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Composer | Lu Chuang-shien

  • Date:2022-12-09
Composer | Lu Chuang-shien

‧Chinese Name: 呂泉生
‧Date of Birth: July 1, 1916
‧Date of Death: March 17, 2008
‧Place of Birth: Taichung County (Central Taiwan)
‧Did You Know?
The song "No Goldfish at the Bottom of the Cup (杯底毋通飼金魚)" was released in 1949 and was once banned during Taiwan’s martial law period. Lu Chuang-shien had always been tagged as the writer and composer of the song, but in 2022, Lu's family issued a statement confirming that the song’s lyrics were actually written by Chinese playwright Chen Dayu (陳大禹), and that the royalties Lu had received in the past would be returned to Chen’s family after a detailed examination of the amount. Chen was blacklisted by Taiwan's government at the time because of his left-wing politics, and during the White Terror, Lu could have found himself in a dangerous situation for a lyrical collaboration with Chen, so he chose not to reveal the name of the real lyricist.

Lu Chuang-shien was born in Taichung in 1916. After graduating from high school, he traveled to Japan to study music, majoring in piano. However, after his fingers were injured in an accident, he switched to vocal music, and the choral lessons he received at that time had a profound impact on him, leading him to dedicate himself to songwriting and choral education. After completing his studies, he took up work as a professional singer and played a key role in Japan's Toho Theatre, later joining the NHK choir.

After returning to Taiwan in 1943, Lu joined the Taipei Broadcasting Bureau and devoted himself to promoting classical music. At the same time, he began to compile and arrange early Southern Min folk songs from all over Taiwan, which he recorded in pentatonic notation, arranged into choral pieces, and made cassette tapes, traveling to Japan to promote them. Many of the songs Lu collected during this work remain familiar to Taiwanese people today.

Apart from collecting folk songs, Lu was also an active composer, and his style was rich with local flavor. In addition to new compositions, he also made numerous adaptations of folk songs and simple classical pieces from Taiwan and around the world. During his musical career, he composed more than 200 songs, among which "Rocking the Baby" (搖囝仔歌, 1945), "No Goldfish at the Bottom of the Cup" (1949), and "If We Open the Windows of Our Heart" (阮若打開心內的門窗, 1958) are among the most popular and well-loved.

In May 1945, Taiwan was bombarded by air raids as part of World War II, and Lu’s wife and three-month-old child were evacuated to the countryside, leaving him working alone at the Broadcast Bureau and missing his family. It was during this time that he wrote the melody to “Rocking the Baby,” specially asking his father-in-law Rev. Hsiao An-chu (蕭安居) to write the lyrics. The song “No Goldfish at the Bottom of the Cup” was written after his personal experience of the 228 incident, expressing his hope that the people living in Taiwan could live together in peace with each other regardless of background. The song "If We Open the Windows of Our Heart," meanwhile, was written in collaboration with Dr. Wag Chang-hsiung (王昶雄) to comfort the rural children who had left their hometowns to work in the city due to changes in society, and has since become one of the most famous choral songs in Taiwan.

Lu Chuang-shien worked hard to set down the roots of music in Taiwan, and always wanted to train children to sing and to raise the musical literacy of the public. In 1957, at the invitation of Koo Wei-fu (辜偉甫), the founder of the Rong Shing Youth Choir (榮星合唱團), Lu became the choir's conductor and led them on many overseas performances, cultural exchanges, and national diplomatic shows, making Rong Shing the biggest choir in Taiwan and spearheading the development of youth choirs in Taiwan.

For more than 50 years, Lu was engaged in music education, making outstanding contributions to modern Taiwanese music by promoting children's choral music and nurturing many exceptional musical talents. In 1991, the Executive Yuan honored him with the Cultural Award, and in 1992, this was followed with the Special Award at the 4th Golden Melody Awards. Later, in 2007, the Taiwanese American Foundation awarded Lu the 15th Talent Achievement Award.

To Taiwanese across generations and classes, the songs of Lu Chuang-shien have not only been lifelong companions, but also concentrated doses of the collective memory and emotion associated with the land of Taiwan.

(Photo courtesy of Taiwan Music Institute - National Center for Traditional Arts)