Music transcends language barrier, celebrates opening of Confucius Institute

Shanghai Normal University and MU performers played together at the event Friday.

When facing a language barrier, people often turn to music to express themselves and tell stories. On Friday morning in Jesse Hall, music told the story of friendship between two countries.

A concert featuring the Shanghai Normal University Chinese Folk Music Band and the MU Graduate String Quartet celebrated the opening of the Confucius Institute at MU.

Ye Jin, assistant professor in the College of Music at SHNU, said through a translator that the event was important, because people feel the emotion of music despite language barriers.

The SHNU Chinese Folk Music Band had five players from SHNU who played music that ranged from typical Chinese folk songs to more upbeat ones.

All of the songs had stories behind them. There was a piece that represented the Chinese version of Romeo and Juliet. There was also a song that was about horse racing and was very up-tempo. Some songs even had influences from other countries; one was in the Latin style, for example.

The musicians were students and professors in the music school at SHNU.

“They’re excellent,” School of Music Associate Director Dan Willett said. “They’re really very talented, the technical skill, the expressive qualities. Speaking as a trained musician, I recognized immediately good chops as players.”

The SHNU group had many different traditional instruments, including the pipa, which is similar to a guitar but played upright, the guzheng, which is like a horizontal harp, the urheen, which is played like a violin, the suona, which is a woodwind instrument that sounds similar to the oboe and many different types of wooden Chinese flutes.

“The instruments are very different,” Willet said. “They operate on the same principle, woodwind, string and percussion instruments, so the sound is the same, but the shape and the particular sounds are very different than our Western traditional instruments.”

The Confucius Institute is a partnership between MU and SHNU in China that was set up by the Chinese government. The goal of the institute is to promote Chinese language and culture learning and teaching and will promote better business relationships and research. It is an honor to be chosen to have a Confucius institute, according to Wen Ouyang from the Office of Vice Provost for International Programs.

The concert was held in the morning, and there were local elementary school children in attendance.

“I think you can have two people sit in the same concert and not understand a word when they speak but be emotionally connected very much hearing the same music,” Willett said.

The music played by the Graduate String Quartet was a two-movement piece by Haydn. Ouyang said the music was a cultural mix to promote friendship between the countries.

“Language is difficult for people to immediately understand and the music does not have a country boundary,” Ouyang said. “It’s easy for people from different countries and cultural backgrounds to appreciate, to enjoy.”

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