FOR 54 years, farmer Yan Shunyi did not know the first thing about Western musical instruments, but now he is a saxophone player.
Yan lives in Langzitou, an impoverished village in northern China’s Hebei Province. He started learning to play the saxophone in March as part of a local government’s poverty reduction program.
After learning for several months, he is now able to play over 20 pieces of sheet music.
“In the past I knew nothing but farming, but now I can not only play the saxophone but also assemble instruments,” Yan says.
Wuqiang County where Langzitou is located is a major production base for orchestral instruments in China, with more than 50 instrument-manufacturing plants, employing 20,000 workers.
As China aims to lift its poor people out of poverty by 2020, Wuqiang, a state-level impoverished county with nearly 10,000 people living in poverty, has offered support through saxophone lessons and instrument assembly training.
The project started in March and has seen 1,000 people in poverty from 94 villages trained free of charge.
Jinyin Group, a leading instrument company, is in charge of the project.
Zhang Huanying, from Jinyin Group, has taught over 20 people in Houjiatun Village to play “Happy Birthday.”
“You are in a whole group while playing, so you must pace yourselves carefully,” Zhang says to his students.
Villagers have the chance to perform at tourist resorts, wedding ceremonies and company parties to “enrich their cultural and material life,” he says.
The instruments, offered by the company free of charge, are specially designed for the entry-level villagers, Zhang says.
Poor families also receive training on instrument assembly.
Established in 1989, Jinyin Group produces more than 900,000 instruments, such as guitars, violins, clarinets and saxophones, for sale in more than 80 countries and regions.
“The trained villagers will help our group relieve the labor shortage, and they are able to expand their ways to make money,” says Ji Mancang, who is in charge of the poverty reduction training program at the group.
According to Ji, each villager earns 50 yuan (US$7) to 100 yuan each performance, and the instrument assembly brings each family around 1,500 yuan per month.
Last year Wuqiang, in cooperation with the China Musical Instrument Association, initiated a 1.15 billion yuan project for national music education across the county.
Supported by the Ministry of Finance and the National Development and Reform Commission, the project will make the county a center for instrument purchases from Chinese schools, as well as a platform for music education.
“We are trying to make music a tourism brand here, so I hope tourists can meet saxophone players whenever they visit any of Wuqiang’s 238 villages in the future,” he says. “That’s why we intend to teach as many villagers as we can.”