Russia, China, and Japan — from the Red Army choir to the shamisen

A fortress in Suzdali, Russia

By Elizabeth Doyle

Aleksandrov Red Army Choir: This is the official choir of the Russian armed forces, and possibly the most successful military choir in the world. Russia considers this group to be a national treasure, and I agree. They formed during Stalin’s rule, as sort of a fusion between traditional Russian music and an attempt to express the passion of the Red Army of that age, which seemed nearly undefeatable during World War II (in large part because of its sheer size!) When the Iron Curtain fell, some might have thought that would be the end of the Red Army Choir. But it seems that music is bigger than politics, because they did nothing but continue to thrive as the years went on. People continue to come out in droves to watch their shows, and you don’t have to be Russian to enjoy them anymore. You can buy their albums from anywhere in the world. Many young Russians dream of growing up and joining this famous choir: Click here.

A Buddhist Temple in Chengdu, China

Xiu Yue (composer) – There’s a religion in China called Falun Gong (Sometimes called Falun dafa) which combines Taoism, Buddhism and traditional Chinese qigong. As far as I can tell, it’s a peaceful religion which emphasizes soft, gentle living, tolerance, and a series of spiritually-based movements (like yoga, but more about moving chi around the body.) Apparently, tens of millions of people joined Falun Gong in China in the early 1990s. And then apparently, in 1999, it was declared a crime to practice it… I’ve seen photographs that were thrust at me during a visit to Taiwan … photos of what is being done to people who are caught practicing this wide-spread religion. And I won’t describe them. But I will say that my heart goes out to all of those imprisoned, and I hope and pray for them that this law goes away. This is a song written by a member of Falun Gong named Xiu Yue. I don’t know anything about her except that she wrote the song. But it’s just a beautiful, and a wonderful thing to listen to, while sending out hope that anyone being mistreated will be sent home soon: Click here.

On the same topic, this is an opera singer, Jiansheng Yang singing “Song from a prison cell” for those who practice Falun Dafa in China: Click here.

Two other men, not the Yoshida Brothers, one playing the shamisen and one singing

Yoshida Brothers – The shamisen is an old Japanese instrument (a three-stringed instrument, held like a guitar.) But for anyone who thinks that Japanese music must be tranquil, the Yoshida Brothers are here to demonstrate that a musical tradition which has expressed subtle emotion for centuries can just as easily express the more urgent emotions that are popular in music today. In fact, the shamisen, which has been evolving into its modern form since the 16th century began being played with speed and fancy finger work during first half of the 20th century, making it one of the instruments of choice for Japanese musicians who want to play both traditional and modern music simultaneously. And the Yoshida Brothers have taken that power-playing to a whole new level. The word on the street is that the Yoshida Brothers have been shocked by their musical success. But I’m not shocked! And I don’t think you will be either when you watch them play: Click here.

Top photo: © Konstantin Milenin /

Second photo: Sharon St Joan /A Buddhist Temple in Chengdu, China

Third photo: Dan Smith / Wikimedia Commons / This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license. 

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