Chamber Music Board Director Sees Hope in Shen Yun

BALTIMORE—A melodious tune flowed through the theater as virtuoso fingers danced along just two strings. Using the bamboo bow in her right hand, she took a breath before pouring her emotions into a single long note. The note filled the theater with peace and harmony.

The solo erhu item was one of the many pieces that transported audience members into faraway realms and ancient scenes while they experienced Shen Yun Performing Arts.

This was not the first time John Holbert, the chairman of the Chamber Music On The Hill board of directors, had heard such beautiful sounds coming from the two string instrument. He first heard it when a musical group from Delaware had come and played it on a music series in McDaniel College at Westminster, Maryland, via the chamber music series in his community.

He said he was glad to be captivated by it again at Shen Yun, which performed at The Hippodrome Theatre in Baltimore on Dec. 23.

“It’s an absolutely outstanding and extremely ethereal type of instrument,” Holbert said.

Shen Yun travels the globe on a mission to revive traditional Chinese culture and bring it to the world in dance and music. This culture was nearly destroyed by six decades of communist rule.

The company’s music takes the essence from eastern and western classical instruments to create a harmonious sound. A Western orchestra plays the foundation, while traditional Chinese instruments lead the melodies, according to Shen Yun. The erhu, also known as the Chinese violin, is just one of the many Chinese instruments that play in the orchestra. This year, audience members were fortunate to experience it in its own piece called “Divine Reflection.”

This unique instrument has a history of over 4,000 years and was an integral part of folk performances, operas, and imperial banquets throughout the dynasties, according to Shen Yun. Its body is usually made of red sandalwood or rosewood, its bow is strung with horsetail hair. Through the hands of a master, this two string instrument has the ability to express sounds of joy, sorrow, grace, or tenderness. It also has been said that the erhu is an instrument most resembling the human voice.

Holbert said he was also impressed by how Shen Yun was able to blend both Western and Eastern instruments in the orchestra.

“The Western orchestra just fits right in with that type of music,” he said, adding that the music was “very inspirational.”

“Combined with the dance, the visual … it’s unmatched.”

Hope for the Future

Holbert said he hopes someday Shen Yun would be able to present this traditional culture back in China, where it came from. Although China is still under the rule of the communist regime, Holbert saw hope for change in the history presented on stage.

“This current trend that’s in the country, I’m sure will come and go just like the other dynasties have come and gone and everything,” Holbert said. “And hopefully one day this group will be able to perform in China and have not any restrictions.”

The New York-based company was founded by overseas Chinese in 2006, including some who had fled religious persecution by the communist regime in China. Many of Shen Yun performers practice Falun Dafa, a spiritual practice guided by the principles of “Truthfulness, Compassion, and Tolerance.” Because of its spiritual nature, the practice has helped over a hundred million Chinese people understand and return to the essence of traditional Chinese culture.

But the Chinese regime, whose ideology is in stark contrast with the traditional culture of China that continued for five millennial unbroken, has targeted Falun Dafa for persecution since 1999. Shen Yun showcases some Falun Dafa-related dance stories and lyrics, portraying themes like spiritual devotion, the benevolence of gods, good and evil retribution, and the search for the meaning of life, according to the company’s website. These items touch people’s minds and hearts and are unconcerned with politics.

Meanwhile, Holbert said since China has been around for 5,000 years, it’s likely that it’ll continue to flourish into the future.

“[T]he thing with China is it’s not a new country. It’s got a 5,000-year history,” he said. “That’s been around and I’m sure it’s going to be around for another 5,000 years.”

With reporting by Lisa Fan and Janita Kan.

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