Su Kaiyi, music is fascination and mission
Born into a poor family, the famous composer has been Catholic since childhood. John Wu, who later became a cardinal in Hong Kong, was her parish priest. She blends classical and Aboriginal music, which is very useful for prayer. A cappella music is riding a new wave in Asia.
Taipei (AsiaNews) – Ms Su Kaiyi (蘇 開 儀), born in Taipei, has devoted herself to music since childhood. Now she has become an authority in Asian sacred music and among professional composers.
At present, she works in the Commission for Liturgy - Church music section - of the Chinese Regional Bishops' Conference. Her parents were the first Catholics in her family. She spoke to AsiaNews about her story and mission in music.
My mom met a Catholic priest and she converted. She had five children, but the family was poor because my dad got sick and died when I was three. My two older brothers got sick too and died very young.
I studied in Catholic schools and my siblings and I were raised by the parish community because we were so poor and without a father. My older brother is the one who has definitely suffered the most our situation of poverty and constant adaptation. I am the fifth child; so for me things were not so hard because my older brothers always cared for me.
Since childhood we took part in parish activities. We grew up with the parish priest and the families of the parish. My pastor was Father John Wu (胡振 中 神父). We are his adopted "children"; without him, our family would have had no future. He then went to Hong Kong and became cardinal. He died in September 2002.
It was not easy. My mom was always busy at seasonal jobs, and had little time for us. I eventually began to study music. I liked music; I liked to do something different from my relatives. Because I was her daughter and my mum loved music but had not been able to realise her dream, I did it for her. This is another reason for my choice. Later, my interest turned towards sacred music, which led me to participate in many music competitions, fortunately with excellent results, which allowed me to make myself known.
I must thank my teachers, who always inspired and supported me in my artistic growth. They realised that I had an interest in sacred music and encouraged me to cultivate this passion.
Catholic schools have helped me
Since I work for the Bishops' Conference and I have always been involved in Church life (and I am not married), many people naturally wonder whether I would become a nun. I thought about it, but I have concluded that it is not my vocation. Life took me elsewhere. The nuns and the men religious do a great job, and have an opportunity to network and develop a broad mission by integrating many people. But that's not my calling. I became the first person from the music academy of secondary school, and I followed that path by giving all of myself to this artistic mission.
My musical pieces have come out little by little, in collaboration with various houses and with my friends in the music academy. For my parish priest, Fr John Wu, my first works provided great satisfaction. Along with him, Belgian missionary Fathers were the most influential in my life, especially Fr Willy Ollevier (吳偉立 神父) whom I met when he was still a seminarian. There were also two musician Fathers of considerable talent, who have shaped my training.
If I have to thank institutions or people, I would definitely begin with the schools that trained me during my adolescence. Playing music and composing it are something very inspiring, and I owe to them the chance to follow this path.
As for me and my classmates, school allowed us to express ourselves. The language of religion and art are very intense. I also believe that Catholic schools have something extra. I do not know if it was our Catholic education or other factors, the fact is that our friends grew up healthy physically and spiritually. Music was our inspiration. The people who educated us inspired great values in us.
I eventually went to Vienna to study at the Universität für Musik und darstellende Kunst, even though my teachers wanted me to go to the United States. But I stuck to my plan, and I have never regretted it. In Austria, I developed my musical sensibility and for me it was the best choice, because that training set the structure on which I grew even more, artistically and religiously.
The music in the liturgy
As for our current work in the commission of the Bishops’ Conference, we know there is a lot to do. As usual there are few resources, but we can do a great deal despite limits. There is really a lot of people working together and there is a great room for improvement and great openness for renewal. You have to know how to get around: sometimes the ways of proceeding of the Catholic Church and those of developing artistic production are different. It is not always easy to communicate, but there are great talents that we can use and advertise.
Taiwan has plenty of musicians, and many great talents in sacred music. We also have a great tradition in Aboriginal music, which fits very well with religious hymn. We also published a book that has had great resonance among Catholics, but especially among Evangelicals, where a large number of young talents are nurtured.
Despite the rigidity of some liturgical structures, there are many possibilities for artistic adaptation even in the Catholic community. When I was studying in Austria, I realised that there were two approaches. The first starts with a liturgical sensitivity whilst the second is linked to the canonical structure. The liturgical sensibility is very adaptable and careful about emotions. I am very emotional, and I can easily cry, moved by the compositions of young musicians.
Currently, there is this special wave of a cappella music in Taiwan. In my opinion, it is a very important movement, not only for those who already belong to the Christian community, but also for those who want to come closer to it. Although the Catholic Church often moves slowly, it possesses artistic forms that reach deep into people's feelings. In the rest of Asia, there is movement towards and interest in a cappella music. I think it's a great blessing and a great opportunity.
As for my compositions, my first two works are connected to Christmas. The first composition of 1988 is a Meditation on the Nativity (聖誕 冥想), and the second, completed in 1997, relates the birth of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke, entitled Composition about Christmas (聖誕 清 歌劇). They are repeatedly performed in Hong Kong and Taiwan, and this shows that music is a great tool for community and evangelisation.
Holy Family Parish in Taipei has a large network of artists and a capacity for "artistic marketing". It is coming up with things appreciated for community building. Working with the artists in Taiwan’s Hakka and Aboriginal communities is another example. There are rich liturgies in different languages, and many people working in this mission. For this, we must be grateful. Things seem obvious but they are not.
Many details are important; for example, does the Ave Maria make sense in various translations? Here we see the strength of artistic language. Here is just one small example. In one famous traditional liturgical piece of music we sing, "Mariati we ask . . .". From a grammatical point of view, we expect a direct object. This is followed by a musical passage that breaks the sentence and we no longer understand the meaning. The musical tempo and the grammatical structure diverge. But this is also the sense of music and art, which sometimes go beyond logical structures, and we understand the connection only in a broader context.
What is my future? I think my future will be in writing music. I have always believed in this mission. Although it is often not easy, art makes me feel God is always on our side. I want to strengthen our marketing channels. Working on the inside, I am aware of the needs of the Church, and I believe in this mission. I would say that 'for me every day is Sunday': I live in a world linked to liturgy and music that develop within it. First of all, I talk to God and thank him. I believe that without his blessing we could not go anywhere.
(Xin Yage contributed to this article)