Encounters Across Time and Space – The Folk Artist Digital Museum
Text: Lyu Wan-jhih
Photos: Yang Chin-jen & Chen Guo-han
This is the story of a series of encounters: In Taipei, elementary school kids play melodies by master composer Lee Tai-hsiang on recorders; In Douliu, Yunlin County, junior high schoolers sing folk songs from the 1970s; In Hualien, children replicate masterpieces by the great sculptor Yuyu Yang with their scissors.
Across distances of time and space, great artists are encountering children. Enabling all these encounters is the Folk Artist Digital Museum, and the sparks of interaction take us away to far-off lands of wonder.
▉ 1 - Springtime Encounter
The journey was said to begin like this: In 1970, Lee Tai-hsiang, master musician, composed his first-ever song and lyrics for the famous writer Echo Chen (Chen Ping, commonly known as Sanmao). The result, The Story of Spring, depicts a hillside aglow with sunset, accompanied by a lively rhythm:
At sunset I rambled by the brook,
Where I did meet a pretty maid,
How pure and innocent she was.
Thump thump thump thump thump,
My heart was beating fast.
I just had to ask her the story of spring,
She shook her head smiled,
And gave me a bell flower in reply.
▉ 2 - Encounter at National Chiao Tung University
The basis of the friendship between great sculptor Yuyu Yang and National Chiao Tung University (NCTU) began in 1996 as the institute celebrated its 100th anniversary. Yang presented his sculpture Yuan Hui Run Sheng (lit: Karma, Wisdom, Flow of Life) to the university as an anniversary gift—a sculpture which now stands poised in front of the NCTU Library. The masterpiece embodies the laws of nature that drive the everlasting cycle of life and nourish all living beings. In this way, Yuyu Yang sought to characterize NCTU’s long term effort to cultivate Taiwan’s technical talent.
NCTU had long been known for its science and engineering programs. Nevertheless, then-principal Chang Chun-yen hoped to inspire and instill in students greater sensitivity to the arts and humanities. Thus, he initiated a program of long-term cooperation between the NCTU Library and Yuyu Yang Art Education Foundation. In 1999, NCTU founded the “Mr. YuYu Yang Art Research Center”, followed by the “Yuyu Yang Digital Art Museum”, dedicated to the digitalization of Yang’s works.
Meanwhile, the NCTU Library’s “Taiwan Folk Artist Digital Museum Project” was also selected for incorporation into the National Science Council’s “Digital Museum Project”. The Library undertook two phases of digitization through the project. The first focused on Yang’s works, and the subsequent phase added a diversity of content such as the “Li Tai-hsiang Digital Archive,” “Cloud Gate Dance Theater Digital Collection," “Hand Puppet Theater Archive,” “Liu Hsing-chin Digital Comic Museum,” etc. Apart from archiving, promoting folk art in Taiwan is a top priority of the endeavor. 
“To be honest, the content we are archiving is not really ours,” said Ko Hao-jen, director of the NCTU Folk Artist Digital Museum Project. “Therefore the project focuses more on usability and promotion than on curating. What’s more, it is an inherent responsibility of any library to preserve and pass on cultural heritage.” 
▉ 3 - Encounter at Zhishan Elementary School
Music was one of the sparks that started it all.
The establishment of the “Lee Tai-hsiang Digital Archive” began in 2006. Lee’s scores, audio and video recordings, and background information about his creations were all included in the digital archive. As the team from the Folk Artist Digital Museum were in the planning stages, they learned via the Internet that a school concert featuring Lee’s work was being prepared by students at Zhishan Elementary School, in Taipei. Meanwhile teachers and parents from the school came across the museum website and found a wealth of information they could not find elsewhere.
The school and the museum soon connected with each other and jointly constructed a website called the “Lee Tai-hsiang Children’s Music Education Homepage: Poet in the Schoolyard.” The site provides karaoke MP3s, demo performance videos, and teaching notes in the hope that music teachers will use the material as teaching supplements.
Nowadays, the concert has become a major annual event at Zhishan Elementary School. All fourth-graders have the chance to play in the concert. Both Lee Tai-hsiang and writer Rongzi (Wang Rong-zhi) are invited to the concert every year because they, with the assistance of the Folk Art Digital Museum, have offered their own works for adaptation into kids’ music and drama by school teachers.
Teachers, parents, and kids work very hard in making exquisite props prior to the concert. Moreover, students have to go through a two-month-long rehearsal process, practicing four to five times a week, in order to give their best performances for “Grandpa Lee” and “Grandma Wang”.
On May 21st, 2009, at the end of the Zhishan Elementary School concert, nearly all the students in attendance came together to sing Youth Dream, written by Lee with lyrics by Rongzi:
So pure and lustrous is the cool morning dew
April is a lake under cover of hopes and cool shade
I’m a little boat, resting
Silently nestled by the shore
The breeze sings gently of happiness and joy
This place has beams of hope and beauty
And lets me quietly slumber
Savoring this last serenity
Green dreams embrace the tranquil lake
The sweet emotion slowly changes
My flowing thoughts are just so
Slowly forming into a poem
The angelic voices resounded in the hall and lingered long in listeners’ ears.
In order to present their best to Grandpa Lee and Grandma Wang, the children put considerable effort into the show, costumes and props. (Photo courtesy of the Folk Artist Digital Museum)
▉ 4 - Encounter on the Internet
The first step is always the hardest. Apart from teachers at Zhishan Elementary School who were already undertaking promotion of Lee’s music on their own, during the first year the Folk Artist Digital Museum team found promotion somewhat strenuous. NCTU Library assistant researcher Tsai Shan-shan was one of the major actors in the digitalization project. A former music teacher, she began by calling up old contacts from her teaching days to entice them into getting involved. Gradually, more and more resources appeared on the Museum’s website. By the second year, the number of teachers coming forward on their own to use the resources was beginning to increase.
In general, unless they actively reveal themselves, a webmaster has no means by which to identify visitors, let alone contact them directly. To Tsai, this presented a large obstacle for promotion. Since she knew that sheet music is vital for teachers, she decided to keep scores out of reach; the website exhibited everything but, instead stating, “for scores, please contact Tsai Shan-shan.”
The tactic worked effectively. She received one call after another, all from music teachers asking for scores. That is, until one day in February, 2009, when Tsai got a call from Douliu in Yunlin County—this time from a Chinese teacher.
▉ 5 - Encounter at Shiliu Junior High School
On the other end of the line was Shiliu Junior High School Chinese teacher Wang Hong-ying, in Douliu. During vacation enrichment classes, Wang was providing students with supplementary poetry, selecting everything from Chinese classics such as The Book of Songs, and Songs of Chu, to modern verse. Since a lot of poetry is recreated into songs, she would often search for songs on the Internet for teaching purposes.   
That day Wang had discovered the “Lee Tai-hsiang Children’s Music Education Homepage” as she was searching for the work of contemporary Taiwanese poet Zheng Chou-yu, many of whose poems had been turned into music by Lee. In order to get the sheet music, she contacted Tsai Shan-shan.
In the end, Wang Hong-ying decided to introduce three songs composed by Lee to the students; they were Lee’s The Story of Spring, Zheng’s The Shepherdess, and Yu Kuang-chung’s Wooden Clogs. Wang, along with two other Chinese teachers she had previously worked with, She Hui-lan and Hsu Mei-chia, decided to teach the songs to their students. The performance was scheduled at the end of the semester.
But when the full scores of the three songs arrived, their jaws dropped.
The Folk Artist Digital Museum offers a very personal, almost custom service when promoting its digitalized collection. Tsai would call teachers at elementary and junior high schools once a week to ask how things were proceeding, if more help was needed, or to help adapt the scores and provide CDs and DVDs. All this to help “prevent the teachers from ‘escaping’ the program”.
“I didn’t expect [the scores] to be so difficult! I couldn’t even understand the full scores,” exclaimed Wang. Initially unable to find even the main melody, she enlisted the help of her daughter who played the piano, as well as the school music teacher and the conductor of the school band. Eventually, after a endless series of tortuous revisions, they came up with a version that was suitable for junior-high students to sing. 
If not for the promise the three teachers had made to perform the songs, record the performance, and provide feedback to the museum, they would have almost certainly abandoned the project long before.
Finally, the scores were ready—but the challenges were just beginning.
▉ 6 - Encounter between Teachers and Students
She Hui-lan, who taught 9th graders to sing The Shepherdess, found the task most affecting. The Shepherdess was the most demanding song of the three, not only because of its sophisticated imagery, but also because the melody was harder to grasp. In the beginning the teacher felt as frustrated as the students, since the pitch was too high for boys whose voices were changing, whereas the voices of the teenage girls were too soft to handle the register.
“Then I realized that it was fine as long as the students were happy singing, because they were getting into the lyrics. They were really putting feel into it when they read the lyrics aloud, and eventually they started talking about those feelings,” Ms. She said. “So I thought that was pretty good; if it was on key or not wasn’t important. They were appreciating the lyrics, and really getting something out of them.”
Through performing, the students got a deeper understanding of the poetry. After singing about the vastness of the Mongolian grasslands, 9th grader Lin Chia-hung was asked whether he’d like to be in a course like that again, to which he gave a very stirring answer. “Many students think memorizing a poem is really tough, but when it gets turned into a song, like The Shepherdess, I’ll remember it forever!”
The students did more than just follow the teachers’ interpretations of the poems. Their own imagination ran wild, too. The audience burst into raucous laughter at the end of The Story of Spring, when a tall, sturdy boy showed up on stage wearing a dress and wig with a bouquet of flowers in his hands.
“Because our signing wasn’t too good, we decided to make [the performance] a comedy and we came up with these gimmicks to cover up the singing,” said 7th grader Lin Wei-cheng, who came up with the prank with his classmates. The students did indeed think up a slew of ideas and kept improving them throughout rehearsals, right up to the last minute. Even on the morning of the performance they couldn’t help themselves, saying to the teacher, “we still want to change something!”
According to Wang, what the three teachers valued from an educational standpoint, was the “adaptation” aspect, to which the students contributed during preparation for the show. “So if the kids wanted to change something, we let them change it. We allowed any creative idea as long as it made sense,” Wang said.
“The teachers’ may have a certain set of ideas, but the students’ imaginations are endless,” said Hsu Mei-chia of the 7th graders whom she helped to create the clogs for Wooden Clogs. “They thought of using cardboard boxes to make them, and found broken broom sticks to use as supports. They worked right up until the day before the show.”
Despite the difficulties, it was a stellar performance.
Singing The Shepherdess was not easy, yet the 9th graders at Shiliu Junior High School discovered an imaginary world all their own during rehearsals. (Photo: Chen Guo-han)
▉ 7 - Encounter at Lehe Elementary School
The scene now moves across the mountains to Hualien. At Lehe Elementary School in Yuli Township, a group of students ranging from 3rd to 6th grade are cutting cardboard with enthusiasm. They then glue the pieces of cardboard together and their purpose becomes clear. They are making paper sculptures that mimick Yuyu Yang’s Housecat.
Though they all used the same template, the pieces cut by the children were not all the exact same size. Many of them said they would like to draw more in the space beside the cat. 6th grader Hung Hsuan-chun said he wanted to paint a grassland with clouds in the sky, to give the cat a wide open space to run freely. Some kids remembered that they were replicating the work of the great sculptor Yuyu Yang. Some others even intended to look up Yang on the Internet. That was exactly what the NCTU Library hoped to achieve. 
In order to promote Yang’s work in elementary and junior high schools, the NCTU team simplified the arts and crafts kits many times and also created video tutorials. Tsai Shan-shan rushed from school to school, personally going to the front lines to teach the students arts and crafts.
“The purpose of making these crafts was that we hoped the kids would remember Yang’s pieces,” said Tsai, explaining the goal of the NCTU team’s Yang Collection. “Getting the children to remember Yang’s name, understand his simple style, know the names of his works and the materials he used—that would be enough.” 
The children replicated Yang’s Housecat, originally made of stainless steel. Some wanted to add all kinds of drawings in the space around the cat. (Photo: Yang Chin-jen)
▉ 8 - Encounter between Parents and Children
The scene returns to Taipei. Zhishan Elementary School asked parents to fill in a feedback form, brought home by the students, to evaluate how their children were learning at school.
“My child had not talked to me for quite a long time,” one mother replied on the form. “But thanks to the concert, we’ve found a common language in music.”
The mother and her son had not had much interaction for a long time because the son used to shut himself in his room and play video games as soon as he came home. However, they started to talk again when he practiced Lee Tai-hsiang’s songs. Students were told by their teachers, “these songs are from your parents’ era!” So they began to discuss the meaning and imagery in the lyrics with their parents at home. Thus, thanks to the oldies, parents from the ’60s were able to strike up conversations again with their children born in the ’90s.
▉ 9 - Encounter Across Time
On June 12th, 2009, the performance of Lee Tai-hsiang’s The Story of Spring took place in the auditorium of Shiliu Junior High School in Douliu, Yunlin County. Before it began, the 7th grade students came to the microphone one by one and told the audience what spring meant to them.
 “Some say spring is like a newborn baby, full of hope.”
  “Some say spring is like a piece of music that pulls at the heartstrings.” 
  “Spring makes me want to fly.” 
 “Spring makes me want to make my dreams come true.”
  “Spring makes me think of my grandma.”
  “Spring makes me think of a pair of eyes that move my heart.”
  “Spring is…”
Through the archiving and promotional efforts of the Folk Artist Digital Museum and  coordinated support from school teachers and parents, Lee’s feelings for spring have been passed on to the children.
“All those things about what spring is, that we shared before the show—we came up with them ourselves!” 7th grader Chang Hong-ming recalled proudly as he talked about the performance he and his classmates had been part of.
Unable to attend the performance, Lee did not personally see the endless inspiration his songs brought to the students. But he did attend the concert held at Zhishan Elementary School on May 21st. Although in recent years he has struggled with Parkinson’s Disease, he would let nothing keep him from attending, saying during a brief appearance on stage, “…this is something of great importance.”
Indeed, the work of archiving and passing on is very important. Once the children see the poems and songs, their imaginations grow wings and fly off to a world of endless stories of spring. 
Team Introduction: The Folk Artist Digital Museum
The office of the Folk Artist Digital Museum is located in the basement of the NCTU Library. Open the office door, and one would see a line of students at computers doing part time data entry work. The office is also the headquarters where NCTU digitizes and archives the works of Taiwanese folk artists. Ko Hao-jen (柯皓仁) and Huang Ming-ju (黃明居) are the project directors, supported by five assistant researchers: Tsai Shan-shan (蔡珊珊), Lin Meng-ling (林孟玲), Lai Wen-hsin (賴汶欣), Yeh Ling-chun (葉玲君), and Chang Wen-hsiung (張文雄). 
For more than ten years, the NCTU Library has been digitizing and archiving the works of Taiwanese folk artists, beginning under the Digital Museum Project sponsored by the National Science Council, and then in to two stages of a national-level digital archives program. In recent years, the Library has expanded from simple archiving to active promotion and established the “Folk Artist Digital Museum”. In addition to showcasing its diverse digital archive of art, the Museum’s website also makes great efforts to help promote art in elementary and high schools. 
The Museum is now working on two educational projects: “Lee Tai-hsiang Children’s Music Education Homepage: Poet in the Schoolyard” and “Yuyu Yang Children’s Art Guide to Paper Woodcut.” In addition to providing arts and crafts kits, sheet music, instructional videos, etc., the team members also help teachers to alter the teaching materials as needed, and visit each school to partake in the paper woodcut-making activities.
Talent Profile: Tsai Shan-shan, Super Salesperson 
It is the collaboration of many individuals that enables the Folk Artist Digital Museum to thrive and sow the seeds of liberal arts in numerous elementary and high schools in Taiwan. Tsai Shan-shan, assistant researcher at the NCTU Library, is one of the key movers in the project.
Tsai is always bustling around handling the many tasks that come up. Previously a music teacher and employee at the Yuyu Yang Art Education Foundation, in the course of promoting Lee’s and Yang’s works, Tsai’s experience lets her quickly understand the needs of teachers and even provide them with “tailored” services.
Tsai is often on the front line, teaching kids to do paper woodcut. She also helps music instructors to arrange simplified versions of scores if the originals are too difficult for elementary and high school students. Thus, despite the fact that these materials are not required elements in elementary and high school courses, many teachers are willing to spend extra time to offer students a more diverse education.
Tsai rushes to one school after another, hauling her spinner suitcase. Though it is stationary, Tsai and her suitcase take the museum far and wide. The result is elementary students adding their own paper cutouts to the paper woodcuts, high school students singing newly created prologues before the show... All this, in turn, further enriches the contents stored at the Folk Artist Digital Museum.
And that is how a little museum spreads its wings… and flies. (By Lyu Wan-jhih and Hsieh Sheng-you.)
Talent Profiles: Yuyu Yang, Master Landscape Sculptor 
A total of 14 works of the internationally renowned sculptor Yuyu Yang (1926-1997) can be found in and around the NCTU Library. Yang became closely connected with NCTU in 1996 as the institute celebrated its 100th anniversary, during which he presented his giant stainless-steel sculpture Yuan Hui Run Sheng.
NCTU continued to work with the Yuyu Yang Art Education Foundation after Yang passed away, co-founded the Yuyu Yang Art Research Center, and systematically archived and researched Yang’s unreleased original drawings and other materials. The materials were later digitalized and incorporated into the National Science Council’s “Digital Museum Project”.
Beginning with Yang, NCTU has accumulated a large digital art collection. Not only is this content being promoted in elementary and high schools, it is also being brought into classrooms at the university, with the aim to enrich students’ understanding of the arts and humanities.
Yuyu Yang’s Phoenix. (Photo: Yang Chin-jen)
Talent Profiles: Lee Tai-hsiang, Taiwanese Master Musician
Lee Tai-hsiang (1941-) is one of the leading musicians of post-war Taiwan. His works range from artistic to folk songs. Popular pieces include Olive Tree, Mistake, and Sunshine Road. The NCTU Library has been archiving Lee’s manuscripts, scores, visual and audio recordings, and related background information since 2006 and has been promoting his works at elementary and high schools since 2007. 
To artists, their creations are their life. They are concerned about infringement when it comes to putting their intellectual property online. Lee also felt unease about his scores being shared on the website. He worried that others might use them for commercial purposes. Nor did Lee wish people reworking his material at will.
On this account, NCTU spent a lot of time communicating with Lee, explaining the importance of archiving, researching, and promoting his work. Moreover, the website was designed such that it was impossible to download actual scores. Finally, Lee was willing to provide all his scores for archiving by NCTU.
The supportive attitude of Lee’s family was also key. Lee’s son, Lee I-ching (李弈青) and daughter-in-law, Lin Chien-chun (林芊君), are both also musicians. They believed that only through promotion would a new generation of youngsters learn of the elder Lee’s music. They helped convince Lee and finally got him to agree to allow NCTU to re-arrange and simplify the scores for educational purposes, accommodating elementary and high school students.
Lee is invited by Taipei Zhishan Elementary School to the concert every year. Today, his music lives on in the voices of a new generation.
Promotion Notebook: An Evolving Library─From Virtual to Real, and Back Again.
The virtual world may have been where it all started.
NCTU has been digitizing and archiving the works of Taiwanese folk artists for over ten years, accumulating a sizable online database that is open to the general public. Users can access the content whenever and wherever they are online. However, NCTU quickly found out that they had no way to identify users, or for that matter, to know whether the database was even being used or not.
Thus, the project team decided that, seeing as how they were making a go of it, they might as well go all the way. 
“It’s not just about making a website,” explained Ko Hao-jen, director of the project. “When we say, ‘go all the way’, we mean we need to connect and communicate clearly with our target audience. Say, if the content is for elementary students, then we have to go to elementary schools and promote it.” Therefore, when the team archives a particular work, they already have a general idea who the intended users are. They then visit elementary and high schools and proactively promote the material. 
NCTU’s education and promotion efforts, be it of Lee’s music or Yang’s sculpting, have already yielded preliminary results. Teaching materials, records, and feedback related to the project are being uploaded to the Museum’s website one by one. Gradually, more and more teachers are finding the website and taking initiative to contact NCTU.
This is a process in which virtual and real-world development stimulate each other. On the latest version of the website, a plethora of teaching records have been posted and users are now free to leave comments. In the future, Director Ko hopes to build an online network among users so that “the users will also become the content providers.”
The NCTU team has limited human resources, but the users’ potential has no limits. Via the power of the internet, the Folk Artist Digital Museum looks forward to seeing the different possibilities that emerge from each collection. 
* Selected from Archiving Our Lives (Ri Zang Sheng Huo). Publisher: Project for Academic Application and Cultural Dissemination, Sub-project II of the Academic and Social Promotion and Application Digital Archives and e-Learning Project