music Society even planned to establish a specialized Chinese music school.
The society focused on excavating, organizing, and adapting traditional Chinese melodies as one of its main tasks. Member LIU Yao-zhang of the Datong Music Society adapted the solo pipa piece “Moonnight of Xunyang” taught by WANG Yu-ting into a silk and bamboo ensemble score. In October 1925, the complete 12-line score of “Moonnight of Xunyang” was completed. The piece was initially known as “Moonlit on the Autumn River” but was officially named “Moonlight over the River in Spring” by ZHENG Jin-wen in the spring of 1926. The piece was a great success at its premiere and had a significant impact. In April 1927, LIU Yao-zhang excavated and organized the piece “The Moon is High” based on “HUA’s Brothers Pipa Score,” initially titled “Rare Human Tune” and later named “Nishang Yuyi”. It was performed for the first time at the Muer Hall Summer Music Concert on July 2 of the same year on Sanma Road (now Hankou Road). In January 1930, the newly adapted Chinese music “Traditional Orchestral Music” premiered at the Shanghai Anti-Drug Association’s entertainment event. During the performance, the traditional system of playing music was restored, with musicians holding a baton and a music score, led by a conductor. By January 1931, the Datong Music Society had completed a full set of replica ancient musical instruments, totaling 163 pieces. Among them were 35 plucked instruments, 20 bowed instruments, 43 wind instruments, 60 percussion instruments, and 5 pitch instruments. This set of instruments was displayed for visits by Chinese and foreign visitors at the World Academy (later renamed the World Society) on Fukaersen Road (now Wukang Road) in the French Concession. However, most of the instruments were lost or destroyed before the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. Some of the instrument’s data photos are said to be preserved in the Shanghai Traditional Musical Instrument Factory.
In May 1929, initiated by the Datong Music Society, a Chinese Music Federation was formed, consisting of ten organizations including the Wang’s Pipa Study Society, the Xiaozhao Music Group, the Hanjiang Silk and Bamboo Society, the Qinluzhai, the Jingwu Sports Club Chinese Music Group, the China Music Society, the Xinyou Study Society, the Hua Orchestra, the Jiande Savings Association Chinese Music Group, etc. They hoped to organize a large band of 40 members, but due to various reasons, this plan was not realized. The Datong Music Society decided to form its own band, and in January 1930, the premiere of “Traditional Orchestral Music” was also the first complete appearance of this new type of Chinese music band. The main members of the band were amateur music enthusiasts such as staff, teachers and doctors. With a standardized band and several complete orchestral pieces, the Datong Music Society not only performed in cities like Suzhou and Nanjing, but also played Chinese music at the invitation of the government, foreign groups, and various cultural events. The society played a crucial role in the preservation, promotion, and development of Chinese music during that time.
The most significant performance that showcased a fusion of Chinese and Western elements took place on May 21, 1933, at the Daguanming Cinema. The Datong Music Society collaborated with the Shanghai Bureau of Public Works Orchestra to perform the “GRAND CHINESE EVENING”. The first part of the concert included two performances: the Datong Music Society’s orchestral piece, “Traditional Orchestral Music”, and WEI Chung-loh’s solo performance on the pipa with “Ambuscade from All Sides.”
In January 1933, in preparation for their participation in the World Exposition held in Chicago, the Datong Music Society photographed their entire instrument collection, and the performances of the society were filmed for exhibition.
In February 1935, the director of the Datong Music Society, ZHENG Jin-wen, passed away, and WEI Chung-loh, the former vice director, took over his position.
From July to August 1938, WEI Chung-loh and others organized charity performances in Hong Kong under the name of the “Datong Music Society” to raise funds for refugees. Prior to this, on February 20, 1938, ZHENG Jin-wen’s son, ZHENG Li-sun, placed an advertisement in the Chongqing-based “Xinhua Daily”, calling for members to join the organization known as the “Jiangsu Datong Music Society Anti-Japanese Propaganda Mobile Unit”.
In September 1940, WEI Chung-loh visited the United States and returned to Shanghai, where he was employed by the University of Shanghai and established the Chungloh Music Institute. Afterward, there was no further information about the activities of the Datong Music Society in Shanghai.
The “Chongqing Datong Music Society” established and led by ZHENG Li-sun continued its activities until the victory of the War of Resistance Against Japan in 1945 and officially disbanded in 1949.