By Skye An
In Chinese culture, the year 2016 is known as the Year of the Monkey, but for students of Brooklyn Tech, it also represented the year of Tech’s orchestra.
From April 21st to May 1st, Tech’s Advanced Orchestra embarked on a musical odyssey from west to east. Under the guidance of the orchestra’s conductor, Mrs. Lapierre, in addition to the support of Tech’s AP of Music, Mrs. Sullivan, and one of Tech’s secretaries, Mrs. Chan, the orchestra toured in the major cities of China to not only perform, but to also experience the Chinese culture itself.
Having traveled a distance that spanned much farther than the distance between the school’s west and east sides, Tech’s orchestra found itself exhausted and jet-lagged, but the thrill of being in another country far away from home kept the will to play music alive. The orchestra made its successful debut in Shanghai at the Shanghai Oriental Arts Center with a solo by first chair violinist David Raufova ’16 and a special dance routine performed by Kenny Gan ’17 and Gabrielle Celestin ’16. This was only the beginning.
From Shanghai, the orchestra found itself often on the road, therefore truly understanding the experience of being musicians on tour. After a boat ride on the Huangpu River, the orchestra traveled to Keqiao to perform at Lantian Grand Theater. The following city, Hangzhou involved a day for sightseeing at the Dragonwell Tea Plantation, Lingyin Temple (Temple of Soul’s Retreat), and Westlake.
A high speed train transported the orchestra from Hangzhou to Jinan where a performance at the bamboo carved Shandong Grand Theater would serve to specially amplify the orchestra’s music for its best performance yet. Jinan is also known as the “City of Springs” as it has 72 springs integrated within the urban community, and an adventure by foot exploring them made for a particularly memorable moment.
From one performance to the next, the orchestra performed at Baoding Zhili Grand Theater, but not before participating in a cultural exchange with the local arts high school of Shijiazhuang. Here, Breanna Flynn ’17 and Shelly Zou’16 took the chance to showcase their skills not only in music but also in the Chinese language as they conversed with many of the native high school students who shared the orchestra’s love for music and immense interest in foreigners.
The last destination was probably the most highly anticipated one, not only because it meant the conclusion of a long and exciting tour, but also because it was the mainland’s capital, Beijing. Known for hosting the 2008 Summer Olympics and containing major tourist spots like Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and the Great Wall of China, Beijing served as the momentous peak of the tour. Speaking of momentous occasions, an event that unfolded on the Great Wall added on to the stacks of memories for the orchestra.
On the way to the Great Wall, the tour guide told a folktale featuring the romance between a bright young woman and her husband who was forced to work on building the Great Wall. It was only after we arrived did I realize that this tale had been the prelude to another romance done Tech style.
With the help of the rest of the orchestra, violinist David Raufova ’16 promposed to the unsuspecting violist Sarah Ustoyev ’16 who happily agreed and says, “This is a milestone in my life. It’s something I’ll never forget.” David had followed up by saying, “This promposal on the Great Wall couldn’t have been any greater,” to which Sarah playfully punched him in the arm for being so corny. Congratulations to David and Sarah!
Many members of the orchestra were also very culture shocked, but perhaps understandably so. Americans tend to look for sales when purchasing their items, but people in China took on a whole different platform of buying and selling. The name of the game was bargaining, and the initial concept was rather strange to Tech students. The promise of saving money and receiving authentic souvenirs quickly drained any hesitance however, and many members of the orchestra grew comfortable and confident in driving the price down in their favor.
A lack of convenience stores, blue skies, clean tap water, and stable Wi-Fi also plagued the minds of Tech students on this trip, but the general consensus was that these losses contributed to the ultimate gain of a memorable experience. Annie Li ’16 says, “This trip was a really good bonding experience and definitely eye-opening.”
Mrs. Lapierre also said, “Being selected to go to China and perform in some of the most amazing venues in the world was like a dream. When I opened my eyes on April 23 and moved my baton, we were performing Mozart in a venue ranked at the top five, in the world. I watched the BTHS Orchestra grow into professional sounding musicians right before my eyes. They were amazing!”
The last performance was held at the Beijing Youth Theater, and while the orchestra was relieved to be done, having successfully toured in five major cities, everyone found the moment bittersweet as the end of the tour in China meant the beginning of what seemed to be an even longer journey home to confront the struggles of impending AP exams and further schoolwork in the familiar classrooms of Tech.
For Tech’s orchestra however, home is where another start is, and with its members and conductor stronger and more hopeful than ever from this cultural experience, the future is full of many more performances inside and out of Tech.
Photos by Mrs. Lapierre, Ms. Sullivan, and Sarah Ustoyev