Musicians cloaked in swirling blue and red robes pluck delicately at zheng zithers, string instruments that originated in China almost two thousand years ago.
Continuing the Spring Festival of World Music and Jazz, Saturday’s Music of China Ensemble performance will showcase Chinese culture and heritage at Schoenberg Hall, followed by Sunday’s Irish Music Ensemble performance.
The festival, hosted by the ethnomusicology department at UCLA, began on May 15 with the Music of India Ensemble and Music of Bali Ensemble and will conclude with the UCLA Jazz Orchestra, UCLA LatinJazz Big Band and the Ellingtonia Orchestra on June 2.
Each concert in the series originates from the different music courses within the Ethnomusicology 91: World Music Performance Organizations series , such as the music of Bali and open ensemble classes .
Ethnomusicology professor Chi Li, the director of the Music of China Ensemble performance, said that the spring concerts have been going on since the ethnomusicology department was established.
She said performing in the concert series is not exclusive to ethnomusicology students and students of all majors with an interest in cultural music can perform.
Li said the musicians of the Music of China Ensemble are not all of Chinese heritage – many come from different cultures and backgrounds.
“This is what education is for – to give students knowledge and the skill … to present (music and culture) to our audience,” Li said.
The Music of China Ensemble will perform on Chinese instruments like the zheng zither, along with wind and string instruments and folk dances.
Li said the audience will get to experience the joy and knowledge that the students have gained through presenting the different music and cultures they’ve learned.
“(The audience) can learn from the concert that the world becomes small,” Li said. “You see the harmonies and peace through the series of concerts, and I think it’s a lot bigger than just the music.”
Upcoming performances include Music and Dance of West Africa Ensemble, Music of China Ensemble and the Irish Music Ensemble.
Kevin Levine, a graduate ethnomusicology student who assists the Irish Music Ensemble director Timothy Taylor, teaches his students traditional Irish dance music pieces and instrumental pieces by ear. Levine said most pieces the students will perform at the concert are not written down, but instead passed down through oral tradition.
Levine said he hopes that the audience will take away the understanding of the differences between Irish folk music and traditional music. He said he also hopes the audience will participate in their performance. In many music cultures, there is a very stark break between the audience and the performers, but in Irish music it is a little more participatory, Levine said.
“The performers keep time with tapping their feet,” Levine said. “The audience usually taps their feet too, and I think of that as part of the music itself because it’s emulating what the musicians do.”
Past performances of the series include Music of African Americans Ensemble, Music of Mexico Ensemble and Music of the Balkans Ensemble.
Bulgarian musicians Tzvetanka Varimezova and her husband Ivan Varimezov co-directed the Music of the Balkans Ensemble’s performance that took place May 16.
Varimezova said Balkan music is interesting because it is rich with different rhythms. She and her husband performed as an instrumental duet at the show.
Varimezova said she is happy that students have the opportunity to study the music and share the stage with her family. She said it was encouraging when new students want to enroll in a class after being exposed to the music at their performances.
“We are excited to see how students cross borders and cultures,” Varimezova said. “We are also happy because (music) is the base for the best communication between people. Music is a very special language.”