After over a year of planning, the W.E. Upjohn Centennial Celebration took place on June 5, 2022. The weather was perfect, and the peonies were ready to impress.
MBGNA Director Tony Kolenic gave remarks on the garden’s impact and noted “When I’m in the Peony Garden I am flanked on one side by the Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital, where so many of our community members start their lives. On the other side is Ann Arbor’s historic Forest Hills Cemetery. In between those two symbols of the beginning and end of life is the W.E. Upjohn Peony Garden, filled to the brim with all of the joy, drama, and complexity life has to offer.” A summarized version of his remarks are available in this blog post.
Don Parfet represented the UpJohn family and gave remarks on the history of the garden’s founding donor, W.E. Upjohn. In 1922, Dr. W. E. Upjohn gave a gift of peonies to the University of Michigan that would become what is now the University of Michigan Nichols Arboretum Peony Garden. This gift has grown into what has has recently been named the W.E. Upjohn Peony Garden. More details on W.E. Upjohn and the family gift of support are available here.
Additional remarks were given by Garden Coordinator, Douglas Conley, Peony Garden Fellow, Sarah Gizzi, and MBGNA Curator, Dr. David Michener.
In addition to the remarks, the event included a commissioned arrangement by composer-in-residence, Alexis Lamb and performances of Korean choral works from the group Pungnyu in the Peony Garden.
Alexis Lamb Composition: Hybrid Cultivars
“Hybrid Cultivars” is Alexis Lamb’s first sound installation. While learning about the history of the peony garden and its development, Alexis was struck by the hybrid breeding of new cultivars, where human interruption is an integral part of what would otherwise be a natural process.
Many of Alexis Lamb’s compositions have been in response to phenomena within the natural world, including rocks skipping over an icy pond and forest fires allowing for regrowth after destruction. In the case of developing new species of peonies, humans can interrupt the natural reproduction cycles of the flowers by creating their own hybrid cultivars, with the hope that a new breed of peony will emerge.
Traditional Korean Ensemble: Pungnyu in the Peony Garden
The program included a performance by “Pungnyu in the Peony Garden”. Featuring a variety of traditional Korean instruments and genres including: danso,haegeum, janggu, geomungo, piri, pansori. Pungnyu means ‘wind and stream,’ and it represents the connection Korean traditional music has to nature. The soundsare produced by instruments made of materials such as bamboo, silk, and aged wood, creating sonorities reminiscent of the wind blowing through grass and the rustling of leaves. This performance celebrates the beauty of our natural world and encourages us to sit, listen, and drink up the beauty of our surroundings.
The program included the following pieces:
“Pyeonsudaeyeop” for danso, haegeum, janggu/geomungo trio
“Pyeonsudaaeyeop” is a part of the classical lyric song repertoire. This particular piece is meant for a female singer with accompaniment. The version we will play is the instrumental version, featuring the 6-string plucked zither (geomungo), bamboo flute (danso), and two-string bowed lute (haegeum).
The original lyrics to this piece, known historically as “moraneun [peony],” are:
Of all flowers, the peony is king;The most loyal is the sunflower.
The lotus is a gentleman, the apricot, a mean fellow, the chrysanthemum, a recluse, the plum, a poor scholar, the gourd flower, an old guy, the carnation, a young thing, the rose mallow, a shaman, the begonia, a harlot.
Among theseThe pear blossom is the poet-dilettante, and the blossom of the pink peach, blue peach, tri-colored peach is the only one who seems to know how to have any fun.
Piri Solo ‘Sangnyeongsan Puri’
“Sangnyeongsan” is a piece in the the aristocratic chamber repertoire. This version of the piece is for the reed instrument, piri. The slow and majestic melody highlights the beauty of the piri’s sound.
Han Gapdeuk Geomungo Sanjo, “Jungmori” and “Jungjungmori”
Sanjo means ‘scattered melodies.’ The genre developed in the 19th century out of the shamanic performance context. Performers took pieces of melodies from ritual accompaniment and developed these into structured pieces and virtuosic performances. The geomungo is a six-string zither historically connected with the aristocracy. Han Gapdeuk’s sanjo for geomungo is both bold and gentle, revealing the deep natural tone colors of this beautiful instrument.
Ji Yeonghui Haegeum Sanjo (Haegeum and Janggu)
Gyeonggi Region shaman ritual specialist Ji Yeong-geui created a sanjo piece for haegeum which incorporates multiple modal types and melodies drawn from shaman ritual. The melodies also draw on the sorrowful refrains of the southwestern folk song style. This sanjo offers a deep entry into the haunting and soulful sound world of the haegeum.
“Emperor’s Flower Song”–Scene from the Song of Shimcheong, pansori (vocals and drum)
The word ‘pansori’ literally means a ‘song performed in a pan,’ which refers to a space or a stage on which something happens. Pansori is a genre in which a vocalist acts as a storyteller. The vocalist performs with a drummer who serves as essential support for the performer. Pansori performances can last for hours, as these tales from folk heritage are quite epic. In this performance, Chan E. Park will perform a scene from the Song of Shimcheong; a story about a dutiful daughter who sacrifices everything for her blind father.
Thank you to Christine Chessler-Stull and Michelle Yanga for photos