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Harmonizing across language barriers

UND visit makes it possible for local musicians to find similarities and bridge differences with Chinese counterparts through music

James Popejoy and Guanlu Guan
UND Professor of Music James Popejoy (left) and Guanlu Guan. director of Peking University Affiliated High School Concert Band of China, share a moment with a joint ensemble of UND and Chinese students. The visiting Chinese students performed in a joint concert with Red River High School and UND students on Saturday, Feb. 11. Photo by Jackie Lorentz.

A musical exchange has students from UND and China speaking the same language.

UND Music hosted 67 student musicians from China last week for lessons and coaching, culminating in a concert Saturday evening at the Chester Fritz Auditorium.

“Music is a global language,” said Guanlu Guan, director of the Peking University Affiliated High School Concert Band. “Harmonizing together unites people.”

The students, members of the Peking University Affiliated High School Concert Band and Shenzhen Middle School Symphonic Band, visited and played at Grand Forks Central and Red River High Schools, rehearsed with the UND Wind Ensemble and other groups, and took music lessons from UND faculty members.

Shane Baester and Beibo Jiang
UND student Shane Baester gives a thumbs up to Chinese 7th grader and euphonium player Beibo Jiang, as he adjusts his music stand. Photo by Jackie Lorentz.

The highlight of the visit was a Saturday night International Wind Ensemble concert with students from China, Red River High School and UND which featured both Chinese and American composers.

“I really learned a lot in these three days,” said Nongzhou Guo, a student from Beijing who took a part in this trip as a pianist and percussionist. “It was like absorbing a whole-year’s worth of learning materials. It was a quite intensive three-day session at UND, and it will become one of the most memorable trips for the rest of my life.”

It is a special trip for the Chinese students, many of whom had never seen snow, said Guan.

“It’s a tradition for our band to go abroad every one to two years,” he said. “We usually visit Japan, Europe and the United States.” This time, his group was combined with a second school, the Shenzhen Middle School Symphonic Band, conducted by Cheng Huang, from southern China.

“Students from different high schools and areas of China don’t often mix,” Guan said. “And it’s been a good experience for both bands.”

Qianqian Wu (front right) and Zhiru Li
Chinese students playing the string bass: Qianqian Wu (front right) and Zhiru Li take part in a joint rehearsal with UND music students. Photo by Jackie Lorentz.

The goal is to build more music exchanges on both sides of the ocean and to further UND’s goal of globalizing the campus, said Nariaki Sugiura, assistant professor of piano at the UND Music Department. He invited the Chinese students to UND, and said he and Guan became friends when he visited St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., for a guest piano master class.

Sugiura, who is also the music department’s director of international recruitment for Asia, said the visit is about more than music, and he hopes some of the students choose to attend UND.

“We make sure that Chinese Studies, the International Centre and local high schools are involved,” he said. “Everyone can benefit.”

Sugiura has taken UND students to Shanghai, and the music department is working to build a joint master’s program there with East China Normal University. He also hopes this exchange will inspire UND students to visit other nations and see more of the world.

“Music unites people with every note,” said Sugiura. “There is no language barrier when playing music.”