I’ve been fortunate enough to be the conductor of the National Sun Yat-Sen University (中山大學) wind band club in Taiwan for the last 14 years. Opening it’s doors in 1980, it is a top 10 school with a full fledged music department, but the wind band club is made up entirely of non-music majors. We’ve had some great years, winning 2nd place in the National Southern Taiwan Band Competition, getting a “Highest Achievement” award from the Ministry of Education, and even performing for the University’s graduation ceremony. I’m fiercely proud of them, to say the least.
This year is host to a new milestone for our band. Dr. Sun Yat Sen (1866-1925), who’s nickname in Chinese is 中山, or Chung Shan, literally meaning “middle mountain”(originally called “Nakayama”, in Japanese – his story is quite amazing, actually!) is the father of Democracy in pre-communist China and later, democratic Taiwan, and is a highly respected figure in both countries. In 1924, he started a civic university what would become Chung Shan University in Guangzhou, China, and this year marks the 90th anniversary of the school’s founding. As part of the celebrations, the band, choir and string club students of the Taiwanese University were invited to take part in a joint concert to celebrate.
The timing was tough – it was midterms for the Taiwanese students – but we still managed to muster up 35 or so club members for the trip. As their band conductor, I was able to tag along, but I lurked in the background as this was about the China/Taiwan relations event, and not about me being the conductor. I went because as a somewhat protective teacher to my students, I wanted to make sure my students got the most out of this experience. These students are not music majors, they did not experience regional or all state bands, and I knew that this experience of many hours of rehearsals over several days would be a challenge for them, even though the final rewards would be immeasurable.
Day 1 was pretty exciting – a new university (actually not so very different, since it was technically “the same” university…)
Chung Shan University – China
Breakfast at the Student Union was actually pretty good! (All the school meals were unsettling good, actually – I was getting scared because institution food was not supposed to be so good…) Then onto the first rehearsal. There was that awkward moment when no one knows anyone, but everyone managed to find a chair.
The joint Choirs were not there yet so our students made the best of their free time and rehearsed on their own.
Here the conductor is rehearsing “more” of the choir. There were still quite a few more people who would show up!
Some of the full choir
After several grueling days, the students were definitely feeling the pain of the rehearsals, and lack of sleep – but it was soon time to check out the venue, and do a sound check and dress rehearsal.
And before you knew it, the concert was over! We got a few pics of our groups!
Band and String Clubs
The results for my students was as I had hoped – they got a taste of what it is like to perform in a large orchestra with choir, and a taste of what it is like to endure the hours upon hours of unrelenting rehearsals with amazing conductors, so that just when they thought they couldn’t physically take it anymore, the excitement of the concert gave them that extra burst of energy which propelled them through an amazing performance experience that they will remember long after they graduate. And it was a job very well done, too. On a political, and more important personal growth note, they all made friends with people that are supposed to be political enemies, and through the beauty of music, were able to see that these sister-school students are not so different from each other, after all.
We are 中山大學!