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The Swarthmore College Chinese Music Ensemble's Fall 2023 Performance

Co-directed by Wang Guowei and Professor Lei Ouyang, Swarthmore’s Chinese Music Ensemble performs traditional and contemporary music from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the Chinese diaspora. They will perform on Sunday, December 10th, at 3:00 PM in the Lang Concert Hall. 

The Swarthmore Chinese Music Ensemble features traditional Chinese instruments including the guzheng (zither), erhu (bowed fiddle), pipa (plucked lute), yangqin (hammered dulcimer), dizi (flute), and percussion instruments. It is open to students from Swarthmore, Bryn Mawr, and Haverford Colleges, no matter their skill level or prior experience.

The Ensemble began as a student club, then transformed into a group in the Fetter Chamber Music Program. When Professor Lei Ouyang arrived at Swarthmore in 2017, she was approached about transitioning the group into its own ensemble and becoming its director. Though she had experience playing erhu and guzheng, she’d never directed a Chinese music ensemble before, so she brought Guowei Wang onboard as an artistic co-director. Guowei Wang is an erhu soloist, composer, artistic director of the group Music From China, and founder of the Music From China Youth Orchestra. Wang chooses repertoire to form a balanced program based on the musician's experience level and strengths, and adapts each student’s individual part to their skill set. Students who are less familiar with their instrument have the opportunity to work with a private instructor. 

The program this semester highlights percussion, and includes four pieces for the full ensemble, two solos on guzheng and pipa, two pieces from a quartet of guzheng, yangqin, pipa, and erhu, and one piece for percussion. Annie Ping ‘24, who plays guzheng, said, “I think the music is more challenging than previous semesters because there are many returning students and new students with prior experience, but that makes the pieces fun to play!”

The ensemble fosters a sense of community among its members. “There is a lot of student to student teaching and learning that is happening that I think is really exciting and necessary.” Professor Ouyang described a lineage of students teaching each other: “[A student with experience on the yangqin] basically taught another student how to play that instrument. The student she taught continued on that instrument and [before graduating] taught another student.” The Chinese music ensemble is a place where students support each other.

Aside from being a musical space, the Chinese Music Ensemble is also a multilingual space. The ensemble includes many native and heritage speakers of Chinese as well as students learning Chinese. As such, the ensemble is a casual, inclusive, and open environment to practice speaking and listening skills. “I enjoy the bilingual environment as it gives me a space outside of home to practice Mandarin,” said Ping. The group rehearses in both languages. “We’re recognizing that many of us work and live and are moving through our days using multiple languages. It is not strictly one or the other,” Professor Ouyang remarked. 

“I’m always very proud of our concerts at the end of the semester,” said Professor Ouyang. “Because we are a mixed level group I am always very impressed that we can have a group that brings together experienced players with experienced musicians who are new to Chinese music with people who might be brand new to all of the above.” 

This semester, the ensemble will perform in the Lang Concert Hall on Sunday, December 10th, at 3:00 pm. The concert is free and open to the public.