A Symphony Across Cultures

Avery Davis

Class of 2016

Majors: Music, Chinese

Hometown: Gary, Ind.

Avery Davis was still in high school when he was first introduced to the sheng — a traditional Chinese instrument made of bamboo pipes that looks a little like a xylophone turned on its side.

Holes in the pipes allow the performer to change the pitch of the instrument, or one can use combinations of pipes to play chords, much like a flute or a clarinet.

When Avery first played the instrument, he was in love. “I just loved the sound,” he says.

At Theo Baumann Academy in Gary, Indiana, Avery played percussion, as well as the baritone and euphonium. It was a visit from a Valparaiso University professor who changed the way
Avery saw his future.

“Professor Meng came to my high school to teach Chinese music and Chinese language. He was looking to put together a Chinese ensemble and suggested I try the sheng,” he says.

Professor Jianyun Meng is the director of the Confucius Institute at Valparaiso University, which also sets up Confucius classrooms in local high schools where students can learn about Chinese language and culture.

“It’s a difficult instrument,” Professor Meng says of the sheng. “Avery’s very good. He’s very talented. He also had some very good teachers.”

The Confucius classrooms, which are now in three Northwest Indiana high schools, are designed to get students interested in cross-cultural exchanges through music.

“Confucius said music is the best way to bring people together,” Professor Meng says. “That has also been my experience. There’s no language barrier in music. It’s a more direct exchange.”

It’s this cross-cultural exchange through music that Avery picked up on quickly. After joining the ensemble in high school, Avery traveled to China with a group of students where they were given the opportunity to study at the Shanghai Conservatory.

On the trip, Avery was struck by the universality of music — how despite language barriers, music notes were the same.

“Music is like a universal language. Even though we may not speak the same language, we all play the same thing. We can share music with people from all around the world,” he says.

The experience inspired Avery to come to Valparaiso University to study both music and Chinese studies. He also had the opportunity to go back to China again, this time with Valparaiso University’s Concert Band.

“I’ve just fallen in love with Chinese culture,” Avery says. “I’ve had a passion to teach forever. I’d like to teach English to Chinese students. It’s hard to transition from speaking Chinese to English. But I also want to teach music lessons, whether it’s theory or brass instrument workshops.

“Music is something that’s universal and means a lot to everyone. I want to help expose people to it, so they can appreciate what music can do.”

Since his graduation in 2016, Avery has served as the executive manager for Rev. Arthur Nunes, Ph.D., former Jochum Professor and Chair at Valparaiso University and current president of Concordia College—New York in Bronxville, N.Y. Avery manages the marketing and communications and quality services departments and finds “great joy” in the diversity each day brings.

At Concordia, Avery is living out part of his dream, engaging with students from around the world and interacting with Chinese students in both Chinese and English. He keeps himself “joyously busy,” working on his master’s in international studies.

Avery continues to pursue and share his love of music. At a Concordia-sponsored concert in summer 2017, he made his Carnegie hall debut, playing with an orchestra and mass choir for the 500th anniversary of the reformation.