The 63 student musicians in the Westmont College Orchestra packed their instruments and traveled to China May 9-18, performing in Beijing, Suzhou and Shanghai. Conductor Michael Shasberger directed concerts at Beijing University of Technology, Sun Village, Suzhou Art and Design Technology Institute, Suzhou Organization on Disability, Fudan University and Shanghai University.
The group visited such sites as Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven and the Olympic Green. “The scope and size of these public spaces is hard to describe and far beyond expectation,” Shasberger says. “There is great beauty, some riveting austerity, and amazing numbers of people, most of whom wanted to be photographed with us. We were as much attractions as tourists.”
At the Peking opera, the students watched traditional Chinese theater. “I don’t think most of us will be getting season tickets, but none of us will forget it,” Shasberger says. “This cultural treasure includes everything from acrobatic dance to cacophonous music—all in amazing costumes.”
The orchestra experienced aggressive sales techniques at the Beijing jade market, dragon boat rides, Kentucky Fried Chicken for breakfast after an all-night train ride, and an interesting quasi-contemporary, bilingual service in a large church with an overflowing, multicultural crowd.
In Shanghai, the group witnessed a performance of Chinese acrobatics. “People were jumping to places they couldn’t possibly reach, twisting in ways bodies can’t twist, balancing things while doing handstands in human pyramids—it was fabulous,” Shasberger says. “A small group followed us from concert to concert; they were fun and appreciative.”
“After our last concert at Shanghai University, the orchestras of the two schools and the Shanghai University Choir posed together,” Shasberger says (above). “This joyous occasion concluded with Handel’s ‘Hallelujah’ chorus from ‘Messiah,’ proclaiming the reign of God. What a finish.”