Sounds of China to demonstrate ‘the universality of the arts’ at Penn State

Sounds of China will make its Penn State debut on Tuesday at Schwab Auditorium.
Sounds of China will make its Penn State debut on Tuesday at Schwab Auditorium. Photo provided

The Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State will present Sounds of China on Tuesday in Schwab Auditorium. The contemporary Chinese folk ensemble combines traditional Chinese instruments with modern arrangements for a truly unique sound that Amy Dupain Vashaw, audience and program development director at CPA, assures will resonate with all audiences.

Dupain Vashaw chose Sounds of China to perform at Penn State herself, after hearing them play in Beijing in 2016.

“In 2016, the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation invited six presenters from their region to go to China to see a wide variety of performing artists,” she said. “We spent 10 days in primarily Shanghai and Beijing and saw so many artists. In this case, when we were in Beijing, we went to a studio (to hear) the musicians from Sounds of China and were just blown away. It was in a studio setting, super casual, (but we were) blown away by their musicianship and how the music that they make out of these traditional Chinese instruments is so contemporary.”

While the Chinese influence can definitely be found in the music — thanks to traditional instruments like the liuqin, a four-stringed Chinese mandolin, and the guhzeng, a Chinese zither — Dupain Vashaw says “the sound will (be) more familiar than you might think.”

“There’s something to be said for a group of people playing on these ancient, traditional instruments and creating a sound that’s so resonant and relevant to today,” she said.

Along with the Chinese Students and Scholars Association, the CPA has put together an itinerary to welcome the Sounds of China musicians, which Dupain Vashaw says will not only help them feel welcome and included in central Pennsylvania, but also introduce global cultures to Penn State audiences, a crucial part of the CPA’s mission.

“(The musicians will visit) a variety of classes, both high school and Penn State Chinese language classes. That’s something we started to do a couple of years ago with our Spanish-speaking artists, putting them in a language class to talk about themselves and their art, because that may infuse the arts in a place where it maybe wouldn’t have been otherwise,” Dupain Vashaw said. “They’ll demonstrate, of course, too. That’s part of the learning, because these instruments will not be familiar to most people in the audience.”

Dupain Vashaw reiterates that Sounds of China’s contemporary style of music makes the performance relevant to all audiences, demonstrating what she calls “the universality of the arts.”

“We may not speak the same language, but when you hear Sounds of China playing, you’ll relate to the sounds you’re hearing on a visceral and human level. That’s what (the Center for Performing Arts) tries to do with most of our performances — make people feel things on a human scale and a human level regardless of what the actual specific content of the performance is,” she said.

If you go

What: Sounds of China

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Schwab Auditorium, University Park

Info: cpa.psu.edu