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By Zhao Huanxin | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2023-05-25 07:40


There has even been research that points to the phenomenon that the hearts of musicians and the audience start beating in sync with the rhythm of the music and with one another.

"So, I can't help but feel how powerful that is," he says.

Dillingham talks about a concert four years ago in a county in Gansu, at which he won applause and standing ovations from local people who had never even seen the guitar, fiddle and double bass as an ensemble all playing together.

But it was the response from an elderly woman that impressed him most.

"There was an older woman that came up to me; she didn't speak any English, but she took hold of me, and she looked at me and she was basically saying, 'I see you and understand you'," Dillingham recalls.

It was exactly like a scene described by John Berry in The Listener, in which he recounts how an old lighthouse keeper reacted after listening to a Czech violinist play.

"I can never forget the look in her eyes. She seemed desperate to let me know that she got it," Dillingham says.

The episode reminds Dillingham that, sometimes sophistication — and even high levels of education — can inhibit a person from connecting as strongly and deeply as somebody who is enjoying the music from a purely emotional standpoint.

"I think if the music is good, especially if the intention of the message is pure, it can reach people without requiring a level of sophistication or deep cultural appreciation," he says.

On a 2013 visit to the Chimei Museum in Taiwan, a private museum that boasts the world's biggest violin collection, Dillingham had a chance to play some of the world's most valuable string instruments.

It came at a time when he had just launched the "Broken Beyond Repair" project, recording albums of music played on broken violins from a friend's "big box of deserted violins" to bring out the value and beauty of the "brokenness" in the instruments, the repair costs of which are prohibitive.

Dillingham says that, when he played those broken violins, he was surprised to hear sounds that were new, haunting and beautiful.

"In that moment, I just stopped, and I started laughing to myself," he says of his visit to the museum. "No matter how hard I try, I'm not going to be able to replicate the sounds of my little broken violin on this $16 million instrument, and, of course, the opposite is true."

He says he realized that no one violin is better than another, as people might think, but they are just different.

"What's really required is not for the violin to change or for us to fix the violin, but … to see and discover the beauty that was in each one of these broken instruments," he says.

On a philosophical note, he adds, "We all have our brokenness. And yet we still have value."

Instead of passing by the brokenness — people begging, a tent city on a street corner and impending maladies, for example — and becoming numb, people can always set out to do something, one piece at a time, just like picking up a broken violin and playing music, he says.

During the pandemic, Dillingham produced videos to share his music, including personal videos serenading friends.

"It did a lot of good, but I couldn't wait to get back to performing live for people, because there's something about being in the same room as your audience. There's something about the real transfer of energy that occurs," he says.

Dillingham says that, on the 2019 tour, he wrote a song to celebrate the sistership between Oklahoma and Gansu. He performed the song, Old Friends, while on tour, using zhongruan, a lute-like traditional Chinese instrument.

It was a composition that merged American musical roots with traditional Chinese folk music, with the refrain, "Sing with me; drink with me; share with me. I'll soon be gone, but I'm coming back again."

He says that, if economically motivated, he would be focusing on the major cities, rather than going to Gansu.

"But, I can't stop thinking about all my friends. And I really want to go back," he says.


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