A musical interlude

One of my students invited me to the university’s “New Year Concert.” My student said he would be playing the cello, so I became curious about what kind of music would be played. After finishing our wine at the Christmas party (see prior post), Andy and I made our way to the auditorium in the building where I work. We were seated in the VIP teachers’ section. Moments later my phone buzzed—several of my students had seen me arrive and they messaged me excitedly on WeChat to say they had seen me. I felt like a celebrity.

We settled into our seats and saw some stage hands setting up music stands and chairs. Shortly thereafter the first performance began.

Zithers and thither.

I should mention that my university does not have a music program. It is a research-led international university with programs focusing on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (the so very famous STEM).

We first heard Concert for Two Cellos in G Minor by Vivaldi. Then we heard Im Krapfenwald’l Polka Française by Strauss. Okay, for students who aren’t music majors, they were pretty good. Definitely not just high school musicians.

Then we heard Journey to Suzhou by Xian-wei Jiang in which we were greeted by various traditional Chinese instruments: ruan (large round guitar), pipa (oblong four-stringed lute), er-hu (two-stringed fiddle), sheng (a woodwind instrument made from bamboo and gourds), dizi (ancient Chinese wooden flute), and xiao (another kind of wooden flute). See video 1 for a sample of what we heard. You’ll see why I was blown away.

Link to video 1: https://www.facebook.com/karissakilgore13/videos/1146821028749644/?l=7664430334455701105

*Edit: I was going to include more videos (and embedded videos), but I can’t because… 1. the internet here is garbage, and 2. my blog doesn’t support uploaded videos so I have to upload them to Facebook and then embed them in my blog and that’s a pain in the neck, but I really want you to hear some of this music so I’m doing it for the videos I really want to share! Sigh.*

The stage hands came out to rearrange the stage for some other instruments I’d never seen. Turns out they were a type of zither called a guqin. It has seven strings and can be played in various ways to make different styles of music unique to Asia. (These instruments also exist in Vietnam, South Korea, and Japan.) Listen to Dance of the Yi Tribe (no known composer; video 2) played by four guqins, a ruan, and a triangle bell. The next two videos show these ladies strumming away on their instruments. It was a real treat to see something like this in person.

Link to video 2: https://www.facebook.com/karissakilgore13/videos/1150493708382376/?l=8077910098972610349

Next, we heard the first ensemble again (more or less; it’s difficult to identify the instruments!), and they played a song called Nightingale (I can’t seem to find much about this song, so perhaps it’s translated?). Listen to a portion of the melody in the next video (video 3). This was my favorite of the night and it was stuck in my head!

Link to video 3: https://www.facebook.com/karissakilgore13/videos/1150536405044773/?l=7650120303384165311

After another stage change, we found a more traditional orchestral arrangement. They began with Farandole (by Bizet) and then moved to The William Tell Overture (by Rossini; I can’t listen to this without seeing a Bugs Bunny cartoon in my head!), and Brandenburg Concertos by Bach. Wow. (No videos because you can Google these, but the students were really amazing!)

String instruments always make my heart bounce. No exception in China.

Then: another stage arrangement. (Such busy stage hands!) The traditional Chinese instruments were back and we heard a song called Beaming with Joy.

These students had limited time to practice and aren’t studying to be musicians, but their talent really astounded me. It was such a delight to hear a combination of eastern and western music. Needless to say, I was happy my student (the cello player) invited me to the concert.


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