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VU Resonates with Exotic Chinese Instruments

CIVU-an-erhu-ensemble-learns-togetherValparaiso University Center for the Arts was recently “abuzz” when VU hosted Confucius Institute’s 3rd annual Great Lakes Music Festival partnered with VU’s Music Department. Over 250 high school students experienced the unusual and exotic musical sounds presented by the Chinese Ensemble, guest artists from the famed Shanghai Conservatory. This was the final day of educational exchange after the group performed concerts throughout the region and interstate area with the VU Symphony Orchestra.

This annual event is the inspiration of CIVU to foster the goal of promoting awareness with cultural exchanges especially through the universal language of music. Professor Jinyuan Meng, Director of the Confucius Institute, cited that the Confucian belief that harmony is the most valuable of all things. He adds nothing is more effective in bringing harmony than music.

Other musical partnerships CIVU has sponsored with the community are with Windiana—a brass orchestral group directed by Dr. Jeff Doebler, VU Band Director and South Shore Orchestra, Valparaiso’s community orchestra directed by Troy Webdell. Both groups have been hosted by Confucius Institute to do tours throughout different regions of China.

CIVU-concert-audienceAn educational partnership with regional high school principals resulted in a trip last summer with a new one being planned for this June. Valparaiso business and community leadership representatives have also been to China with CIVU to make connections for potential community partnerships. Meng shared that “our two cultures have so much to learn from each other”.

Fifteen other CI Directors of the Midwest region met during the music festival to respond to an idea generated by the Consulate General of China in Chicago—how might all of the CI programs, almost 80 nationally, work to strengthen individual program characteristics reflecting their host schools strengths, so that CI programs compliment the same. The first organization was created in South Korea in 2004 and the first in this country was established at the University of Maryland in 2006.

Introductory concerts by the Chinese Ensemble at Concord High School (Elkhart), Bishop Noll, Culver Academies and Thea Bowman Academy preceded the week before the daylong event. Those schools joined Portage High School’s entire 90-member orchestra and a youth orchestra from Rockford, IL to engage and experience the unusual sound and unique characteristics of traditional Chinese music. Students rotated throughout mini workshops and after hearing both historic and contemporary compositions, they had opportunity to try them. Questions like—“how much do they cost, what are they made of, and are our musical scales different?” were answered, often with the assistance of VU Chinese students interpreting for the guests. Portage HS junior violinist Michaeline Spencer, who tried out the erhu—a two stringed lap fiddle, was thrilled to meet and learn from the accomplished musicians: “they play with passion and investment. From the heart, like my mom always reminds me”’!

The day ended with an evening concert performed by the combined orchestras—the VU Symphony Orchestra, the Chinese Ensemble and all the high school participants. They played to an overflowing audience in VU’s Harre Union Ballroom. Community residents, student’s families and supporters of CIVU celebrated the day of memorable musical exchange.

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