Commonalities exist that cross cultural boundaries, drawing together people who would otherwise remain complete strangers. Members of the Jazz Ensemble discovered that music is one of those common threads as they performed at universities in China over spring break.
“We were only there for 10 days but we touched the lives of thousands of people in just 10 days. I think that’s something unique about the medium of the arts,” Assistant Professor and Athletic Bands Director Nils Landsberg said.
It took more than 30 hours of travel to get there, but that didn’t seem too long. The trip had been planned for almost two years, and when they arrived, they knew it would be quite the experience.
Landsberg said, “Immediately upon our arrival in Guilin, we were met by a group of about 15 students and the dean of the international college, and when they saw us walking into baggage claim they started cheering.”
The band was mobbed after each show by enthusiastic students wanting pictures with the performers they so greatly admired.
“Every performance we had the auditorium was full. Our smallest performance we had was probably about 400, and the largest was probably close to 1,000,” Landsberg said. “I knew that our students would get a warm reception and get a lot of pictures taken, but we didn’t comprehend that we were going to be performing for people who had never heard jazz music before in their lives and some of whom had never seen a foreigner before.”
Performing seven shows in nine days wasn’t an easy task, but one thing that did make it easier was having all the instruments provided for them in China by Jupiter Instruments and Mapex Percussion. That allowed them to focus less on logistics and more on the relationships they were building.
“Our students found that despite the language barriers that we had, they were able to connect through music instantaneously. We weren’t able to understand through speech, but they were able to understand our energy and our spirit through our performance,” Landsberg said.
The trip grew from a partnership with China Cast, an organization that owns three private universities in the country. They want to expand the relationship they forged with UMHB to other areas of the school and bring more people over to their campuses.
Associate Professor and Music Department Chair Mark Humphrey said, “My hope is that this becomes a major
partner with us. It’s this big convergence of mission work, of academics, of social justice, the arts and cultural exchange.”
The students in the ensemble didn’t just go, perform and leave.
Their global perspective was altered as they experienced what life is like for people of their same age who were simply born in another country.
“You drive through poverty that you just don’t see here. It’s the most amazing example of tremendous power on the shoulders of tremendous poverty. They got to see that,” Humphrey said. “I think for the students to experience that and to experience other students who are the exact same age but who just happen to be born in China, that sticks with you.”
The ensemble may not have had many words in their songs or have spoken the same language as the Chinese students, but the impact the tour had on them was unforgettable.
“It was great for them to see the power of what they’re doing and the power of music and people gathering together and the power of God working despite so many things working against it,” Humphrey said.
Senior music education major Jonathan Bautista was amazed that he could communicate with the Chinese students through his music.
He said, “As a musician it really reaffirmed that music is a universal language and the students we played for could tell we had passion for our music.”
Bautista plays the drum set in the band and has been a member of the ensemble throughout his entire college career.
The journey to China was an experience that he will never forget because it was incredible.
“I think trips like this give you a good perspective into another culture and allow you to try something new and exciting. How many people can say they’ve gone to China and played American jazz while they were attending a private Christian university?” Bautista said.
He not only learned about the power of music on the trip but also gained a broader perspective about what life is like for people in another part of the world.
Bautista said, “It was interesting to find that Chinese students were just as concerned as us in finding a job post higher education. It really made me see that they are in the same boat as us.”
This was the second trip overseas Bautista has taken to perform music. He first went to Ukraine in the summer of 2011 with a group from his church.
He said, “It never ceases to amaze me that God had this planned for me. I am humbled to have done these trips in less than a year and thank God for the opportunities he has given me and look forward to what’s next.”