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The sound of global connections

Updated: 2024-05-27 07:35 ( China Daily )
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Jindong Cai and The Orchestra Now, at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York.CHINA DAILY

Four days after Yixing Wang moved to the United States with her parents, she found herself sitting in an empty apartment in Texas. The room had no furniture, just her guzheng, a zither-like traditional Chinese stringed instrument, keeping her company. She was about 13 at the time.

Moving to the US from China at that age meant she had spent enough time in China to master the language and culture. However, she also arrived when she was young enough to quickly adapt to American culture. But for a while, she struggled with her cultural identity.

The guzheng was like a lifeline, helping her navigate between the two cultures. "Through playing music, I was able to find personal fulfillment and foster a deeper connection with both my heritage and the wider world. I feel very proud of being Chinese American because I can appreciate other people's cultures and environments a lot more. I've learned to be flexible and understanding of everything around me," Wang tells China Daily.

Wang is an undergraduate student of the guzheng and math at the Bard College Conservatory of Music in New York. Around Wang in the Hudson Valley, a group of musicians is engaging in such music and culture exchanges every day. The conservatory established the US-China Music Institute in 2017 and is one of the few offering a comprehensive combination of Chinese instruments and liberal arts degree programs in the US.

"Globally, music is the most effective way to connect people. When you look at various cultures or regions, you often see conflicts. However, when you consider music, it has a way of connecting everyone," Jindong Cai, professor of music and arts and the director of the US-China Music Institute at the Bard College Conservatory of Music, tells China Daily.

"For instance, music from other countries often has significant historical connections or political connotations but essentially, they are intertwined. Music naturally brings people together without the burden of political content. Good music moves people and this emotional response fosters a positive interest in that culture, the composer and their background," he says.

Cai is one of the founders of the US-China Music Institute. Reflecting on the initial motivation for creating the institute and its programs, Cai recalls the impact of US-China musical exchanges during his musical career.

In 1973, the Philadelphia Orchestra visited China, marking the first time an American orchestra performed in the country since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.

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