ESP in China: More than Great Walls and concert halls

Canal at the Summer Palace
Canal at the Summer Palace

From concert halls to music camps, the Eastman Saxophone Project (ESP), directed by Professor Chien-Kwan Lin, brought its innovative programming and versatile performances to a variety of audiences in China this summer, during a concert tour that lasted from July 13 through July 21. We asked ESP members Myles Boothroyd and Erik Elmgren to blog about their experiences; here is Myles’s summing-up of the tour.

By Myles Boothroyd

This summer, the Eastman Saxophone Project embarked on a once-in-a-lifetime journey to five cities in China. For some of us, it was our first trip out of the United States; for many, it was the farthest we’ve ever been from home. We spent two weeks attempting to absorb everything this country has to offer, knowing that we would depart with only a glimpse of this bustling, culturally rich world. Though I suspect most us were ready for a slice of pizza and some cooler weather upon returning, I know we all would have stayed one more day just to sample another new dish; to explore the towering, golden statues of another temple; or to perform for another audience who cannot wait to get in line for autographs.

Encountering a new culture is always vivifying, but to do so in the company of close friends is a particularly enriching experience. Our time in China was divided between performing, rehearsing, meeting new musicians and fans, and exploring the monumental sights of the cities in which we stayed. From a musical perspective, we could not have asked for a better trip overseas. ESP was fortunate enough to perform alongside the Shandong University of the Arts Saxophone Ensemble, who hosted us like family from the moment we arrived.

Seafood in Ningbo
Seafood in Ningbo

Every meal was spent passing more dishes than I’ve ever seen in a single sitting, and we tried everything from sea cucumber and jellyfish to chicken knuckles and duck intestine. At times, we felt like celebrities being treated to five-star hotels and some of the finest dining to be found in China. The best part was not the food, of course; it was the fact that these fellow musicians showed us such generosity while welcoming us with open arms. These experiences are humbling, and they remind us that cultural divisions vanish entirely when we just look beneath the surface. (Of course, we were all grateful that our professor and several students could aid in the spoken translation!)

The special part of being a musician is the opportunity to connect with audiences, and our concerts in China were met with such warm reception that we could barely keep up with requests for autographs. One should never take for granted the opportunity to play an encore, but I distinctly recall multiple concerts in which our audiences cheered, “One more! One more!” as we exited the stage. In the lobby afterward, those who had purchased new CDs would rush toward us, attempting to gather a complete collection of autographs while snapping selfies with the visiting musicians. For our part, we were honored to perform in such prestigious venues, including the National Library Concert Hall, an Olympic Stadium in Beijing, and the National Center of Performing Arts (the equivalent of our Kennedy Center). We were consistently humbled by the gracious welcome.

Olympic Stadium, Beijing
Olympic Stadium, Beijing

All told, our ensemble visited five cities, performed six concerts, met hundreds of new musicians and fans of music, and encountered many of China’s most spectacular attractions. We spent half a day ascending the Great Wall, and another taking in the view over the West Lake in Hangzhou. Each night, we would have grand designs of unwinding in the hotel room with playing cards or board games, yet most of us fell asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillows — it’s hard work having so much fun.

What stood out, above all, were the people we met. As our professor, Chien-Kwan Lin, stated during his birthday speech (we surprised him with a cake and candles), the best part of visiting this culture is not the Great Wall or the concert hall. What matters are the people and the fact that, after just two weeks, our friends in China made us feel right at home. I know I speak on behalf of ESP when I say how proud I am to have been able to bring music to this country, to experience such wonderful hospitality, and to connect with people who remind me why being a musician and an artist really matters.

Laughing Buddha in Hangzhou
The Laughing Buddha in Hangzhou

This entry was posted in Blog and tagged , , , , .

Comments are closed.