Shanren in Grand Forks, ND

By Shigeyo Henriquez

The last of Shanren’s nine weeks with Arts Midwest World Fest ended in Grand Forks, ND. The temperature was the coldest of all, yet we found people to be warm and welcoming.

At a welcome reception to start the week, we were greeted by the O’Neill Family Band, a folk music trio with banjo, fiddle, and guitar. As always Shanren likes to hear different kinds of music, especially performed by local people. It certainly made us feel welcomed. Thank you to our host Kathy Emmons for arranging!

On Tuesday we drove for about an hour and arrived at Emerado Elementary School, with a total of 105 students in grades K–8.

Fu Te finds friends easily. Is there a language barrier? No, not with Fu Te! Here he’s having school lunch with Emerado students.

On Tuesday afternoon we moved to Twining School at the Grand Forks Air Force Base. Even though it was on a base, once we reached the school we found that it was no different from any other school. We set up the sound system and instruments in a big gym and started with the song called “Aacha,” which is usually played when people meet for the first time. Many of the students had lived in different parts of the world, and so it was not their first time to meet Chinese people. The music teacher asked us to reserve plenty of time for Q and A, and many hands were raised after the workshops.

Later we visited Grand Forks Central High School. Often we find that high school students are shy and hesitant to participate in singing and dancing. At first when Shanren asked for volunteers, only a few hands were raised. But as a few students came onstage, many more quickly followed.

On Wednesday, we did public workshop at The Ember coffee shop, where several audience members tried to make sound out of a leaf. No success. A Lao tried to demonstrate and show them how to play a leaf, but so far, out of more than 100 workshops in nine communities, only three students successfully made some noises. It is very difficult to do! A Lao is the only musician in Shanren who can play songs with a leaf. It’s Yi culture, and no other Chinese tribe plays that way.

It was the coldest night of the week, but the people who came to The Ember coffee shop enjoyed Shanren’s tribal music and even danced together at the end.

Later at Century Elementary School, over 650 students filled the gym wall to wall and sang with Shanren. When Sam, the ensemble’s interpreter and manager, yelled, “Are you ready to learn and sing?” the students responded loudly, “YES!” It was only a 30-minute workshop, but they learned a lot about Yunnan and the tribal region of China.

On Thursday afternoon, we unloaded the sound system and instruments at Valley Memorial Homes, where the chapel was full of retired men and ladies anxiously waiting for our arrival. There was no room to walk, the people filled the room!

Shanren live in Beijing most of the time, but they travel back to Yunnan from time to time. They were very far from home during this tour, so they cooked their own food when they could to help with homesickness. Ou, the chef, prepared dinner in Grand Forks. I was always invited and ate the spicy, tasty food.

Their dishes were mostly vegetables, tofu, mushrooms, spinach, sugar snap peas, eggplants, green cabbage, and lots of hot peppers. They used very little meat.

The final concert of Shanren’s tour was at The Ember coffee shop in the downtown Grand Forks. David Fraher, the president & CEO of Arts Midwest, joined us along with Matthew Wallace from the Arts Midwest board of directors. We posed with David and our hosts in Grand Forks for a final tour photo.

On Saturday, February 14, we drove to Minneapolis, and the next morning we took a very early flight to Chicago. This is when we said, “Zài jiàn,” or, “See you again!” Then the group left for Beijing to spend Chinese New Year with their family. I will miss you, Mountain People – Shanren!

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