The Chinese orchestras of Instilling Goodness Elementary and Developing Virtue Secondary Schools, as well as the Chinese orchestra from Berkeley Buddhist Monastery and the City of the Dharma Realm (West Sacramento), held a wonderful recital at the Daoyuan Hall of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas (CTTB) on May 11, 2003, to celebrate Mother’s Day. People from the local community and CTTB residents were invited. The program included performances of 26 pieces of solo, duet and orchestral music, including Matsuri and Ocean of Laughter, among others.
The schools’ Chinese orchestras were established in 1995 by Agis Gan, the Boys’ School teacher and principal back then, and his wife Wanyee Hew. Orchestra has become one of the most popular extracurricular activities for both the Boys’ and Girls’ schools. In the eight years since the orchestras began, more pieces have been added to the repertoire each year, and new musical instruments have been acquired as the orchestras grow. The orchestras perform annually for Honoring Elders’ Day and Cherishing Youth Day at CTTB. They are also invited to perform in Ukiah and other places throughout Northern California. Mr. and Mrs. Gan are pleased with the growth of the orchestra. They only hope that students will take good care of the instruments, most of which were donated by benefactors.
Mr. and Mrs. Gan now go to Berkeley Monastery and the City of Dharma Realm in West Sacramento on a monthly basis to teach Chinese music there. They heard that the Venerable Master Hua said years ago that Buddhadharma will be propagated with the help of sound and music. They hope their efforts in teaching Chinese orchestra will help propagate Dharma in the future.
It is quite unique to have Chinese orchestra class in secondary/elementary schools in the United States. Both Western or Chinese music can be used to teach music; however, American schools offer only Western music. There are few Chinese/English bilingual schools in the United States, and offering a Chinese music class at a bilingual school is a good start. Western and Chinese music both serve the purpose of music education. However, since Chinese music comes from Chinese culture, students have the opportunity to understand its culture.
Parents seem to like their children to study music and join the Chinese orchestra, because they gain many benefits from learning an instrument and working in a group. These benefits include: (1) They get to understand and experience Chinese culture; (2) they gain skill in playing an instrument; (3) their dispositions are positively influenced by the music; (4) they develop team spirit; (5) they learn the art and etiquette of performance; (6) playing music relieves the stress of studying; (7) they enjoy quality entertainment.
Orchestra students learn about and experience Chinese culture. Chinese music has a history of over four thousand years. During the Shang (2205-1766 b.c.e.) and Zhou (1122-249 b.c.e.) dynasties, there were perfect music instruments, which in the Zhou dynasty were divided into eight categories. From the Shang and Zhou dynasties to the present, Chinese music has been based on the pentatonic scale:
do, re, mi, sol, la, creating cyclic, regenerating, harmonious and resonating effects. Typically, in Chinese music, the melody is the body, with the former and latter parts harmonizing and resonating with it. That’s why Chinese music can balance the dispositions of both the players and the audience. The students are imperceptibly influenced.
Playing in an orchestra requires a variety of skills. Individually, it requires the cooperation of the body, mind, eyes, ears, and feelings. Within the orchestra as whole, there are tacit understandings of beat, rhythm, speed, and volume. Also, there are the interactions between the performers and the audience. Therefore, students learn that performance must be organic and integrated rather than mechanical.
Music can elevate students’ character and uplift their spirit. They learn to be more organized in their work and more harmonious and considerate in dealing with people and matters.
An orchestra performance relies on each individual’s cooperation. Everyone contributes his part, while tuning in to the parts played by others. It is teamwork, based on mutual support. Without realizing it, students learn to work as a team.
In general, the study of Chinese music is inseparable from musical observation. Thus in addition to performing on Honoring the Elders Day and Cherishing Youth Day, students have chances to observe other performances, giving them more avenues to develop their playing skills.