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AAMB in Beijing, China: Special Report from Brent Russell
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
May 28 was our biggest day of sightseeing. We drove in the mid-morning to Tiananmen Square. It is an open courtyard approximately 800 meters by 500 meters - about the area of a 9-hole golf course. Across the street is the Forbidden City. I was not prepared for how enormous the Forbidden City complex is. You walk in and see a beautiful building and courtyard. That is then followed by another, then another, then another. It became mind-numbing to see so many beautiful buildings all in a similar architectural style.
After visiting Forbidden City, we took a bus to The Pearl Factory. A demonstration of how pearls are grown and harvested from oysters was given. We had about an hour to shop for many, many styles of pearl jewelry. The line at the cash register, band members only, was about 100 people long.
Our final stop of the day was at the Temple of Heaven, the exclusive altar for Chinese monarchs during Ming and Qing dynasties.
In all, the trip is going very smoothly. We are traveling in groups of about 45 by bus. Each bus has its own tour guide to take us through the various stops.
May 29, 2008
Today (May 29), we will travel to Summer Palace in the morning followed by lunch at McDonalds or KFC. The band then performs at Beijing No. 4 Middle School in the afternoon. This is their only marching exhibition. It will be interesting to see how they do without the aid of football field yard lines to guide by.
The weather is much improved. Wednesday was in the low 80s and the pollution index was very high. CNN reported that it was one notch short of the worst in terms of smog. A sand storm in the nearby Gobi Dessert was contributing to the high particulate count in the air. But the winds switched to the north Thursday morning, the sky returned to blue, and the temps were in the 70s all day. Breezy but still no rain. Great for touring!
The Summer Palace is just a few miles outside the city. We sat in stand-still traffic for 20 min or so which made it an hour min drive. The palace is on a hillside facing a large lake. Lots of trees made for some beautiful photo ops. In the photos, you will see a street artist “painting” Chinese characters on the black sidewalk. It is actually water, which turns the slate-like stone a shiny black when wet.
The band’s first performance was at the Key School on Thursday afternoon. Our tour guide explained that kids all over China apply to enroll at what is considered to be one of the best middle/high schools in country. A crowd of approximately 300 kids arrived at the soccer field to watch a style of musical performance that is completely foreign to them. The band performed parts of their pregame show, including the run-on and Hail Purdue. They played the national anthems of both countries, and continued with marching drills and stand-still concert pieces. A big hit was Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out For Summer.”
One of the photos shows a green ribbon on the shoulder of the band uniforms. They are in honor of those affected by the massive earthquake in China last month. A moment of silence was observed prior to the concert.
The band members really fed off the enthusiasm of the teenagers, and the wide-eyed amazement of the younger kids. At the conclusion of the performance, the kids were invited to come down to the field and interact with the band members. Those who play instruments or twirl batons were able to show us their stuff. One photo shows a snare drummer who was quite talented. Our percussion instructor, Dr. Pam Nave, presented him with a pair of drum sticks from the Purdue drumline.
Gifts were also exchanged as you can see. Director Jay Gephart offered a “beanie” stuffed Big Bass Drum and also a marching band hat.
May 30, 2008
Preparing for, and performing in a joint concert with a university band from Beijing in the Great Military Hall filled the better part of the day on Friday for the Purdue “All-American” Marching Band. They had rehearsal in the afternoon followed by a meal, a two hour break, and then the concert in the evening.
The Beijing Band is a traditional indoor concert band - mostly wind instruments with a few strings. For their final piece, selected members of the Purdue Band joined their group in the interest of cultural exchange. Later, for the Purdue Band's final piece, some members of the Beijing band teamed up with Purdue.
The concert hall is fairly new and very beautiful. One photo you will see is the VIP room for entertaining guests, who could be foreign dignitaries. The acoustics were pretty “hot.” The wood floor and walls of the stage (very few curtains or dampening devices) forced the 270-member Purdue Band to play mezzo piano (soft) to keep from overwhelming the audience.
Gifts and flowers were exchanged after the concert and the students were able to interact with one another. The audience loved the high-energy show, including the percussion section cadence. The Beijing Band played Stars and Stripes Forever in a way that would have made Mr. Sousa very proud.
May 31, 2008
Today the Purdue “All-American” Marching Band performed at the Great Wall in an open paved area for the crowds that gathered. Sara and Chellie Zou made their debut performance as the new Silver Twins of the Purdue Marching Band. The graduating Silver Twins could not make the trip. The Zou twins are Chinese, so it made for interesting conversation for the locals who gathered to watch the show. The band posed for a “Block P” photo at the conclusion of the concert. Mandy Hampton, the flag corps instructor and a graduate student at Purdue, is traveling with her boyfriend Kraig Wray and he proposed to her on the Great Wall. She said “yes”!
A majority of the band members climbed the Great Wall to the top of the mountain. I don't know how many meters we scaled, but there were over 1800 steps according to our guide. The journey took about 90 minutes up and about 50 minutes coming down.
June 1, 2008
The trip to China is coming to an end today with visits to two popular shopping markets. No performances. Part of the fun was that all prices are negotiated. You typically start by offering 10% of the asking price, then working toward a settling price. To get the price you want, you pretty much have to walk away from the store 3 or 4 times. The shop clerk, typically a young woman who speaks English, will grab your arm and ask you to come back. Hearing the words “Okay, I give you your price” is the sound of victory.
To see more of the many photos taken from the trip, check out our photo album.
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