CIVU’s 3rd Annual Great Lakes Music Festival

The Confucius Institute at Valparaiso University’s third annual Great Lakes Music Festival, scheduled between October 13 and 23, came to a successful completion. The major players of the festival, the 16-member Chinese Ensemble from the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, a counterpart to The Julliard School, offered some 10 concerts in Valparaiso University and neighbouring schools, theatre, and chapel. Apart from performing in Concord  High School (Oct. 13), Thea Bowman Leadership Academy (Oct. 14), Wheeler High School (Oct. 18), Bishop Noll Institute and Culver Academies (both on Oct. 19) in Indiana, they joined forces with the 58-member VU Symphony Orchestra and went to play in Milwaukee Pabst Theatre, Wisconsin (Oct. 20), in one High School in Wisconsin (Oct. 21), and in the Rockford Memorial Chapel in Chicago, Illinois (Oct. 22). The performance in Chicago, an event of collaboration between the CIVU and the Confucius Institute at the University of Chicago, was highlighted by Yu Yuanqing, a celebrated violinist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, who was originally from Shanghai.

2010 Music Festival Concord

In addition to these performances, they put on two major concerts in VU, one on October 17 and the other on October 23. October 17 saw the Duesenburg Recital Hall, VU’s Center for the Arts, fully packed with audience, who were amazed by pieces like Dancing Music of the Yi Ethnic People, a Zheng solo by Liu Le, Trip to Suzhou, a Bamboo Flute and Sheng concerto by Mao Yulong and Zhang Meng, Chinese Flower Drum Music, a Yangqin solo by Tao Yi, and Besieged on All Sides, a Pipa solo by Zhang Tie. The performance of Jasmine Flower, Dragon Dance Music, and Ode to Joy, by the Chinese Ensemble, the VU Symphony Orchestra, and Thea Bowman Leadership Academy’s Chinese music band, all dressed up in traditional Chinese attire, demonstrated to the audience how music can “help enhance cultural exchanges between China and the US”[1], an idea strongly believed in by Prof. Meng Jianyun, Director of the CIVU, who was the mastermind and executor of not only the annual Great Lakes Confucius Institute Music Festival but also other music exchange programs, in which he brings US musicians to perform in China, and vice versa.

2010 Music Festival Thea Bowman

The October 23 gala concert was staged in Harre Union Ballroom, where more than 200 students from Rockford High School, Concord High School and Portage High School performed with the Chinese Ensemble, and the VU Symphony Orchestra. Some of the high school students were playing the Erhu instead of their own musical instrument. This combined performance was preceded by Chinese musical instrument tryouts and tutorials in the afternoon, when the visiting Chinese musicians demonstrated and tutored them on the techniques of  playing Chinese musical instruments, such as the Erhu, Yangqin, Sheng, Pipa, Bamboo Flute, Suona Horn, and the Liuqin.

The philosophy behind such interactions alongside collaboration is Prof. Meng’s belief that music “is one of the most valuable tools in growing mutual understanding and respect between peoples from the two countries”[2]. His point of view was echoed by Dr. Dennis Friesen-Carper, music professor of VU, who was quoted as saying: “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.”[3] Michaeline Spencer, a Portage HS junior violinist, “who tried out the Erhu—a two stringed lap fiddle, was thrilled to meet and learn from the accomplished Chinese musicians: ‘They play with passion and investment. From the heart, like my mom always reminds me!’”[4]

Post Tribune of Northwest Indiana, which carried an article on Thea Bowman Leadership Academy students’ performance, began its report by saying[5]: “It was a tale of two cultures for several Thea Bowman Leadership Academy students who have studied Chinese language and music the past year.”

Since the gala concert on October 23 coincided with the first US Mid-West CI Directors’ Forum, another signature event of the CIVU this year, the delegates to this forum were invited to appreciate the performance, which served as a living example of how the CIVU conducted its cultural exchange programs. Kung Hsiang-te, 75th descendant of Confucius, gave out the Zhiyin Award to Dr. Dennis Friesen-Carper and Dr. Jeffery Doebler for their contributions to the music exchange programs of the CIVU.

Links relevant to this article:

China Daily USA: “Music as the 'open sesame' for Confucius Institutes”


Post-Tribune: “Building Cultural Bridges”


Xinhua News Agency:“美国大学掀起中国乐器学习热”


Kirsten Renehan: “VU Resonates with Exotic Chinese Instruments”

Kirsten Renehan: “Harmony Brings Two Cultures Through Music”

(Text by Liu Jiangang and He Jun, photos by Zhang Rong, Yu Hangxin and Zhang Ke, CIVU)