Middle Schooler’s go to College

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Members of college and middle school choirs stand together as Dr. Bierschenk talks about dynamics. — with Jayme Vaughn, Emily Maples Davis and Jerry Bierschenk at Texas Wesleyan Martin Hall.

Today, Texas Wesleyan’s Music department welcomed 37 middle school students from J. P. Elder. Our choirs and bands exchanged performances and then joined together to sing and play together. It was easily one of my favorite days this year. My kids were very inspired and are talking about ‘when they go to Wesleyan’. It could not have been a more positive experience. — at Texas Wesleyan Martin Hall.

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College student and middle school student play side by side in a combined band at Texas Wesleyan.

 

 

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The J.P.Elder choir gathered around the fountain after lunch.
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Mr. Abrego leads the Elder band through a warm up onstage in Texas Wesleyan Martin Hall

 

We the people…

001The wake up call came at 4:30am. We loaded our bags in the bus and headed for the airport. We spent two hours cued up in a long line to check in and then came the news. Our flight was delayed by about 14 hours! We would be getting in to Chicago in the late evening instead of the early morning which would mean we probably couldn’t get out of Chicago until the following morning and would have to sleep in the airport.

Fortunately, American Airlines shuttled us off to a nearby Beijing hotel to spend the extra hours. We each ate a buffet breakfast and I went back to my room and slept for several hours until lunch.

At lunch it was my intention to catch up on this blog, but instead I had several very meaningful conversations with fellow students. I am always struck by the incredible histories hidden behind the eyes of everyone we interact with. In previous tours and trips I have really enjoyed getting to know these stories and this trip is certainly no exception.

Unfortunately, discretion prevents me from telling these stories, but I want to touch on some of the themes that came out over this week that I had no idea about and feel so honored to now be aware of.

Some adversity I learned of included loss of dear friends to alcohol or drugs, abuse as children, severe illness, and a couple things I can’t even mention here. Knowing these histories make the successes I see around me all the more incredible and inspiring. You just never know the whole story behind people’s eyes and when in life you have an opportunity to gaze deeper into someone’s past that glimpse often explains behavior you may have once viewed as unjust or erratic.IMG_2769

IMG_2744Traveling in close proximity to others for an extended time often unleashes a negative side and there were a fair share of times when each of us behaved less than our best – myself included. People get irritable when they are sleep deprived, dehydrated and forced to sleep and eat in unfamiliar situations. However, over all, this group was easily one of the better behaved groups I have had the pleasure of touring with. To spite a jam packed schedule, a huge time difference and over 36 hours in flight, no real incidents occurred. Somehow we all found a way to get along.

I’m proud to know the stories of my fellow singers better now and am forever tied to each of them because of this common experience. Making music with this ensemble and this director was not on my plan for life this year. I even tried very hard to skirt this obligation at the onset of the fall. However, Dr. Bierschenk would have none of that and I’m eternally grateful for his insistence.
As I ready for graduation this summer I can not overstate the blessing Texas Wesleyan has been in my life. I never meant to be such a fan, but I can’t help but recognize the bountiful opportunities for expression and learning it has afforded me over the years. I met my wife here, learned jazz, and held a huge concert with all of my best and most talented friends under skillful guidance. There just aren’t any places in Texas where a student like me can really stretch his wings and be allowed to create. The faculty, staff and students are forever a part of my story.IMG_2993

Wesleyan is a hidden treasure buried in Fort Worth. It has enriched my life in unbelievable ways and I am forever changed for the people it has brought into my life. This trip is just the latest chapter in my educational journey. After graduation I will deeply miss this place, but I know that the connections made here will always remain alive wherever we all go and I’m warmed by this thought.

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Once in a lifetime Concert experience

IMG_2613(I’m posting this one out of sequence because I’m too excited about what just happened)

As we pulled into Guiyang’s Grand Theatre, “Jackie”, our guide, told us his mother would be watching tonight’s concert on television.  This was of course the first we had heard of this and were pretty excited.  We all entered the performance facility and went to a large dressing room in the basement to warm-up.  Dr.  Bierschenk put us throught our paces and reminded us to use our brains (which we needed).  IMG_2615 Stitch
Then he took a brief moment to show us how deeply this experience was touching him and that shot of enthusiasm and praise was something we took straight onto the concert stage.  We shared the stage with a brass quintet, a string chamber orchestra and the chorus from the College of Arts at Guizhou University.

The audience was filled with university students and many other citizens as well as members of our delegation.  The level of energy and trust on each piece was more than I am used to with this group.  It’s a solid group, but often a little tentative.  However, there was no holding back tonight, we sang very well and confidently and seemed to b

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e well received by the audience.

It was my very special honor to conduct a piece called Water Night on this concert.  Dr. Bierschenk was gracious enough not only to allow me this amazing opportunity, but also allowed me to walk out after the choir and take a bow before beginning.  The amount of honor this was for me surpasses my ability to capture the experience.  However, I felt so supported by the members of the choir that there was no nervousness about the conducting.  It was a deeply moving experience and one that would be impossible to forget.

We continued the concert and came to the end and that’s when the Guizhou chorus members all came out with a gift for each of us.  They gave us a gift that is a combination of several Chinese customs.  The top is an example of elaborate Chinese knotting and below that is supported 3 necklaces typical of the Chinese Miao minority which is native to the Guizhou province.  Dangling from these three necklaces are a hundred or so little metal fish.

Each of their chorus members presented each of us with one of these inscribed with the words, “Guiyang– Fort Worth Youth”.  Then they proceeded to sing a piece written to the tune of Dvorak‘s 9th symphony.  Dr. Bierschenk conducted them as they sang the first time and we were to join them the second time.  As the Chinese chorus sang this beautiful hymn like tune with the words, “Goin Home” I completely lost my composure.  There was something so moving about the beauty of the piece sung by people who live half way around the world from me.  All the generosity and warmth that has been shown to us on this trip piled on top of the emotions of this moment and made it nearly impossible to sing with them.  IMG_2623

It was a completely overwhelming experience of emotion met with wild applause anIMG_2620d a standing ovation.  It was a complete success and a beautiful and touching moment for many of us in the choir.  Fort Worth city councilman Dennis Shingleton stopped us all as we were about to exit the concert hall to share a heartfelt and sincere thanks for representing the city so well.  It was completely obvious that the emotions many of experienced on stage were successfully transmitted to the audience, because Mr. Shingleton was visibly moved by the experience.  His thanks meant a great deal to us all.

Afterward, as we exited the concert hall we were met again by cheering faces of the audience as well as the choir, wishing us well and thanking us for our performance.   Dr. Biershenk shared his approval with our performance as we drove back to the hotel.  When we got out, every member of our delegation had formed a tunnel of applause and cheering for us to pass through on our way to the hotel.  AGAIN – this meant the world to each of us.  I’m sure they would have wanted to go up to their rooms, but they took the time to make us feel extremely special.

This whole trip we have been treated like absolute royalty and have been showered with gifts, affection and respect.  I don’t know that we deserve the treatment, but it has touched each one of us so very deeply that Guiyang feels like a part of us.  It will be so very difficult to say goodbye to our hosts here after tomorrow.

There are too many people to name, but YoYo, Livia, Jackie, and Erik from Guiyang have been a huge part of making us feel so welcome.  we will never forget the warmth shown by them and so many other of the Guiyang people.

Tonight was a great example of how of the power of music to unite cultures.  Dvorak’s piece with the words “Goin Home” will forever be tied to this evening for me.  What more beautiful experience could we have ever hoped for?IMG_2625

Thank you, Guiyang

xiexie ‘谢谢’

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Lunch at Golden Lusheng Restaurant

IMG_2405Following our extremely warm reception at Zhucheng square, we took a short bus ride to the Gold Lusheng Restaurant to feast on authentic Chinese cuisine.  The scrolling marque out front read “Welcome Fort Worth Delegation”.  A chorus of girls dressed in traditional Miao regalia greeted us as we entered and were escorted to our table.

The huge round table our group was seated at had a lazy susan on it and the waitress continued to bring out dish after dish of mostly unrecognizable food.  We were each poured a large glass of coke to drink and the food just kept coming dish after dish.  One plate had a pyramid of bacon.  Another was some very interesting tofu shaped like an egg.  Luckily we had prepared for this uncharted territory and bravely tried almost all of the dishes presented to us.   We also gave chopsticks an earnest try as well.

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Grace and a pyramid of bacon.IMG_2412

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Tour of Zhucheng Square

IMG_2364As the tour bus pulled up to Zhucheng Square we could see kites flying in the sky and crowds of people gathered.  As we got off the bus we heard the amplified voice of a woman speaking in mandarin.  A male voice followed her translating what she was saying.  As the delegation started out towards the center of the square we could see a structure in the center of Guiyang’s square.  It was a giant tower supported by what looked like golden bamboo flutes.  There were even more reporters at this event and tons of security/police who kept the bystanders at bay while our delegation moved toward the tower.

At the base of the tower there were several golden porcelain eggs.  IMG_2380The leader of our delegation was invited to smash one of the eggs with  mallet.  Inside was the key to the tower.  Our delegation then climbed the 87 steps to the top of the tower.

When we reached the top we could see an enormous bell suspended to the ceiling of cut out arrows.  The whole thing was beautiful.  Once we were all assembled, we were asked to close our eyes and make a wish while a short poem/prayer was read.  At the end of this ceremony the leader of our group was allowed to ring this giant bell three times.

Then we continued on along a path by the river that runs through Guiyang all the while being escorted by the media and police.  We felt a real energy of excitement and all felt like absolute royalty.  It truly felt like a hero’s welcome and it immediately made the long and arduous trip completely worth the time.

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Sendoff Concert Preparations

A couple weeks ago we had a meeting with Irene Chase about the final details of our upcoming trip to Guiyang, China.  We learned at this meeting that we needed to prepare to sing the Chinese national anthem at the signing ceremony.  Not wishing to cause an international incident I volunteered to find an arrangement we could use.

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Dr. Bierschenk speaks to us about the trip

It turns out there is not an edition of the Chinese national anthem written phonetically for us westerners to attempt.  Perhaps we should have taken this as a hint.  However, I was able to find a phonetic version of the lyrics and with the help of a mandarin speaking friend of mine, I assembled both a four part choral arrangement and a simple melody version for us to use.  I play piano for the Weatherford college jazz band and they have a trumpet player who is actually from China and is a native mandarin speaker.  He was kind enough to record a video for us to use as a guide while learning to pronounce the mandarin necessary for singing the Chinese anthem.

His own modesty prevents me from sharing these videos publicly, but they were of huge help to us all as we learned this piece.

Tomorrow evening we perform our farewell concert at Texas Wesleyan’s Martin Hall in which we will attempt to sing one piece in Mandarin as well as another which is written by a mandarin speaker in a very eastern style.  I have a loud and ridiculous solo in this piece which I accidently auditioned for.  You see when we first sang through this piece , I didn’t see the word solo printed above these few measures and I sang it at the top of my lungs.  I became the default singer of this rather flamboyant solo.  Video will follow.

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Irene Chase explains the schedule

I also learned about a month ago that I would have the privilege of conducting a piece for this concert as well as the concert in Guiyang.  I selected a piece I recently performed on my senior concert.  (VIDEO HERE)  The opportunity to conduct this beautiful piece overseas in an exotic Chinese theatre makes me so excited I can’t even put it into words.

The concert is tomorrow evening, Tuesday 4/10 at 7:30 at Texas Wesleyan’s Martin Hall.  If you can make it, it should be full of excitement as we showcase music we’ll be performing in China as well as featuring a guest chorus from Nolan HS.

More blogging soon to come from the plane!

-Hans

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My New Favorite Piece

Austin Snow backstage

Please check out this recording from yesterday’s performance at Texas Wesleyan. I discovered this piece by Manuel de Falla entitled “Nana” from his Siete Canciones Populares Españolas and fell in love with it immediately. It is played here by the multi talented Austin Snow on Oboe and myself on Piano.