By Elizabeth Murphy
A dozen students from Carleton’s Music program went on the trip of a lifetime this summer: a two-week tour of China that stretched from Beijing to several cities in Hunan province.
The students attended the 3rd Confucius Institute International Music Summer Camp and were hosted by a partnership between the Confucius Institute, the Beijing Central Conservatory of Music and Huaihua University.
“For the 12 Carleton students I accompanied on this unforgettable tour, it was truly a tremendous educational and cultural experience,” said Prof. James Wright, a Carleton faculty member who helped organize the tour. “Everywhere we visited we were greeted with extraordinary kindness and hospitality. We discovered the magic that can happen when diverse nations are brought together through the richness and beauty of music and culture.”
NAC Show Sparks Invitation
The invitation to participate in the tour came following a successful event in the autumn of 2015, when musicians from the Beijing Central Conservatory of Music performed with Carleton Music students at the National Arts Centre (NAC) in Ottawa. Most of the students who travelled to China this summer performed at the NAC concert with the visiting musicians.
For the Carleton students, touring China was another great opportunity for a cross-cultural immersive experience. They were joined in China by student delegations from universities in Kenya, South Korea, Australia and Denmark.
The tour began with a concert on June 25 at the world-renowned Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. Deanna Ponnuthurai, a third-year Carleton student, sang Rachmaninoff’s “Vocalise,” with Wright accompanying her on piano. Wright also delivered a lecture to the conservatory that same day.
On June 27 at Huaihua University in Hunan province, third-year student Kelsey Hayes sang “Valentine’s Day without a valentine,” a bittersweet Mandarin song composed by Lv Zhenhuang and Huang Yixiong. She was accompanied by master’s student Matthew Devost on piano.
While in China, the Carleton students’ schedule included instruction on traditional Chinese music and instruments, including the lusheng (a bamboo flute), the pipa (a stringed instrument), the yangqin (a stringed dulcimer played with mallets) and the èrhú (a stringed instrument played with a bow). The students demonstrated their new skills in a closing concert upon their return to Beijing.
“They had never played these instruments before,” said Wright, “but because they are sophisticated Music students they learned very quickly.”
The students had limited time to prepare for their public performances — a challenging task, especially because the play-by-ear teaching style favoured by their Chinese instructors differs from how they normally learn.
“At first, it was quite hard for us since we were so used to sheet music,” said Philippe Tippins, a third-year student. “It was an interesting way of learning and in the end it was a great performance.”
Students Experience Chinese Musical Culture
For Ponnuthurai, this trip allowed her to experience Chinese culture through music. “I had only really experienced western and Sri Lankan musical culture before,” she said. “Traditional Chinese music was totally new and it was very interesting to see such a drastic change in musical styles.”
For third-year student Michael Ricciardi, interacting with peers from other international universities was the most enriching highlight of the tour. “Hands down, meeting everyone on the trip was the best part,” he said. “We are still in contact and a few of us are planning to go visit our friends in Kenya in the future.”
“As a composer, the experience will have a huge impact on my work,” continued Ricciardi. “I can start to implement these musical styles into my music. It opened my horizons to different instruments, reading music differently and singing differently.”
At the closing concert on July 6, the Carleton students played in a traditional Chinese ensemble with their selected instruments. In addition, many students participated in a “five continents choir” with their international peers and performed a choral piece they had learned in Hunan province, “Song of the Cicadas,” conducted by Wright. First-year Carleton student Anita Pari played her original piano piece “Urban Movement,” while Ricciardi and Tippins performed as a percussion duo.
The students will share the music they learned on the tour with the Carleton community at a concert in the Fenn Lounge, Residence Commons, on Sept. 28, at 7:00 p.m.