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Playing Piccolo in China

When I graduated from NAU in the spring of 2015, I was terrified. Because I chose to not get my masters right away, I was worried about having such a big hole in my heart from not playing as much as I did during my undergrad. I had no idea what life without school would be like, to be an adult, to step into a world of adulthood I felt I knew very little about.

Never in a million years did I think I would get the chance to play the flute and piccolo in a group like the Chandler Symphony Orchestra so soon after college…let alone think this symphony is what would bring me the opportunity to play my instrument in a whole different part of the world. It was just something that never crossed my mind.

Getting to know individuals within the CSO, I was given the opportunity to tour with the American Festival Orchestra to China this past summer as their piccolo player! I still sometimes scream inside about it… it still seems like it was a dream! The orchestra was under the direction of Alex Zheng, who is also the Associate Conductor for the Chandler Symphony Orchestra. Our orchestra members were from various parts of the US, and even had members from Canada! We toured throughout Northwest China, driving long hours on a bus between different provinces and cities. We had 8 concerts, rehearsed almost every day with gap days being our long driving days (like…12-plus hours sometimes). We were able to sight see and explore a country so much different than ours.

I’ll never forget the culture shock getting off of the plane and seeing signs and advertisements in a completely different script and nothing I can even try to make out. The food was nothing like the Chinese food here. It was delicious, fresh, and there was SO MUCH OF IT. I also learned how to use chopsticks by the end of the trip!

We quickly learned that Northwest China is not necessarily a popular part of China tourists visit. Most people there have never seen Western people before…which meant lots of photos been taken with and of us. Nonetheless, we were treated like celebrities…being greeted with silk scarves and grand entrances, people wanting to take pictures. So many pictures. Classical music seems to be so much more respected in China than in the United States. This of course meant sold out concerts, huge crowds, and heavy security.

The pieces we played were a mixture of everything...ranging from American to Asian-inspired music. The big piece we got to play was the Yellow River Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, and even had the composer on tour with us! The featured violinist and his family were our official hosts of our tour and took extra special care for us so that we were comfortable and having fun. We stayed at beautiful hotels, performed at grand venues, ate amazing food, and got to explore China.

We got to meet beautiful people (who were eager to practice their English with us), feed monkeys in their natural environment; visit the Ta’er temple where the Dahlia Lama taught and there was SO MUCH GOLD; visited the Yellow River Waterfall; climbed the steps of the Maiji Grottoes; slipped away from the touristy sights with 8 other orchestra members to explore the shops and alleys of China for the day; and was able to visit the infamous Tarracotta Warriors.

I was terrified the day I left to China…I just did not know what to expect! I have always traveled long distance with my family and have only been to Mexico, so going across seas without my family was completely scary to me! But making the decision to go to China and play music is hands-down the best decision I have ever made. I had the time of my life and made so many friends. Who knew sitting in the living room with my mom at 9 years old selecting the flute as my instrument would lead to an unforgettable opportunity like this at 24 years old?

So many memories, I am just going to let the pictures do most of the talking!

This was at our first stop in Shan Yan. These cuties would follow some of us everywhere and we got to play ping pong with them on their playground eat ice cream, and they gave us a tour of their school! They loved being able to practice their English with us and they spoke it so well! We ended up getting some small ensembles together to perform at their school for them during World Children’s Day, and invited them and their families to our concert.

Also is Shan Yan, we got to visit and feed peanuts to the Golden Snub-Nosed Monkeys! My goal was to get a selfie with one, so there it is.

Greeted with beautiful silk scarves and the people dressed up in traditional clothing to greet us once we landed. Tibet was one of my favorite places to visit. So beautiful and very different from the rest of China.

The Terracotta Warriors. Was even more amazing in person.

My roommate for the trip(a violinist) and I posing with the Terracotta Warriors!

There were a lot of monks, especially in Tibet. I was hesitant toward asking to take a photo with one because I did not want to be disrespectful, but they were totally fine with it and some came to our concerts!

We were fed so much everywhere we went. The food is nothing like American Chinese food…you won’t find orange chicken or anything similar! Everything was made so freshly and with love. There were times on concert days we were given breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a banquet after the concert. Always so full. When we thought it was the end of the meal, more and more plates would be brought out. The food was indeed different and entrees no one in the US would ever eat…I became so much more open to trying new foods and eventually just stopped asking what I was eating. Most of the time we just didn’t know and it was best kept that way.

The Maiji Grottoes. Yes, I climbed to the the top! No, I at first did not think I would make it.

Performance at the Ningxia Grand Opera House

I made this into a practice room for a few days. So much green and beauty!

Concert at the Xi’an Concert Hall…my piccolo blends in with my clothes!

Beautiful fields of flowers at Eurasia University

Other than learning to use chop sticks by the end of the trip, my other goal was to purchase a bamboo flute. I found one and it smells amazing and plays beautifully!

The 2016 American Festival Orchestra

Thanks for reading!



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