Last December, when UCLA ethnomusicology Professor Chi Li traveled to China to lecture at the Central Conservatory of Music, she already had in mind the idea of an exchange performance between students in China and students at UCLA.
While in China, the associate director of the UCLA Confucius Institute, Zhuang Lailai, had introduced Li to the wind ensemble at Shanghai Jiao Tong University. There, she proposed her idea of the performance, and ““ through meetings over Skype with Susan Jain, executive director of the Confucius Institute ““ the idea became reality.
Tonight, the Shanghai Jiao Tong University Orchestra Wind Ensemble and UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music’s Chinese Music Ensemble will perform in an evening of music from China and the West in Schoenberg Hall.
Li said that the day will not only consist of the performance but also a ceremony for the opening of Confucius Classrooms, where Chancellor Gene Block and the Shanghai Jiao Tong University President Jie Zhang will speak. Schools that will attend the opening ceremony include Broadway Elementary School and the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts.
Li said considering that it wouldn’t count as a real exchange unless UCLA students were to perform in China, she hopes that UCLA’s music school could eventually reciprocate.
“They will exchange Chinese culture with everything from the language to music at the opening ceremony,” Li said.
Although the performance will include students from the Herb Alpert School of Music, some of those performing come from a range of majors including computer science and engineering, geography and biology.
“One of the students from the math department, John Leo, passed by and heard the music playing. He came to our class and ended up staying with us for four or five years. Now, he teaches at a high school, and he has his own small group teaching Chinese music there,” Li said.
“He never had any Chinese background, so I’m very happy to see things like this happen to people.”
Zachary Policzer, a fourth-year computer science and engineering student who plays the ruan in the ensemble, was asked by Professor Li to perform after being part of the Chinese Music Ensemble for the last two years.
“You don’t know have to be an ethnomusicology major to play, but you just have to have some experience and interest,” Policzer said.
Policzer, who met Li when he had a question about a Chinese instrument called the erhu, said he initially found the sheet music notation to be challenging.
“(The musicians) don’t use clefts; we use cipher notation. The music is written in numbers so I found it’s a little hard to figure out time signatures,” Policzer said.
Sam Lieberstein, a third-year ethnomusicology student who has been playing the yangqin for the past two years, said that he is really interested in different cultures and that performing in the Chinese Music Ensemble is a way for him to show people that he appreciates the Chinese culture.
“(Performing in the Chinese ensemble) is something really different from what I’ve experienced before. I also play Indian music, so performing at this event is nice to kind of put myself out there in the world and learn about other traditions and cultures to improve my world view,” Lieberstein said.
Lieberstein credits Professor Li’s teaching and training in the arts with cultivating his ability to play the yangqin and learn about Chinese culture along the way.
“When (Li) introduces a new piece, she explains what it translates to … all of the information surrounding the piece.”
While Lieberstein and Policzer praise Li for the time she puts in to train the students to perform well, Li said that it’s UCLA’s ethnic diversity as well as students’ dedication and optimism toward the music and culture that made the performance actually happen.
“(The performance) really enriches students’ experiences at the school. From a professor’s point of view, we can offer so much when students bring their own cultures to the school,” Li said.