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Music sounds right note with exchanges

By LIA ZHU in San Francisco | China Daily | Updated: 2022-11-22 10:12

Amid tension between the United States and China, a leader in music education said musical exchanges between the two peoples could help bridge the gaps in geopolitical issues.

"We understand that the arts are not going to stop wars. They're not going to solve all the problems and geopolitical interactions, but the arts will for sure influence individuals," said Joseph Polisi, president emeritus of The Juilliard School, at a webinar hosted by the Committee of 100 last week.

"All individuals, all with their own opinions, all coming with different traditions and understandings. It's amazing how the arts can bridge all of these similarities and differences in ways that are very powerful."

Polisi also serves as chief China officer, supervising the development of The Tianjin Juilliard School. The branch campus was opened in Tianjin last October, becoming the only US musical institution to offer a degree in China.

"The mission of The Tianjin Juilliard School is to function as a catalyst through which we can use our musical performance or musical educational experiences to bridge the gaps that do exist in geopolitical issues," Polisi said. Though people are separated by language and ideological issues, there are no barriers as soon as they sit down and play together, he said.

The interactions between Polisi and his counterparts in China started in the 1980s when he visited the country on a series of tours and exchanges.

He visited China again in 2008 and it is during this tour that he nurtured the idea of building a branch campus in East Asia. "After much thought and research, we did settle in Tianjin," he said.

Since Tianjin Juilliard opened last year, its first class of master's students has already graduated. It also has a "robust" pre-college program and will offer adult education programs, and a series of other professional programs for Chinese musicians, Polisi said.

Another "fascinating" program is working with composers who are blending traditional Chinese instruments with Western instruments, Polisi said.

Speaking of issues between the US and China, Polisi called on the two countries to "take the first step together". "I have seen so often, how musicians bond and understand each other in an abstract way. Not only playing together in a string quartet, but going to concerts, having sponsored events by the Chinese government and the American government will constantly be making a case for better understanding of each other," he said.

He added that this is only "a small piece of larger efforts" and it needs to be done on many levels with many thousands of people. "But it's better to light one candle than to curse the darkness," Polisi said.

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