How would music sound if you lived in a country different from your birthplace?
For me I immediately think of my favorite books about the kind of culture-clash and longing for home experienced by many people in today’s world. So when I attended the Chinese Fine Arts Society’s Migratory Journeys concert last week, hearing those emotions in music, not words, was something I was really excited for.
Every five years, the Chinese Fine Arts Society, based here in Chicago, hosts a composition competition centered on a theme. Composers for the third competition premiered their winning pieces about the “Migratory Journey” last week.
“The Migratory Journeys concept was really about a generation that has experienced a migration from China,” says Julie Tiao Ma, the president of the Chinese Fine Arts Society. “Many Chinese are living in places different from where they were born, and we wanted to focus the competition on that idea of being apart from your home country. We’ve received pieces that are beautiful and haunting, and really with this underlying longing and yearning in the music.”
Founded in 1984 on the principles of making Chinese culture more accessible and engaging more people, the competition was just one way the CAFS was reaching new audiences and issues through cultural experience and artistic performance.
And while it would be easy to just review the concert, one of the most interesting and exciting things about the Migratory Journeys competition is that the cultural conversation lasts longer than the premiere of the works.
“I’ll admit that I’m just a music lover,” says Julie Tiao Ma. “I’m not trained, but these pieces are really exciting. And we wanted people to hear them past just the concert. We have an additional concert at the Cultural Center and also partnered with One Book, One Chicago for a concert. There are many similarities in the Migratory Journeys competition pieces and book, and we thought that the concert would be poignant and a good way to further talk about the stories and music.”
Being able to bring together several different pieces of artwork really helps to expand the depth of the conversation by providing different avenues that audiences can discuss and understand the complex emotions of the diasporas addressed in Migratory Journeys. When music can be paired with other pieces, whether art, film, writing, or dance, I think both benefit from having each other to help explain complex experiences and emotions of different cultures and perspectives, as well as extend the conversation through other interpretations.
For the concert, the four winners (Daniel Lo, Hao Liu, Chen Yao and Tonia Ko) are all young artists to watch with already impressive resumes. The music was a creative blend of eastern and western influences, including the inclusion of Chinese instruments like the pipa (lute) and guzheng. Many of the songs felt like a kind of struggle between the contemporary and traditional structures in the music, and the voices of the composers were very distinct. There were intensive battles between the instruments for the lead, others moments of reflection, some very unusual, dissonant sounding bursts of energy.
And that description still doesn’t quite sum up the music. If you’re still interested in the conversation and performances taking place visit the Chinese Fine Arts Society’s website to learn more.