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The sound of global connections

By Minlu Zhang | China Daily | Updated: 2024-05-27 07:35
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Kendall Griffith, a student at Bard College Conservatory of Music majoring in the pipa and Asian studies, at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, in 2023.CHINA DAILY

Griffith's father helped her discover the instrument and she found her first pipa teacher, who was part of the Boston Chinese Ensemble. Sometimes, after performances, people would tell her, "I've never seen a non-Chinese person play this before. That's very cool."

Last semester, Griffith studied at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. Learning the pipa in the city, where "Chinese music is happening", Griffith felt pushed beyond her comfort zone and learned more about her passion.

"There was an interesting lecture that talked about how most Chinese music emulates things in calligraphy. There's a lot of empty space, and I can now incorporate that feeling into a lot of the music I play," she says.

"Chinese music also emulates nature in a way. The sound it makes can resemble a horse; you can visualize it. There are many techniques not seen in Western instruments, such as bending the strings or using your five fingers to create a tremolo. I enjoy telling my friends about it," she says. Griffith's friends, who were amazed by her impressions, started attending more Chinese music concerts, wanting to learn more.

Diving into another culture through music makes Griffith value the art more. She said, "When you learn about a different type of music, it makes you appreciate the culture more. It makes you realize how important it is to be open-minded. I feel more open-minded about why things are the way they are."

Cai says he hopes to train a new generation of Chinese musicians with a global perspective.

"Our faculty comprises top experts in their fields, which naturally fosters interaction and collaboration. At Bard, students studying Chinese music and Western music work closely together, becoming friends and often forming duets, trios, or learning each other's instruments. This integration creates a vibrant musical community," he says.

"This concept of musical exchange and collaboration is why Western music has made significant inroads in China, turning many of us into Western-style musicians. So, why can't we do the same in reverse?"

Many students studying Chinese folk music at Bard have introduced the music to a wider American audience.

Andrew Chan is a Hong Kong musician who plays the suona, a traditional Chinese double-reed woodwind instrument. While learning Chinese traditional music at Bard, he encountered many American classmates and audiences curious about the instrument.

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