Foreign and Military Affairs

Music as the 'open sesame' for Confucius Institutes

By Zhang Yuwei (
Updated: 2010-10-27 18:54
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Music as the 'open sesame' for Confucius Institutes
A student practising Chinese Yangqin before the Great Lakes Confucius Institute music festival. [Photo/] 

Valparaiso, IN. - The third annual Great Lakes Confucius Institute (CI) music festival took place in Valparaiso University (VU) the Harre Union Ballroom Sunday evening. It brought together nearly 250 student musicians from VU and local high schools.

The event is also part of the effort to promote Chinese culture in the Midwest in the United States. The concert featured Shanghai Conservatory Traditional Instrumental Ensemble and western and Chinese music including Meng Feng (Mongolian Fantasy), Kangding Qing Ge (Love song from Kangding), Shi mian mai fu (Ambushed from all sides), and Beijing Xixun dao bianzhai (big news from Beijing).

"I think a lot of cultural exchanges happen automatically just by what kind of music we listen to," said Dennis Friesen-Carper, music director for the concert.

By having the American students learn and play Chinese music, he said, it is like "putting a human face on Chinese culture."

"The traditional Chinese music is less familiar to American students but it is quite valuable and it will have some chance to have interaction. Of course we noticed some cultural differences and not everything works a hundred percent smoothly, but it was an exciting lesson," said Friesen-Carper, who directed the past two festivals.

The students came together knowing the music already but they had only one day to rehearse and put the whole festival together. In the end, they received a long standing ovation from the audience.

Friesen-Carper thinks music is a common language and especially in the era of globalization.

"This kind of event is non-political and is human situation, with people interacting with each other in a positive way in a common goal. And it is incredibly important," he said.

The festival was co-sponsored by Valparaiso University's Department of Music, Chinese & Japanese Studies Program, and Confucius Institute.

Meng Jianyu, Director of Valparaiso University Confucius Institute, believes music is an effective way to help enhance cultural exchanges between China and the US.

"It is one of the most valuable tool in growing mutual understanding and respect between peoples from the two countries," said Meng.

The concert also gave mini-lessons on Chinese musical instruments to high school students from Illinois and Indiana who participated in the festival. Chinese Erhu, Pipa, and Yangqin were among the musical instruments that local students played.

Meng said they are going to include vocal music in next year's festival, which will involve American students learning to sing Chinese songs.

The main focus of CI is to promote the cultural and teach foreigners Chinese language. But Meng thinks music plays a crucial role in it and his institute has organized a number of musical exchange programs in the region. "Music is our open sesame and many schools have opened their doors for us."

Confucius Institutes are non-profit institutions dedicated to the teaching of the Chinese language and the understanding of Chinese culture. Currently there are over 500 CIs in more than 80 countries. In the US alone, there are nearly 80 in operation.