Feature: Chinese orchestra adds harmonizing culture to Christmas tale in Los Angeles

  • World
  • Wednesday, 27 Dec 2023

by Julia Pierrepont III

LOS ANGELES, Dec. 26 (Xinhua) -- Following the Western tradition of performing Christmas carols at the homes of friends and neighbors, the Chinese Musician Association of Southern California, led by composer/conductor James Chiao, embarked on their holiday mission this year to bring music and good cheer to an American community on Christmas Day.

The orchestra performed in Los Angeles' famous "Candy Cane Lane," a fun and festive holiday destination for whole families to visit each year at Christmas.

There, nearly every house and yard is bedecked with blazing Christmas light displays that spin, twinkle and glow, plus huge crystal snowflakes, people-sized candy canes, merry inflatable snowmen and Santa's galore with his diminutive elves and sleighs laden with presents drawn by his legendary reindeer.

But this year, families got an additional holiday treat when a dozen colorfully-costumed Chinese musicians performed classic Christmas carols on a treasure trove of traditional Chinese instruments, like the erhu, pipa, and guzheng.

Homeowner John Schneider, whose house and yard in Woodland Hills served as the launch pad for the neighborhood event, was delighted when they came knocking at his door.

"I feel blessed to have them perform for us and the whole neighborhood," Schneider told Xinhua, as he and his whole family assembled at the door to watch the merry tunes.

"It was great, cross-cultural thing to enjoy that gave everyone a beautiful and memorable Merry Christmas," he added.

"Seems like a Chinese orchestra playing American Christmas carols on antique Chinese instruments is the perfect way to share the universal joy of the holidays," George, a visiting accountant from Florida, told Xinhua.

Longtime Candy Cane Lane residents Karen and David agreed, "These musicians are so generous to take time off from their own families at Christmas to come out and share their talents with us. It's remarkable and very special."

For many other residents who enjoyed the show, the Chinese instruments, with their unique sounds and historical significance, and the talented musicians playing them, created an enchanting musical experience that blended the festive spirit of Christmas carols with the rich heritage of Eastern melodies -- a musical bridge between East and West.

"Music's always been a universal language that transcends borders and cultural differences," Beth, an Angelino and a musician herself, told Xinhua. "It brings people together, no matter where they're from."

"We learn about American traditions and culture and they learn about ours," Chiao, the group's conductor and a Chinese immigrant from Guangzhou, told Xinhua, adding that it fosters a mutual respect that transcends cultural differences and leads to new friendships.

Many Americans may not be familiar with traditional Chinese instruments, explained Steve, a local school teacher who enjoyed the concert. "But now we get chance to see and hear these antique instruments up close, learn about their history and significance in Chinese culture."

"I can't wait to tell my friends," said Sue, 16, a local girl wearing a string of colorful, battery-operated Christmas lights on her sweater. "They've never seen anything like this!"

Other attendees said they were also likely to share their experiences with friends and colleagues, spreading awareness and a new appreciation for Chinese culture.

"Hopefully stuff like this will help lead to more inclusive communities, where diversity is celebrated and different cultures are better understood and respected," said one African American spectator, who had driven there with his two daughters to see the lights and had stayed to enjoy the Chinese-style music.

In a post-Covid world still divided by cultural misunderstandings and conflicts, things that promote cultural exchange and understanding are always a good thing, he felt.

Chiao said he conceived of the caroling idea because he felt, "The image of a Chinese orchestra playing Christmas carols in American homes would symbolize a world where cultures can harmonize to create a symphony of understanding and respect."

"We may be all different," he smiled, "but we all share the same holiday spirit and feelings of joy. Just like musical notes, we can all come together to make something beautiful in concert."

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