Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Samuel Grant Robinson: Final 48 hours

What an amazing experience this has been. Finally home after a week of travel, it seems almost surreal. The last 48 hours were a real challenge for all of us. After the last concert in Xi'an, I was so proud of our students. They really rose to the occasion and did the university proud. On Thursday, we spent an amazing day touring the Terra Cotta Tomb Warriors,which was truly spectacular. The evening concluded with a wonderful dumpling feast, where we were able to sample at least 16 different kinds of dumplings, all of which were amazing. We then went to the Xi'an train station and had the chance to experience what was a truly unique travel situation. This was unlike anything I have ever seen, and is very hard to describe. Imagine at least 10,000 people trying to fit through a narrow corridor with no lines, no one managing the traffic, and no rules about who goes first. I had never truly understood the phrase, "a crush of humanity," before this. While not necessarily at the standard the we are used to here, once on the train it was quite pleasant, and many students reported having a good night's sleep.

After the train to Beijing, we toured the Summer Palace, which is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. It was almost a shame, however, that this waited until the last, because we had seen so many beautiful things, it was hard to appreciate the sheer beauty here, and we did not really have enough time to really explore. After the Summer Palace, it was time to head to the airport and begin the long journey home. It was quite emotional for us to say goodbye to our hosts in China. I will forever remember the kindness they showed to us, and will always appreciate the depth of knowledge they had, and the openness with which they shared their love of their country. Thank you Mike, Mary, Jessica, Sheldon, and all the others!

It is difficult for me to sum up the experience we just had. We packed so much into the week, and it all went so smoothly. I am truly grateful to all the faculty and staff with whom we traveled: Harry Price for his willingness to pitch in and help to make sure that the students were well taken care of; Sam Skelton and John Lawless, not only for their unbelievable artistry, but also for their exceptional sense of humor. They kept us laughing throughout the trip. We also couldn't have done what we did without Susan Grant Robinson, who is always willing to put others' needs ahead of her own, and whose attention to detail was essential in so many little ways when we were so far from home. And I would be remiss not to mention Allyson Fleck and Cecelia Price, who helped in so many small ways throughout the trip. Finally, not enough can be said about the work of Michael Alexander, without whom this trip would not have been possible. I marvel at the amount of work that he put in to make the trip possible, and to see him at work is incredible. He was involved at every stage, moving effortlessly from overseeing the logistics of the tour, to conducting and ensuring that the students remained focused on their art. Thank you, Mike, for making this happen.

Before the last concert in Xi'an, I spoke briefly to the orchestra, and one of the things I told them was that it was my hope that 25 years from now, they would hold a reunion and be able to talk about the experiences they had. When that happens, I hope that I am there to see it, because I'm sure that I will still have fond memories of what we experienced together. I am exhausted and elated, and count myself to be very lucky to have been part of this truly amazing  trip.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Nico Hueso: Awe-inspiring

From climbing the Great Wall to playing at the gorgeous Concert Hall in Xi'an with the KSU orchestra, China was an experience that will be forever ingrained in my life.  It was awe-inspiring to be surrounded by a culture that is thousands of years old. Performing to audiences that were so appreciative in our efforts as a western music ensemble was quite inspiring to me.  

Getting to see an actual Chinese orchestra was also quite a unique experience since most of the instruments used where foreign to most of us.  The way the ensemble performed deeply impacted me because I could sense elements of pride, joy, and also the human spirit. I also found that hearing and seeing the orchestra at the Central Conservatory in Beijing will not only make us better musicians but also enriched individuals throughout our life. I sense our orchestra at Kennesaw will be able to emote much more after our experiences in China and that will become evident to local audiences in our upcoming performances in the spring semester to come. 

Michael Alexander: Home

[Jan. 8, 2011 KENNESAW] I am not really sure how to put in perspective what we experienced in the last week, but here are my final thoughts after a good night of sleep.

It was amazing to see how much we learned while in China.  Musically, we adapted to new halls and new conditions (like no heat in one hall!!), new audiences that had different customs like demanding encores until they stopped clapping, and having an opportunity to repeat a program three times and see it continue to get better each time. Personally, we experienced so many new things, like no traffic rules at all (including no right of way for pedestrians!!), an overnight train where thousands crowd to try to get on the train and 200,000 people move through the station each day, new foods and customs, and a whole new world of culture.  It was so beautiful that by the last day we were almost numb to it.  What we saw and experienced will take years to process.

We have students with high character. I can't tell you how many people looked at me like I was crazier than usual for taking 76 college students to China. It was odd, but I was never nervous about it.  Our students handled themselves incredibly well.  In fact, at virtually every turn, people would tell me that it was the most disciplined and professional university group they had experienced. United Airlines was so impressed they waived all of our excess baggage charges, the tour managers could not believe how easy it was to move us through China, and we have an open invitation to return to Xi'an (a city twice the size of Atlanta) at any time with a state welcome from the Director General of the Province.  We were treated like royalty and were given the gifts to prove it including two bronze chariots for the university from the Terra Cotta Warriors.

We made new friends at every turn.  The students know each other and have bonded in ways that will last a lifetime.  They communicated with musicians that share their experiences, if not their language, and they experienced a culture that is so different from ours and adapted and embraced it.  They performed at the Central Conservatory where people like Lang Lang learned and shared a concert with a group that surely contained several future stars in the musical world.  They are prepared to put in perspective what China will mean to the musical and broader world in the years to come.  I am even further convinced that China will lead the musical world in the future and we have contributed in a small way in creating connections and good will between our countries and raising the profile of KSU in a country as important as China.

We have a great faculty and staff.  Sam Skelton and John Lawless were amazing and are great role models for our students. They simply never miss and always have a smile to embrace any challenge.  Susan Grant Robinson never gets any credit and displays grace and skill beyond belief in administrating anything she touches. We have a Director in Harry Price, who supports and fights for us at every turn. My colleagues in the School of Music rooted and supported us the whole way and so many people went above and beyond to make this happen.  Impossible to name them all, but Karen Robinson, the Confucious Institute, Dr. Jerome Ratchford, and everyone in Global Studies were particularly amazing.  Finally, we have a Dean and University administration that is courageous and forward thinking to help us take this trip.  Their answer is never "no," only "how can we help?"

For me, my favorite moment of the trip was watching the students' faces as we performed for a packed house in a $100 million hall with near perfect acoustics.  I simply can't describe it, but luckily we had Sam Robinson along with us to put things in perspective.  His speech to the orchestra is something I will never forget as we prepared for the concert of a lifetime.

I return with the same feelings that I had before we left.  We love what we do, we do it for the love of our art and what it does to improve humanity. I am the luckiest person in the world to have a beautiful family to return to and 84 people that are my extended family, now bound by an adventure that will have profound impacts for years to come.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Samuel Grant Robinson: Second Day in Xi'An

[Jan. 5, 2011 XI'AN] Day 2 here in Xi'an. The visit here started a bit roughly as the van carrying our luggage was in an accident, and we didn't get our luggage until 5:30. The students had to perform with no rehearsal or warm-up, but the kids were real troopers.

We had the opportunity to visit the city wall in the morning, which was very cool. After that, we went to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, which is one of the most beautiful places I have been in my life. It is still an active temple, with 60 monks living there. It is the traditional place where the words of the Buddha were first translated into Chinese.

The concert in the evening was spectacular. We performed at the brand new Xi'an concert hall, a $100 million hall. The students were blown away to be performing in such an amazing space, and truly rose to the occasion. The nearly sold out audience were very welcoming, and called for three encores. One of my favorite moments of the tour happened at the end of the third encore, when the bass drum at the end of the fourth movement of Tchaikovsky's 4th was so loud it brought down a piece of the hall. What a spectacular ending to the tour.

Today, we're off to see the tomb warriors, then an overnight train to Beijing, and the flight home. This has been such an amazing trip so far, and I'm sorry that it has to end so soon, but  am looking forward to being home.

MIchael Alexander: Cloud 9

[Jan. 5, 2011 XI'AN] This is a hard blog to even begin. I don't know where to start except to say that what happened tonight was indescribable.  The KSU Orchestra performed in a $100 million new concert hall to a packed house full of dignitaries from the entire province.  The orchestra played the best I have ever heard and Sam Skelton and John Lawless were amazing.  We had to do two encores (we only had one planned!!)! It was surreal and I could not be prouder of our orchestra. There were many tears shed tonight before the concert when Sam Robinson addressed the orchestra about what this experience meant to him and our university.

I think to sum up, the provincial government presented every member of the orchestra with an incredible gift bag. We ate lunch with the director general of the province's culture agency and he presented us with two terra cotta warrior statues that are amazing. The KSU Orchestra was invited back anytime to perform in this hall where next week Tan Dun and the Shanghai Symphony will perform.

I am too close to the experience to put this into words, but I know that I am lucky to work with students and colleagues like these. KSU is now on the map in Xi'an, China in a huge way.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Michael Alexander: Great Wall

[Jan. 3, 2011-BEIJING]]Today was another spectacular day. We started by going to the Great Wall. Normally it is about a two hour drive, but we made it in about an hour because today was a holiday in China. Also, the bus drivers here do not wait for anything. There is only one traffic rule in Beijing, that is to just go. They do not yield to anyone including pedestrians.

The Great Wall was incredible.  We could climb to the top of the pass we were at, which was about half a mile straight up.  It was an exhilarating feeling to reach the top. Lots of smiling faces and huffing and puffing from the orchestra.  The vendors at the bottom and at each outpost were also fascinating.  The students are getting quite good at negotiating with them to get good prices.

The afternoon was devoted to shopping as we visited jade and pearl factories and an antique market.  Many students bought traditional Chinese instruments to bring home.  After another great dinner, we watched the first part of the Peking Opera and then returned to the hotel.

We leave very early tomorrow to head to Xi'an.  I feel like we have done so much in two and a half days here, but Beijing is immense.  We really started to get that sense today after driving out of it towards the Great Wall.  High rises as far as the eye can see.  I feel like we are getting familiar with the customs in China now and I look forward to more adventures and two more concerts in Xi'an.

Samuel Grant Robinson: Day 3

[Jan. 3, 2011-BEIJING]]Day 3 is now one for the record books. After breakfast, we drove an hour and a half north of Beijing to see the Great Wall. It seemingly comes out of nowhere because the area around the city is so flat, then all of a sudden you find yourself in the mountains. We all had a great time climbing up the wall, although some made it higher than others. The greatest surprise to me, and the hardest challenge, is the fact that the steps up the wall are very irregular. No two are the same height. Makes for very challenging climbing.

After lunch, we visited both a jade and freshwater pearl market, then had an opportunity to explore another shopping district. Many of the students were excited to be able to buy some of the same instruments that they heard the Chinese Youth Orchestra play last night. There's even some talk of starting a traditional Chinese orchestra when we return to campus.

After dinner, we had the opportunity to experience traditional Peking Opera, which was quite interesting. This ancient art form combines elaborate costumes, acrobatics, martial arts, and traditional music to tell some of the most important stories in Chinese culture. It can be challenging to follow, as much of the toon is symbolic, and only a small portion of it is translated, but is still very beautiful to watch. 

I am happy to be back in the hotel a bit early tonight as we need to have our luggage down to the lobby at 5:45 a.m. for an early flight to Xi'an. I'm sorry to be leaving Beijing, as I feel as though we have only scratched the surface of all this wonderful city has to offer, but am excited to go to one of the oldest cities in China, and one of the cradles of civilization.