About 80 musicians have come to Sacramento State University this week to participate in the Summer Chamber Music Workshop. Participants range in age from 7 to 19 and bring a variety of skill levels. The two week session culminates this weekend with a series of public performances.
“The purpose of the program is to share with these young children the joys of chamber music.”
Cellist Susan Lamb Cook founded the Chamber Music Workshop twenty years ago.
“We get them started early so that by the time they’re in their teens they’re really familiar with some of the standard repertoire.”
The students play in different settings, from quartets and quintets to small string orchestras. And for the first time, alongside kids from Elk Grove and Carmichael are players from Jinan, China.
“My name is Wang Jingyi. I am thirteen years old.”
Jingyi plays violin. She and seven other Chinese musicians are here as part of a cultural exchange sponsored by the Jinan-Sacramento Sister City Corporation. Even though Susan Lamb Cook had been working with the organization since last October….
“We didn’t know if the students would even be allowed to come until about three weeks ago.”
They were having trouble getting visa appointments.
“I wrote a letter to the embassy in Beijing and we had some government officials from Sacramento also write letters. We’re very thankful that it all worked out.”
So is Jingyi. She really likes the instruction she’s receiving here.
“This teacher is kind, very kind. But Chinese teacher is too… is not kind. [PC: strict?] Yes, yeah.”
On the third floor of Sac State’s music building a smaller ensemble is rehearsing in a practice room. It includes 14-year-old violinist Liyan Yan. She’s shyer than Jingyi and doesn’t speak as much English.
PC: "What have you learned so far in your time here?"
Through an interpreter: "When she learn here, the teacher will be sit next her and play with her. But in China the teacher will not play with her but teacher will listen to her and then tell her the mistake. She like the way the teacher sit next to her and play with her."
Lamb Cook is glad to hear that. She instituted the side-by-side practices specifically to help the visiting students.
“They don’t have quite as much experience in playing chamber music. And what we’ve done is to put a coach next to the student playing their part along with them. It gives them much more confidence.”
And what do the American musicians think about playing with their foreign counterparts?
“It’s been really cool. I mean even though it’s hard to communicate, you know, it’s fun to play together.”
That’s Sarah. She’s 19 and plays viola.
“We try to include them in little games and stuff, or just talking. But it’s really hard because I think they’re really shy.”
Susan Lamb Cook and her instructors are trying to overcome that shyness with humor and a relaxed but focused atmosphere.
“My hope is that they will be able to work together to create a finished musical product and take pride in that even though there may have been these language and cultural barriers.”
Music isn’t the only common language between kids from different countries. Sarah reminds us not to forget about fun.
“Besides playing music, we’re going to go laser tagging, which is something that they’ve never done before. [LAUGHS] “
Ensembles from the workshop will perform this afternoon and tomorrow evening at Sacramento State and Sunday night at St. Anthony Parrish. SOC