Building a music bridge between China, US

Updated: 2017-11-11 09:37:28

CHICAGO-A euphonic flow of traditional Chinese music Jasmine flower leaked out of a classroom of the Valparaiso University in the northwestern part of the US state of Indiana. A Chinese yangqin teacher was instructing a US student on the traditional Chinese musical instrument, a hammered dulcimer.

"I can't believe this is your first time playing yangqin. You've done a great job!" said Liu Yuening, a Chinese yangqin musician, to the student.

To instruct American students on Chinese musical instruments is just part of Liu's effort to promote traditional Chinese music overseas. Liu, a professor with Beijing-based Central Conservatory of Music, has dedicated herself to the work for years, and her recent focus is to promote exchanges between China and the US in musical sector.

To this purpose, she launched the Silk Cedar, a band consisting of five Chinese and American musicians, in February this year.

The band made its debut in China in May, and has so far performed at more than 15 events in China and the US.

The band plays traditional Chinese as well as American music and songs. Chinese music and songs include such worldwide familiar tunes as Liuyang River, A Fishing Boat Song at Sunset, and the Jasmine Flower, to name a few. While American music and songs include I got rhythm, and Cedar Run.

"We had great responses from Chinese audience," said Paul Friesen-Carper, multi-instrumentalist and singer of the Silk Cedar. "When we were there at the grand theater in Qingdao, Shandong province, people want more, and we did encores. People really appreciate the kind of music we were making and the ways we were able to bring: elements of American traditional jazz music melted with Chinese melodies."

Friesen-Carper got his first taste of Chinese music when he toured China with a youth orchestra in 2000, when he worked side by side with Chinese musicians and learned a little bit about Chinese music.

"And then, I've been interested in China. I went back in 2015, while my dad was a visiting professor there. And when the opportunity came to play with Silk Cedar early this year, I was excited to do it," he said.

"I think for many Americans, their experience in Chinese music is the background music at a Chinese restaurant. So being able to bring this kind of music to a concert atmosphere where people can really give it time to listen, I think those kind of musical conversations in a way that people interact musically really helps cultural understanding and hopefully also political understanding," Paul Friesen-Carper said.

Friesen-Carper's father, Dennis Friesen-Carper, is a Jazz pianist, composer and orchestra conductor of the Silk Cedar.

"Our goal is to give Chinese (audience) a taste of how traditional Chinese music can work with Western music, and then in the United States, it's the goal to introduce Chinese music," said David Mahler, another Silk Cedar member and the US National Champion of hammered dulcimer.

Mahler said he's been always interested in different culture music.

"I just love hearing each culture's expression of music," Mahler said. "I love learning about whatever culture it is, and I didn't know any Chinese music before so I was excited to become part of this band."

Liu still remembered the moment when Paul Friesen-Carper sang out Chinese folk song In a Land Far, Far Away in Chinese at the University of Michigan to mark the 45-year anniversary of Ping-Pong diplomacy between China and the US, all audience, both American and Chinese, were moved and responded with applauses.

"There is no boundary in music and music always resonates. Music is a vehicle for cultural exchange," Liu said.

"Respect and sharing, harmony in diversity, that's what musicians want to achieve," Liu told Xinhua.

Joel Muyskens, a senior from Grand Rapids Christian High School, tried his hands on erhu, a traditional Chinese two-string musical instrument, in another classroom.

"It was really difficult at first but after a while you can get the hang of it," Muyskens said. "It is a lot different from the bass which I play. I really like the melodies that Chinese music has, and I can really recognize them."


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