On Friday, a bluegrass band from the Kentucky Center for Traditional Music at Morehead State University will depart for a tour of the People’s Republic of China. This is the third time that students from the program have been invited to share American folk arts with Chinese citizens, and the first time taking a full band.
Program Director Raymond McLain tells us that the student band, which he will accompany, will perform seven concerts over ten days in Beijing and several others cities in the Tianjin province. A number of the shows will be at Chinese music festivals and one of the students, Michelle Canning, has learned one song each in Mandarin and Cantonese, the two principal languages in the PRC.
In addition to Michelle, who plays guitar and banjo, the KCTM band will include Samantha Cunningham on fiddle and guitar, Justin Harrison on mandolin, Daxson Lewis on banjo, Lauren Price on mandolin, and Leanna Price on fiddle.
McLain is very high on these young musicians, and was eager to share that Harrison will be touring this summer with Karl Shiflett when they return from China. He feels that it’s a great opportunity for them all to perform overseas, and see such a faraway culture, while still in college.
The Chinese are very interested in the fact that we are preserving and developing this part of our heritage. It’s something that is very important to them as well.”
Nearly all the costs for the trip are being borne by the promoters of the various venues where they will perform, with a small assist from the University. Raymond says that Dr. Wayne D. Andrews, Morehead State President, is a big supporter of his program, and is a fine bluegrass banjo picker on top of being a highly regarded academic.
Help arranging this tour has also come from Li Dongfeng, a noted Chinese watercolorist who spends part of each year teaching art at Morehead State. Raymond says that Li is very well-connected with the arts community in China, and has helped introduce them to venues and promoters.
On earlier trips, McLain has found that the Chinese students were very enthusiastic about bluegrass, and eager to find a way to communicate and become social media friends with our students, despite the control exercised by the government.
“There is a language barrier, but the Chinese are very gracious hosts, and have taken very good care of us in the past.”
He promises to try and send photos and updates from their tour, if he is able to get online reliably.
The band will offer a concert tonight at the Rowan County Arts Center in Morehead, a dress rehearsal of sorts for the show they will put on in PRC.
Morehead State offers a Bachelors of Arts Degree in Traditional Music that is fully-accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music. They also have a relationship with Kentucky’s Hazard Community College in Hyden to accept all the credits from their Professional Studio Artist program for students who want to go on to a four year degree.