A personal playlist can include songs from special celebrations and songs rooted in our culture.
For Chinese New Year, Playlist for Life volunteer Xiaoxiao curates a special playlist and shares the meaning behind the music.
Musical Memoirs of Homecoming:
Curating the Playlist for Chinese New Year
Written in English and Simplified Mandarin by Xiaoxiao Hou for Playlist for Life
新年好！我叫筱潇，作为一名中国音乐学家，我很荣幸能与您分享中国新年的喜庆氛围和音乐的重要作用。今年是龙年，根据十二生肖，龙年每12年到来一次。 龙年的出生的年份是1928、1940、1952、1964、1976、1988、2000， 2012， 2024. 在传统习俗中，本命年时，汉族北方各地，不论大人小孩都要买红腰带系上， 有的会穿红色的袜子和内裤，寓意着带来幸运。龙在中国的文化历史中被视为吉祥的象征，预示着幸运和繁荣。在这一年，人们期待着好运和成功。
Happy New Year! My name is Xiaoxiao, and as a Chinese musicologist, I am honoured to share with you the festive atmosphere of the Chinese New Year and the significant role of music in this celebration. This year marks the Year of the Dragon, which arrives every 12 years according to the Chinese zodiac. The birth years of the Dragon include 1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012, and 2024. In traditional customs, regardless of age, people in various northern regions of China, will wear red belts in their zodiac year, and some may even wear red socks and undergarments as symbols of good fortune. The dragon holds a symbol of auspiciousness in Chinese cultural history, symbolizing luck and prosperity. In this year, people anticipate good luck and success.
The Chinese New Year typically spans 15 days, sharing some similarities with Western Christmas. Just like Christmas, the Chinese New Year is a nationwide celebration where people prepare in advance, and every household is busy getting ready to welcome this important holiday. In China, the celebration usually begins on the twenty-third day of the lunar month and lasts until the fifteenth day of the first month, known as the Lantern Festival. During this period, various activities take place, including pasting couplets, setting off firecrackers, cleaning, buying New Year goods, and more, resembling the lively and bustling preparations before Western Christmas.
In the UK, Chinese New Year celebrations among the Chinese community are primarily city-cantered, especially in Chinatowns, featuring dragon and lion dances, traditional music performances, food stalls, and cultural activities. These events attract many Chinese and local residents to participate, creating a lively and festive atmosphere, allowing people to experience the festive atmosphere and cultural traditions of their hometown. In China, however, the Chinese New Year celebrations are more family-oriented. People usually gather at home with their families to enjoy a sumptuous dinner, make traditional foods by hand, and participate in various traditional activities such as pasting couplets and making dumplings. These celebrations emphasize the importance of family reunion and affection, bringing warmth and happiness to everyone. On New Year’s Eve, families gather to enjoy a sumptuous reunion dinner, similar to the Christmas feast in the West. They usually gather around the television, waiting for the annual Spring Festival Gala broadcast at eight o’clock, which is a traditional activity and an important way for family reunions. Making and eating dumplings symbolize reunion and happiness, expressing good wishes and expectations for the new year.
During the Chinese New Year, people often listen to music with a festive atmosphere, such as traditional songs like “Bless You“, “Congratulations and Prosperity“, “Good Luck Comes“, as well as some modern New Year music.
Music plays an important role in family gatherings and community celebrations, enhancing the festive atmosphere and bringing joy and happiness to people.
The music in Chinese New Year celebrations varies in different regions. For example, celebratory music in northern regions may be more lively and cheerful, while music in southern regions may be softer and more tender, reflecting the characteristics of different regional cultures.
When it comes to music and New Year songs in different regions, each region has its unique style and instrumentation, but they all reflect a joyful, peaceful, and festive atmosphere. In northern regions, New Year songs usually have melodious melodies and cheerful rhythms, with common instruments such as erhu, flute, and drums. These songs are often simple and enthusiastic, evoking warmth and festivity. In southern regions, New Year songs may be softer and more tender, with beautiful and touching melodies and diverse instrumentation. In addition to traditional folk instruments, some modern instruments such as piano and violin may also be included, making the music more colourful. These songs often have strong local characteristics, evoking the warmth and tenderness of hometown.
In the UK, since the primary language of most Chinese people is Cantonese, we often hear music from the Guangdong and Hong Kong regions in Chinese restaurants and supermarkets. Cantonese New Year celebration songs usually have unique styles and rhythms, reflecting the cultural characteristics of the Guangdong region and people’s anticipation and blessings for the New Year. These songs are often lively and festive, with lively and catchy melodies, and the lyrics usually express good wishes for family reunion and well-being. In terms of instrumentation, common instruments include erhu, pipa, guzheng, as well as modern instruments such as synthesizers and drum sets, making the music more layered and vibrant.
My favourite piece is Li Huanzhi’s “Spring Festival Overture“. This orchestral work is a classic of modern Chinese music and an indispensable part of Chinese New Year celebrations. This overture was created in the 1950s to celebrate the Chinese New Year, expressing people’s joy and expectations for the new year. Through this piece, Li Huanzhi showed deep affection for the motherland and the people, while also incorporating elements of Western symphonic music, making this piece more internationally appealing. The “Spring Festival Overture” is divided into several sections, each expressing different emotions and scenes. The opening part depicts the hustle and bustle before the Spring Festival, symbolizing people’s anticipation and excitement for the arrival of the New Year. The lively middle section expresses the atmosphere of celebration and joy, allowing people to feel the festivity and vitality of the festival. The climax of the piece reflects the longing and anticipation for a better future, conveying the hope and motivation brought by the New Year.
这首曲子既有中国传统民族乐器版本，也有西洋乐器版本。它总是让我想起家的感觉，因为我爸爸的手机铃声就是这首曲子 （在上面这个版本里从2：06 开始的片段）。每当听到它，我就仿佛置身于家的温馨氛围中，感受到家人的关爱和温暖。
This piece has both a version with traditional Chinese folk instruments and a version with Western instruments. It always reminds me of home, as my father’s ringtone is this piece (starting from the 2:06 mark in the version linked above). Whenever I hear it, I feel like I am surrounded by the warm atmosphere of home, feeling the love and warmth of family.
No matter where we are, we all long to return home, reunite with our families, enjoy a sumptuous dinner together, and watch the global broadcast of the Chinese New Year Gala. This is not only a tradition but also a deep emotional connection, allowing people to feel the warmth of home and the importance of family affection. Through music and festival activities, people can express their longing and love for their families and hometowns, welcoming the arrival of the new year together.