GSO in China, Day 5: Tianjin Posted on January 26th, 2008 by

gsotcfcacpostconcert.jpgOff to Tianjin! As one of the closest seaports to Beijing, Tianjin is very large and very busy (Beijing: 13 million, Tianjin: 10 million). The Gustavus Symphony Orchestra traveled on this clear and chilly Thursday, January 24, 2008, to a date with the Tianjin Cathay Future Children’s Art Center.

The center was established in 1995 to teach arts (music, visual art, calligraphy, martial arts, dancing, and so on) to primary-school-age children. While primary education is mandatory for students up to grade six, only academic subjects are taught. The average school day runs 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., and then there may be activities after that and certainly homework. Then on weekends, many children attend something called Saturday-Sunday school where they learn arts, calligraphy, or language (like English). The CFCAC is one of these Saturday-Sunday schools. (Students at the school midday today were attending the center’s Winter Happy Camp, which runs during the winter school recess, a two-week nationwide break for new year celebrations.) The center teaches both traditional Chinese arts as well as modern and western variations. As the center is sponsored by the government, tuition is really cheap: 49 yuan (about $7) buys your child a semester’s worth of class. In addition to taking classes at the center, students can participate in school ensembles, including a traveling Art Troupe, which has presented traditional performance arts and music in more than 60 countries.

Upon arrival in Tianjin, we checked into our hotel and then visited the center. We toured the facility: performance spaces, cafeteria, park, and several floors of glass-fronted rooms, each floor dedicated to one subject, i.e., music, visual arts. Each room is a classroom, equipped for a specialty. For example, the music floor boasted a classroom full of drum sets, and small drummers banging away in unison. On the art floor we visited a class learning Chinese calligraphy, a lesson rich in the history and meaning of the characters. GSO percussionist Andy Haaheim tried his hand at the character for sun under the watchful eyes of the students.

lil-mc.jpgAfter our tour, we were treated to some lively student performances. The tiny mistress of ceremonies also presented recitation and a song, but her enormous personality may serve her well as a TV host.

cellowarren.jpgThen it was off to rehearsal for this evening’s joint concert with the Art Troupe, followed by dinner hosted by the CFCAC. A good crowd filled the concert hall for the GSO’s 7:30 performance of John Williams’ Olympic Fanfare and Theme; the Andante con tenerezza from Howard Hanson’s Symphony No. 2 “Romantic”; The Butterfly Lovers Concerto by Gang Chen and Zhanhae He, featuring Brian Buckstead as violin soloist; four dance episodes from Aaron Copland’s Rodeo; and local favorite Red Flag Ode. The extraordinarily energetic CFCAC Art Troupe played a variety of Chinese folk and regional pieces featuring remarkable young soloists. The GSO rose from the audience to play a finale of Auld Lang Syne, with the audience singing three verses in Chinese. It was a wonderful moment, as the Chinese are on the cusp of their new year. The GSO played strongly and was warmly received both during and after the concert, when the GSO musicians were kind of mobbed by local teens seeking autographs.

Tomorrow we travel to Qinhuangdao, summer playground of the rich and government-connected, and future host to the preliminary football matches of the Olympic games.

A note about about kids in China. Faced with a ballooning population and dwindling ability to feed it, in 1979 the central government instituted a one-child rule. Every married couple could have one child only or be hit with various monetary and lifestyle penalties. There are a few exceptions, such as in the case of divorce and remarrying, the new couple can have any children from previous marriages plus—after five years—a new one of their own. Also, ethnic minorities whose populations are less than 10 million (Tibetan, Mongolian, Yao) may have as many children as they like. But the vast majority must adhere to the one child rule. What is it like to grow up in a nation that is mostly free of brothers and sisters?

Apologies for the tardiness of today’s post. I had to check a bunch of facts or risk offending about a billion people. Literally.


One Comment

  1. […] GSO in China, Day 5: Tianjin […]