Shanren visits Midland, MI

By Shigeyo Henriquez

Midland, as the name suggests, sits in the middle of Lower Michigan. We followed Google map and it took us through miles of corn fields. “Are we going to the right place?” we all wondered.

Then the road changed to 4 lanes and led us to a lively city with shopping malls and restaurants lined along the way to Springhill Suites where our home was that week.

Monday morning we were greeted by Debbie Anderson and Heather Litle, staff of Midland Center for the Arts. They were our primary contacts for the week and led us to each school and the event where Shanren conducted workshops and performances.

Midland Center for the Arts (MCFTA) with two performance venues, two museums, art studios, lecture halls, a historical campus is a place where art, science, history, music, theatre, dance, films, camps, classes and professional world-class entertainers all live under one roof. MCFTA is a very well-run organization from top management to each staff member. It was such a pleasure to work with such professionals.

Group photo with the band and MCFTA
Shanren with the staff of MCFTA. Left to right is Ou, Fu Te, Phyllis, Heather, Aiyong, Courtney, Yabo, Debbie, and Sam.

A typical Shanren workshop goes like this: It starts with Acha tribe’s greeting song and then Sam takes the mic and introduces each member. Each member speaks Mandarin so that students can hear Mandarin and then Sam’s English translation.

Two Shanren members are Han which is the majority of Chinese and other two are from different tribes. Aiyong, the base player, is from the Wa tribe and Fu Te is from Buyi tribe. They both have their own language. Aiyong says “Monme” which is “hello” in Wa. In the Buyi language “hello” is “Laigei.”

Students are asked to repeat “Hello” in Mandarin, Wa, and Buyi languages. Then, Shanren performs 3-4 different tribal folk songs. One of the most intriguing songs is Left foot dance of Yi. The legend says long ago there was an evil dragon that flooded Yi people’s land. Yi people got together and fought the dragon and trapped him in a hole. They covered the dragon with soil and ashes and stamped on it with their left foot and defeated the dragon.

The legend lives on through an annual festival. Yi people play music and dance for three days and three nights. There are more than 1000 versions of Left Foot Yi songs. Students are quiet and listen to each detail of this interesting story. Then, the most enjoyable part of the workshop is when students learn to dance Left Foot dance of Yi. Volunteer students line up in the front and Fu Te, with QinQin string instrument on his shoulder, teaches the steps. This interaction with students is always the highlight of the workshops.

Here’s Fu Te and students at Northeast Middle School:

Dancing the left foot dance

It seems all schools we visited we were very impressed and inspired. Students participated and interacted well with Shanren’s stories and music. At the end of workshop we allow a few minutes for questions. The students of the Adams Elementary School Culture Club were exceptionally well-prepared and greeted Shanren in Mandarin and had good questions. Often students ask “How do you know each other?” or “how did the band get formed?” Here are other questions Midland area school students asked:

“What inspired them to become musicians, who is their idol musicians?”
“What age were they when they first held instruments?”
“How were they trained or did they attend higher education for music?”
“How are the instruments made? Are they handmade or manufactured?”
“How many languages do they speak besides Mandarin?”
“Describe the houses in Yunnan?”

What was new in Midland was Shanren’s first workshop for very young students. Shanren is known more as a rock band in China. Audiences there are generally 20-30 year olds, but “no problem.” Shanren brought out childrens songs from their villages and melodies their mothers used to sing. You can see everyone got along well at East Lawn Elementary.

Elementary school students at a workshop

The public concert was Friday night. We were very pleased to see a house full of guests. This was the third concert and I noticed that Shanren changed the program slightly. They asked a volunteer to come on to the stage and play the Dabia, a gong. A young girl raised her hand and joined Shanren. It must have been an unforgettable experience for her. Here’s Shanren in its public concert.

Shanren in concert

Quite few CDs were sold after the concert. The audience waited in a line for Shanren to autograph them. A sign of a good concert and a great week in Midland!

Signing CDs after the concert


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