Entertainment Spotlight: Cleveland Chinese Music Ensemble
There is something about hearing a special tune or an ancestral instrument that can transport you thousands of miles, across oceans, to another continent. Listening to music performed by the Cleveland Chinese Music Ensemble has that type of transformative effect. As the music reverberates onto Rockwell Avenue, it’s hard to imagine yourself anywhere but the location of each song’s origin with a little imagination, or for many vendors at Night Market Cleveland, a little nostalgia.
On Friday June 24th for our first Night Market Cleveland of 2016, the Cleveland Chinese Music Ensemble will perform at 6:30 PM. The ensemble is comprised of Jay Xiao on dizi and xiao (bamboo flutes), David Badagnani performing guan (double-reed pipe), suona (oboe), sheng (mouth organ), erhu (2-string fiddle), gaohu (high-pitched fiddle), sihu (4-string fiddle), and yehu (coconut fiddle), Haochen Quin playing sheng (mouth organ), percussion, and vocals, as well as Courtney Lambert and Rob Hassing performing percussion.
They have invited special guest vocalist Yuan Wang to accompany them during their performance. Wang is a professor of music at Jiangxi Normal University, and has spent the 2015-2016 school year as a visiting scholar at Kent State University. She has extensively studied Yihuang xi, a rare form of Chinese opera, and is one of the only scholars to have collected extensive research on this Jiangxi province tradition. She will perform “In My Dream, the Warblers Were Singing and the Swallows Were Flying Across the Curtains”, a selection of text from The Peony Pavilion, the most famous classical opera in China, among other songs.
Night Market Cleveland takes place in the Old Chinatown district, where many immigrants came from the Guangdong province in the 1860’s by way of the transcontinental railroad. They thrived on this block of Rockwell Avenue until the 1920’s. Many of the songs that the Cleveland Chinese Music Ensemble have chosen to be a part of their June performance, are traditional folk songs from throughout China.
“The fact that we were invited to be part of the first season of Night Market Cleveland and have the opportunity to present to the public some of the music enjoyed by the first Chinese settlers of Cleveland, was for us one of the high points of our group’s time together,” says Badagnani, a multi-instrumentalist in the ensemble.
Cleveland Chinese Music Ensemble was formally organized in 2008 after a request for live traditional Chinese music at the University of Akron to commemorate a newly established Confucius Institute, or center for Chinese Language and Culture. “I felt that an ensemble playing traditional Chinese music could be something of value, an asset that the Chinese community of Northeast Ohio could draw on in the future, so we decided to continue rehearsing regularly and within a short time we began getting invitations from all over Northeast Ohio,” says Badagnani.
There are hundreds of Chinese ensembles in the United States and Canada, Badagnani confirms, but there are relatively few in the Midwest as compared to other regions of the country. “This program we have selected is one of the most varied we’ve ever done. We chose the pieces to capture the interest of the audience with a lot of exciting percussion.”
Some of the more interesting pieces utilize a rarely heard instrument, a set of porcelain bowls that are tuned with water and played with chopsticks. They will also be playing the xylophone, an instrument adopted by Cantonese ensembles in the mid-20th century.
“The audience for our September 2015 Night Market Cleveland performance was one of the largest, and also one of the best audiences we’ve ever had,” Badagnani recalls. “There must have been thousands of people there, and yet I was amazed at how carefully and quietly they listened to our music. You could have heard a pin drop.”
The Cleveland Chinese Music Ensemble is actively looking for new members. If you have experience with traditional Chinese instruments and a desire to perform in a group, contact them via their Facebook page. No two performances are the same, especially when preparing for Night Market Cleveland. We won’t give all of their secrets away, but there are many new surprises in store for our audience this June!