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Local music group returns from China

In collaboration with Chinese musicians, Voltage performs at Weifang University as part of their final concert, which was a sellout show. Voltage members in the back row include from left to right: Josh May, Ben Schreiber, Judah Chezick, Jesica Lindquist, Del Lyren and Molly Bass. — SUBMITTED PHOTO

BEMIDJII -- Exchanging musical knowledge and cultures, ambassadors from Bemidji State University have returned after spending a month in China.

Travelling to Weifang University -- located on the Shandong Peninsula in China -- the musical group, known on campus as Voltage, embarked on the learning experience May 23 to learn more about the Chinese language and culture, as well as to teach and perform electronic music with students there.

Del Lyren, a professor of music at BSU and the musical director of Voltage, accompanied the students on their journey.

"We didn't know what to expect, so we didn't really have any expectations when we got there," Lyren said.

Noted for their electronic wind instruments (EWIs), Lyren said Voltage intended to teach Chinese students more about electronic music, as they primarily focus on western musical notation and instruments, such as the piano, cello and violin.

EWIs produce their unique sounds through a silicone mouthpiece that have sensors, which monitor air pressure and volume control, as well as teeth pressure for vibrato. Essentially, it is played through a computer.

But a quick culture shock soon changed those plans to focus heavily on electronic music.

"The equipment they had for us wasn't what we thought, and most of the students didn't even play traditional band instruments, such as the trumpet," said Lyren, who is also involved in another BSU EWI music group known as the MIDIots, which consists of BSU faculty.

Writing their own music and collaborating with the Chinese musicians, who Lyren said played native instruments such as the pipa, the five BSU students -- Molly Bass, Judah Chezik, Jesica Lindquist, Josh May and Ben Schreiber -- rehearsed nearly every afternoon with the Chinese students, which eventually led up to a final concert performance that Voltage members say was unlike anything they will ever experience again.

"We had a lot of time to practice while we were here and we were able to put on what was probably our best show since the group was formed," Chezick, 21, said.

Performing for a crowd of nearly 100 people, Schreiber said the university went "all out" to put on the concert.

"They rented really good sound equipment for us to use, and had so many lights," recalled a laughing Schreiber, who is a sophomore studying music education. "They even had a fog and bubble machine."

With the incorporation of EWIs and traditional Chinese instruments, Chezick said the quality of their performance was nothing short of amazing.

"You can't really appreciate the beauty and sound of Chinese instruments until you see and hear them in person," he said. "We had the good fortune of working with very skilled musicians and I'm still impressed with how well our sounds blended together."

According to Schreiber, 19, who has never traveled outside the country previously, countless hours of practice was at times the only way to communicate with one another.

"I learned a decent amount of Mandarin to get along, but it was hard to communicate so it was cool to play instruments together," he said. "We used music as a universal language."

Beyond the music

Beyond music connections, members of Voltage received the chance to share their knowledge of the English language by staying an additional month and mentoring young school children.

Lindquist and Chezick decided to accept the offer and are still in China. They will return in the next two weeks.

"Saying yes to this opportunity was a no brainer," said Lindquist in an email, who is studying music education. "I love working with kids and there's nothing that I could be doing this summer that would be better for me."

Teaching a variety of school grades, Lindquist, 20, said she has been working with first-grade students, which she said can be difficult because "they can be very loud" and that "the language barrier can be difficult."

Similarly, Chezick is teaching middle school students who will travel to Bemidji in the fall as part of a student exchange program.

"It's a new challenge, but a welcome one," said Chezick, who is studying business. "I have definitely gained some respect for my teachers."

Hired by CIBT, Lindquist said she has also been working with a few students who will travel to Bemidji for a summer music camp.

"This experience has really solidified that this is what I want to do with my life; do music, teach and travel," she said.

The first of its kind, the ambassadors are the first students from BSU to travel to Weifang University.

Located on the eastern edge of the north China plain and extending out to the Bohair Sea to the north and the Yellow Sea to the southeast, the university is situated on the Shandong Peninsula. The area of Shandong is one of the wealthiest provinces in China.