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When many young hearts play as one

By Chen Nan | China Daily | Updated: 2024-01-23 06:17

Under the baton of conductor Chen Shu, the Beijing Golden Sail Junior Orchestra conducts a rehearsal in Beijing on Saturday for its upcoming 10th anniversary concert. [Photo provided to China Daily]

The 37-year-old Beijing native learned to play cello as a child and joined the Beijing Golden Sail Symphony Orchestra — the mother orchestra of the Beijing Golden Sail Junior Orchestra — when he was a student at Beijing 101 Middle School.

Formed by Beijing 101 Middle School students in 1988, the Beijing Golden Sail Symphony Orchestra, which is an amateur music group, was one of the first student orchestras in China, and has since achieved fame at home and abroad.

"There are many good reasons for children to play instruments, including increasing memory, improving coordination and self-expression. However, most of the time, Chinese children practice alone. Because of my experience playing in a student orchestra, I know how happy and helpful it is for children to join a student orchestra," Hu says.

"The food we eat every day gives us the nutrients we need and although it cannot be touched, smelled or seen, music nourishes our souls."

Based on his experience at the Beijing Golden Sail Symphony Orchestra, Hu decided to found a youth orchestra in 2013 to appeal to musicians of an average age of 11.

Besides the training they get through rehearsals, members of the orchestra have opportunities to perform onstage, both in China and abroad.

In 2015, Hu took the orchestra to Germany, Austria and Switzerland on cultural exchanges and to perform. Two years later, it played at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Pavilion at Expo Astana 2017. It performed at the Sydney Opera House in 2018, and in the following year, it performed during the 2019 China-Finland Youth Symphony Event, which took place in Turku. In July last year, the orchestra performed in Vienna as part of the 2023 Chinese Youth Symphony Concert.

"These young people may have traveled around the world but when they perform as musicians, they get a sense of achievement they would not get if they were just traveling as tourists," says Hu. "They are proud of themselves."

He recalls vividly that during a trip to Germany in 2015, the orchestra not only performed at concert halls, but also in places like old peoples' homes. When they played Mozart's Eine kleine Nachtmusik, K 525 at one, its elderly residents applauded warmly and one elderly man told them that he had been a musician, and that he had been deeply touched by their performance.

"He told us that they reminded him of his childhood, when he'd also played Mozart's Eine kleine Nachtmusik, K 525," Hu says. "It was really a touching moment seeing how people, despite age and cultural differences, could connect through music."

Zhang Yunqi has been playing cello with the Beijing Golden Sail Junior Orchestra for about four years. Intrigued by the sound of the cello after attending a concert with her mother, the 11-year-old says that she plans to become a professional cellist.

"I have many friends here who are also learning to play instruments. We have a lot in common, and it's never boring practicing together," says Yunqi, who is a big fan of cellist Yo-Yo Ma. "My parents are very supportive of my idea to pursue a professional musical career, and I am working very hard toward that. Being a part of the orchestra allows me to enjoy music and get closer to my goal."

The orchestra's conductor Chen Shu says, "Not all the members of the orchestra are going to become full-time musicians, though some of them have been admitted to music schools. But the experience of playing in an orchestra, and the passion for music, will stay with them for the rest of their lives."

The 40-year-old also trained as a member of the Beijing Golden Sail Symphony Orchestra when he was a student at Beijing 101 Middle School. After pursuing further studies in Austria, he returned to China and has been a violinist with the China NCPA Orchestra — the resident orchestra of the National Centre for the Performing Arts — since 2010.

"Though it's enjoyable, an orchestra is also a high-pressure environment, because you're required to play to a high standard. You also need to overcome difficulties like stage fright, and be self-disciplined," says Chen. "When I first rehearsed with the children, I was surprised by their ability and commitment. They work together toward a shared goal."

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