2021 marked the first year that I was able to spend Lunar New Year with my family in my home city, Shanghai, after a decade of studying in the States. While I was enjoying the new year eve’s dinner, a tradition of extreme importance for Chinese families, I could not help but reflect upon the journey home. During the start of the global COVID-19 outbreak, I was in my New York apartment feeling unprepared and startled. This pandemic stirred up a profound sense of disquiet and uncertainty. After much consideration, I decided to fly back to China in April last year, taking with me only the essentials, hoping that I would be able to return in the summer. My life trajectory took a different turn and I decided to come to Tianjin when I was offered a position at Tianjin Juilliard’s Pre-College division.
My years of studying abroad have taught me that unexpected, new opportunities can emerge from times of uncertainty and personal challenges. While at Juilliard, I had thought deeply about the possibility of finding a sustainable career path in music. Hoping that it would broaden my professional horizon, I took the Music Theory Pedagogy class taught by Steve Laitz during my first year of Master’s program. His personal charisma and insights inspired me – I wanted to make music theory learning less of an arduous journey for future students. My commitment to becoming a teaching fellow in music theory and analysis at Juilliard emerged out of my initial uncertainty about a future career as a performer. In retrospect, Juilliard encouraged in me the propensity to act proactively and to take charge of matters in the face of challenges.
It is with this state of the mind that brought me to Tianjin Juilliard to share the wonder of music with such a talented group of young musicians. Similar to the Pre-College students at Juilliard in New York, the Pre-College students at Tianjin Juilliard are extremely devoted and passionate musicians. They are not deterred from learning and understanding the complexity and beauty of harmonic system. Sometimes they may not at first fully grasp the abstract idea or rules behind the species counterpoint, however, they are always ready to raise questions in class if clarity is needed.
Every Saturday, I am impressed by their eagerness to acquire knowledge as well as the high levels of commitment and devotion from both students and their parents. A large percent of Pre-College students at Tianjin Juilliard travel to Tianjin from other cities in China. Several students fly to Tianjin from Shanghai (across the country) every Friday evening after finishing their academic school, and fly back home either late Saturday night or Sunday morning. From my personal experience with the Chinese education system, the academic workload is a lot heavier for students in China than that in the U.S. The typical junior student usually has 9 academic courses during the day from 7:30am to 5:30pm in China. It is not hard to imagine that these students need to work extra hard to finish their academic work during the weekdays in order to make room for Pre-College on Saturdays. I was particularly moved when I spotted a student with her parents on the high-speed train, after finishing Pre-College, making index cards of music theory terminologies in both English and Chinese. During a period of tighter travel restrictions, many students might need to undergo COVID-19 nucleic tests each time in order to leave or return to their home cities after coming to Tianjin. Despite all these challenges, our students come together every week for music making. Their undeterred optimism in the face of challenges represent the true spirit of Tianjin Juilliard, and indeed the spirit of Juilliard as well.
Looking ahead, I am excited to give performances with friends and colleagues, and to see my students appear in concerts and recitals throughout this semester. Being a part of the Tianjin Juilliard community has made it possible for me to reconnect with friends and colleagues from New York. I recently reconnected with clarinetist Ning Zhang, a first-year DMA student from Juilliard in New York and the program coordinator of the New York visiting student program at the Tianjin Juilliard. After a brainstorm and initial discussions, in the spirit of collaboration, I will be her pianist for her first DMA degree recital on Tianjin campus. We will have a fascinating program featuring contemporary clarinet works written by composers who are interested in Chinese culture.