Travelogue HRVHS music teacher attends International Music School in China Hood River News

Dan Kenealy teaches band and choir at Hood River Valley High School. This summer, he traveled with other music students and teachers from Oregon to attend an international music summer school in China. During his three-week stay, he learned to play the Chinese Bamboo flute, attended music lectures and participated in many Chinese cultural tours, including the Beijing Capital Museum. This school year marks his fourth at HRVHS.

I read the info and got really excited. I immediately emailed Shen back and asked what he thought my chances were of getting in — the program was open to music majors at Portland State University as well as local teachers. He said something along the lines of, “You’ll never know if you don’t submit an application, but I think you have a good shot!”

Fast forward to July 12, and I was on a plane to Beijing with four music students and a professor from Portland State University, about to take part in a three-week music summer school.

It was my first time flying overseas — I was excited and anxious. Fortunately, two of the students had attended the school last year, so they were able to answer a lot of my burning questions on the 11-hour flight.

When we landed in Beijing, the first thing I noticed was tons of buildings, humidity, and smog. After we gathered our luggage, we got on a bus and started working our way toward the hotel, where we would attend lectures, get our instruments and have rehearsals on the music we were assigned to play. On the bus, I was immediately captivated by the hustle and bustle of the city, but also noticed that there were so many parks. Later on, I would discover a beautiful park by the hotel, where I would go most days to catch some shade under a pagoda.

Once we got to the hotel, I think all of the students were taken aback at how big it was and how nice the rooms were. We were told it was a four-star hotel that the Chinese government does not open to the public, but only for events such as international exchanges. The rooms were incredible, and even had a little touch screen on the wall where you could play nature sounds through the speakers on the ceiling. My favorite part was the button on the nightstand that would open and close the room darkening shades, making it feel like nighttime whenever I wanted. For the first few days dealing with jetlag, this feature was heavenly!

The next few weeks were jam packed with morning lectures and cultural tours, followed by afternoon lessons and rehearsals on the instrument we were assigned to. I was assigned to the dizi (pronounced di-tse), or Chinese Bamboo flute. Every afternoon, I would spend about two hours with the professor, who would show me techniques and fingerings as best as he could. He spoke very little English, and I spoke very little Chinese, so there was a lot of communicating though hand gestures, facial expressions, and thumbs up and thumbs down.

Unfortunately, due to flooding, the morning cultural tour of the Great Wall was canceled. However, it ended up being a wonderful day where we went to visit a Confucius School and got to try our hand at archery and experience a traditional tea ceremony. The tea was exceptionally delicious and even got me (a notorious coffee drinker) thinking about converting to a regimen of morning tea.

The best part of the entire experience was spending quality time getting to know the other students participating in the program and the professors from the Beijing conservatory. The program hosted students from Canada, the United States, Denmark, Romania and Kenya. I loved having conversations with other students during meals and talking about culture, music and food in their home countries. As far as Chinese culture goes, I came to admire the sense of camaraderie and hospitality I encountered in every activity. I spent many evenings trying new cuisine with fellow students and professors, exploring the numerous (and very fancy) shopping malls, and even experiencing a night on the town at a karaoke party.

I am incredibly grateful to Jing Lu, an amazing professor at Portland State University, who translated for me and all of the other students as we tried to get around the city and communicate with organizers of the summer school. Without her, I would have been seriously lost at all times. I hope to arrange for her to visit HRVHS sometime this school year to talk with the music students and do a demonstration of the yangqin, her primary instrument.