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The Swarthmore College Chinese Music Ensemble's Spring 2024 Performance

The Chinese Music Ensemble will perform on Sunday, May 5 at 3:00 p.m. in the Lang Music Concert Hall. The group welcomes everyone interested in Chinese music, whether they have years of experience or are new to learning their instrument. Together, the ensemble features traditional and contemporary music from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the Chinese Diaspora. 

Co-directors Professor Lei Ouyang, Music Department Chair, and Gouwei Wang, Artistic Director of Music from China, and critically acclaimed “master of the erhu,” welcome their students’ range of skill levels. “The fact that we have some students who will be performing a concert in the ensemble after just joining in January, I think is pretty extraordinary,” says Professor Ouyang. She credits her co-director for balancing their diverse talents. “He does a really wonderful job of showcasing our advanced players while also creating a space where beginning students can comfortably participate.”

One of the new members to the group is T Sallie ‘25, who plays the erhu, a two-string bowed instrument, after having performed as a guest cellist with the group in prior semesters. He’s enjoyed learning the new instrument, saying that “the conductor will simplify parts for people as needed, but I’ve played cello before so I like to challenge myself.” 

The ensemble’s cohort of erhu players is especially strong this semester with nine musicians. Ariel Zhao ‘24, who started playing the erhu at four years old, is an international student from China and one of two seniors who will be featured on the program given their advanced level of musicianship. Her friendships with the other musicians have grown beyond ensemble rehearsals over the past four years. Speaking to the group’s dynamic, she says, “[everyone] is really friendly, and we have a harmonious environment.”  

Zhao, Sallie, and Professor Ouyang reflect that there’s more to the ensemble than just music. The group provides an escape from stress, as well as a sense of community for Asian and Asian-American identifying students. “It can be really nice to balance out the intensity of Swarthmore life with playing music with friends,” says Professor Ouyang. “It's a unique space on campus to bring together international students from across Asia with Asian-American students, as well as students who are interested in studying Chinese language and culture.” 

The directors chose repertoire for the upcoming concert that will allow the talent of the group to shine through. Although Zhao and Sallie have different skill levels, they are both looking forward to playing “Dragon Boat Race,” a fast-paced piece. 

For the first time in the program’s history, the concert will feature a piece arranged by a student, Tina (Qiannong) Wu ‘25, from Bryn Mawr. Professor Ouyang believes that participation of students from schools outside of Swarthmore is on the rise. “Throughout the short history of the ensemble we've had some students here and there from the Tri-Co, but in the past few semesters it's been more consistent and steady,” she says.

As the performance date nears, Professor Ouyang is focused on bringing the best out of the ensemble while keeping the audience in mind. “For some folks, this will be their first time hearing live Chinese music, and so I think there's always going to be this responsibility of presenting something as high quality as we can,” she says. 

The ensemble will have the opportunity to share their work with the Swarthmore community on Sunday, May 5 at 3:00 pm at the Lang Music Concert Hall. The performance is free and open to the public.