The band traveled to the Chinese cities Shanghai, Beijing, Xi’an and Zhengzho, spending the majority of its time at Sias International University in Zhengzho.
“This was one of the most extensive trips that any Lee University group has made to China,” band director Dr. Mark Bailey said.
The Lee University Symphonic Band spent 15 days in the country in May.
“It’s probably the most challenging trip that Symphonic band has ever taken because of so many of the culture differences that we were not expecting, but [it was] definitely worthwhile,” band president Danielle Jennings said.
Some of the students were surprised at the poverty they saw while in China. Students also had to be flexible to changing schedules throughout the trip. Jennings said the group’s schedule changed more on this trip than on previous trips.
“The Lee University Symphonic Band also joined with the Sias Military Band in two concerts held in the 10,000 seat arena at Sias. In the second concert, we performed several pieces: ‘Army Man,’ ‘Moving Toward the Renaissance,’ ‘Straight Ahead,’ and at their request, ‘The Stars and Stripes Forever’ by John Philip Sousa, jointly with their Military Band for the school’s Homecoming festivities,” Bailey said.
The band was also able to perform with the Sias University Professional Orchestra.
In addition to these joint performances, the Lee students also performed for a women’s conference at Sias.
“The Lee University Symphonic Band performed three joint concerts with Sias ensembles, performed two standalone concerts and participated in five joint rehearsals,” Bailey said.
Jennings, senior flute player, said her favorite performance was the group’s final performance at Sias International University in Zhengzhou.
“It was my favorite because I really felt like the people engaged with our performance. They were listening to us but they would ask us questions at the end,” Jennings said.
The band was unable to perform some of the songs it usually would with its vocal team because of the Christian lyrics to the songs. However, the band did perform some instrumental versions of hymns. Hymns chosen by the group were “Amazing Grace,” “O Happy Day” and “The Love of God.”
“They didn’t know what we were playing, but they could feel the emotion behind it,” Jennings said.
As president, Jennings helped with much of the planning and paperwork needed for the trip. She said communicating with the university in China was difficult during the planning. Jennings said it took a while to get responses to questions.
In preparation for the trip students sent letters to family and outlining the trip. They also participated in fundraisers and a held a silent auction.
Thirty-nine members of the Lee University Symphonic band were able to attend.
The band also performed “Winged Stallion” and “Alleluia Ledamus Te.”
One song that held great meaning for the Symphonic Band’s audience was “Jasmine Flower.” The piece is China’s national song.
“For us to be able to play their national song was very meaningful to them and very exciting for them,” Jennings said.
An instrumental version of “The Love of God” also solicited a lot of feedback from audience members.
“A lot of people would come up to us and ask us why the song made them feel sad,” Jennings said.
Jennings said although there was a spoken language barrier between the two bands, their music overcame the barrier.
“The music helped take care of the language barrier,” band member Blake Brooks said.
Brooks, a rising junior at Lee, plays tuba, piano and is on the band’s vocal team.
“My favorite performance would definitely be the first performance because after the performance I had a young lady come up to me, she was a student there, who didn’t understand the concept of emotion from our music,” Brooks said.
He said it seemed to him that the music in the United States is more varied, causing listeners to experience a range of emotion, while music in China is more standardized.
“There it is more of a vertical approach to music where everything has its own set place. In America, we have more of a horizontal approach, more emotions come through in our music,” Brooks said.
He said playing together helped the musicians better relate to each other.
While the instruments used by the two sets of musicians were similar, Jennings said it seemed the Lee students had access to better care for their instruments. She commented that the instruments the Sias students were playing also looked older than the Lee students’ instruments.
While interacting with the Sias music students, friendships were formed between the two musical groups. Brooks said he exchanged email addresses with some of the students, so that they could stay in touch.
“One of our guides for the week, Helen, wrote postcards to every student in the Symphonic Band letting us know that she would see us at Lee in the near future,” Bailey said.
"I had an opportunity to give one of the flute players from Sias my high-school flute because she couldn't afford her own," rising sophomore Mia Campbell said.
She said she felt truly blessed by the experience.
The band also made a point to see some of the landmarks of China including the Great Wall and a Buddhist temple.
Visiting the Buddhist Temple and seeing how Buddhists worship was a very different experience for Jennings.
“That kind of opened up an avenue for us to be able to talk to our translators and our guides about their worship. And then they would ask us, ‘Well who do you worship?’ and that opened up a door for us to talk to them (about what we believe),” Jennings said.
The band prepared for the trip with practices throughout the semester. Then, the band came back to Lee’s campus three or four days before the day it left for China, for some final practices.
She said it was “awesome” to be able to play with the musicians from Sias.
Brooks said he enjoyed seeing different aspects of Chinese culture “because it’s not the same overall in the entire country of China.”
Part of this experience was attending a Chinese opera and ancestral sites.
He said the food in China is a lot different than Chinese food here.
“We Americanize it a lot,” Brooks said.
Brooks said the group also was able to tour Shanghai.