Little did Rob Bridge know that one marimba would lead him to one of the biggest gigs of his life.
“I’ve been to Japan and around that area, but I never thought I’d ever make it to China. I wasn’t familiar with the culture or much about it,” says Bridge, DMA, professor of music at Onondaga.
It all started a couple of years ago when Qingshan Lu, percussionist specialist and artistic director of the Shenyang International Percussion Festival, faced a bind in Central New York. He desperately needed a marimba to complete his ensemble for an upcoming performance with his string quartet.
Bridge jumped right in and offered his assistance – and in turn invited Lu to host a clinic for his students.
“Both of us hold the same educational values and hold a special connection with our students,” Bridge says. “It was a huge opportunity, and he was a tremendous help and asset.”
Prior to returning to China, Lu informally welcomed Bridge to take part in one of his country’s largest musical celebrations: the Shenyang International Percussion Festival. Bridge smiled in agreement, but shrugged off the offer as a mere formality for his assistance.
That is, until he received a formal invitation to the event over the summer.
“There was a jury of musicians who selected the performers, and I got an e-mail asking if I would come if presented an invitation,” Bridge shares. “They also found out quite a bit about me from the OCC website.”
Featuring some of the most talented percussionists around the world, the festival ran for a week in October at the Shenyang Conservatory of Music. Two classes were taught during the day followed by a major performance at night. Acts included the Taiwanese percussion duo NanaTaipei, international musician Greg Beyer, and leading Canadian percussionist Beverly Johnston.
Bridge had the honor of culminating the ceremony with a challenging performance on the festival’s final day. In addition to paying tribute to upstate New York composers, he shared some complex original works that drew the interest of students studying at the Conservatory.
“The pieces that I performed were student-level pieces, so I had a lot of students coming up to me afterward and ask for those pieces,” he says. “Plus, some of the students added me on RenRen – the Chinese version of Facebook – and I continue to keep in touch with them through that.”
Along with gaining a milestone musical experience, Bridge explored and experienced the rich Chinese culture. Never having spoken a word of Mandarin, he relied on the help of translators to navigate his way through Shenyang and communicate with many of the festival’s participants.
“I knew a few people going into it, but I didn’t know what I was getting myself into,” he explains. “Once I got past the language barrier, I had a great time.”
But it’s a combination of the musical and cultural experience that made the trip a once-in-a-lifetime experience. And Bridge speaks on behalf of all the festival participants when he extends his thanks to all who made it possible.
“Although we may have been speechless with positive emotion at the end of our stay, upon reflection we really cannot say enough kind things about the hospitality shown us in China,” Bridge writes in an article for Percussive Notes magazine. “Every detail was worked out in advance and our comfort was always the foremost concern. It was an amazing experience.”
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