Mason’s Artistic Connections with China Create Rich Learning Environment

Posted: November 17, 2010 at 1:02 am, Last Updated: November 16, 2010 at 4:18 pm

By Catherine Ferraro

Visiting students from Nanjing Normal University recently performed in the de Laski Performing Arts Building using traditional Chinese instruments. Photo courtesy of CVPA

Walking through the de Laski Performing Arts Building, it’s not uncommon to see a nine-foot grand piano, a trumpet, a bassoon or even a five-piece drum set. But what about an erhu, a zhonghu or a bamboo flute?

These traditional Chinese instruments — plus many others — came alive during a performance by faculty and staff members from China’s Nanjing Normal University on Oct. 19. The performance was part of a weeklong visit to Mason by 23 deans from Chinese universities to learn more about fine arts degrees.

The visit was just one of many examples of cultural exchanges that have strengthened the relationship between Mason’s College of Visual and Performing Arts (CVPA) and Chinese universities.

CVPA Dean William Reeder is at the forefront of establishing a cultural connection with Chinese universities. He made an initial connection to the diverse country in summer 2005, when he traveled to China to partner with Peter Mark, artistic director of the Virginia Opera. Together, the pair produced Puccini’s opera “Tosca,” the first opera performance to take place in the Shanghai Opera House.

“China’s cultural history has undergone a varied and often brutal transformation, but what has emerged is a dynamic blend and greater appreciation for traditional and Western influences in the arts,” says Reeder.

“It’s wonderful that we can expose our students — and Chinese students as well — to a different way of life and offer them a different kind of educational experience.”

This past summer, music professor Linda Apple Monson, far right, and the late Judith Lapple, a flute professor, and her daughter, Jenny Lapple, visited China and conducted master classes and performed for Nanjing Normal students. Photo courtesy of CVPA

This venture opened the door for Reeder to build numerous relationships with some of the top leaders in the performing arts industry and led to the creation of the International Opera Alliance (IOA). Housed at Mason and directed by Mark, IOA promotes cross-cultural exchange and provides training and support for artists throughout the world.

And as part of his travels, Reeder met Gao Qing, who is now a special assistant to Reeder and has helped to develop Mason’s Confucius Institute and serves as its managing director.

While Reeder has been building artistic relationships abroad, students from Chinese universities continue to enrich and provide diversified experiences for Mason students and faculty.

For example, this past summer, junior Fiona Han, a music major in the 1+2+1 program, helped arrange a visit to Nanjing Normal University by the late Judy Lapple, Mason flute professor, and Linda Apple Monson, associate director for academic affairs and director of keyboard studies in the School of Music.

During their two-week visit, Monson and Lapple, along with Lapple’s daughter, Jenny, conducted piano and flute master classes for nearly 80 students at the university. In addition, the trio performed several solo and group concerts and interacted with numerous professors.

“Our trip to Nanjing Normal University was a fascinating experience and we were delighted to see the positive reactions of the audience to our performances of 20th century music by American composers,” says Monson.

“We were thrilled with the responses we received from the Chinese students in our master classes and with their eagerness to learn different techniques and new repertoire.”

After returning from their trip, Mason later welcomed a delegation of deans from Chinese universities who were interested in learning more about the emerging field of arts management and specific aspects of the master of fine arts degree. The deans participated in daily panel discussions that included speakers from Mason and other universities and organizations in the area.

“We were delighted to host the Chinese delegation because it gave them the opportunity to see the kinds of strides Mason is making in all of the arts fields,” says Reeder. “In addition, it gave us the opportunity to repay the extreme kindness and warm welcome they offered to us during our visits to their country.”

When he looks to the future of Mason’s cultural relationship with China, Reeder notes that it is open and limitless.

“I think the exchange between the two countries is on track to become quite vibrant, and I look forward to finding opportunities and challenges for American and Chinese students to blend together their cultures and create a new art form.”

Write to gazette at gazette@gmu.edu