Thanks everyone for your warm birthday wishes.
Lately I have decided to take a social media recess therefore have not been in touch on FB much but for those are wondering what I have been doing or where on earth I am residing, here is my quick update.
After spending a few wonderful months promoting my album in Asia, I am back in the States to finish up my Master degree in Composition at Brooklyn College. I am currently working with my fabulous composition mentor Tania Leon on my graduation thesis, which is a Piano Concerto in three movements. It is the longest and most difficult piece I have ever written and I am still battling with this monster that myself have created. Even though it is a constant struggle, I am determined to defeat this beast and finish the race by the end of the year.
It was really great to take some time off to be with family and dear friends I love in my motherland, but the downside is that I have gained a lot of weight after eating non-stop due to people’s warm hospitalities. The transition of coming back to the States was actually quite emotionally rough: seeing the horrendous news daily and facing the “colder" culture of western society makes me reexamine the meaning of being an American. What also makes the transition difficult is that I had resigned all my jobs last year and need to restart my career from ground zero again. It takes a lot of courage to let go of the financial stability I used to have and leaving the communities I was much part of.
However, I believe life is about taking risks and boldly pursue your passion. The good thing about being “rock bottom" is you can only go upward from the lowest point. After a few dry months which gave me plenty of time to refocus on my composition, my life as a freelance musician starts to get really full again. I currently have 12 adorable piano students and I direct two adult choirs on Sunday. I also have a jazz trio that I get to play more regularly and I start to work on my third jazz album with my dear lyricist, David Keyes and my super talented friend/producer, Ulysses Owens. It is a new project that I am really excited about and my main focus in the new year to come. I have faith that no matter how difficult the situation could be at times, I serve a faithful God, who will always provide my needs. All I need to do is to follow my calling and He will direct my path.
Speaking of album, I still would like to take this moment to thank all my supporters who funded my CD “Not Alone" around my birthday last year. I didn’t get to promote it as much as I wish upon my return to the States for my priority is to finish my concerto. I also do not want to associate myself with the name “Evangelical Christian" by promoting a sacred hymn album during this sensitive time. However, lately I am reminded of my responsibility of sharing this album more as it is not just about my music, it is my living testimony as a woman of color/immigrant who have survived abuses and trying to rise above all the obstacles set in her way. And I hope by sharing my own stories, it will inspire other women to do the same as well. I am glad to see that more women are bravely coming forward in the recent #Me Too movement and encourage each other that we are “Not Alone" in this long fight of gender equality.
As a single woman who is celebrating her last year in her 30th, I have come to realize that if I am not afraid of being “Alone", then I am also less afraid of anything else in life. Aging doesn’t make me feel more anxious or sorry about myself, it only makes me braver and more resilient towards the unknown future.
Thanks again for all your support and love,
As 2014 is coming to the end, I would like to send my seasonal greetings and wish you a bright start in 2015. I am happy to report that after three semesters of extreme hard works, I have completed all my requirements courses at Brooklyn College Conservatory. In the coming year, I will only need to compose a substantial piece, most likely a piano concerto, then I will be able complete my master degree in composition.
I am sorry that I might had missed your dinner invitations, your baby shower, your birthday party, your children's birthday parties, your premiers, your performances, CD release parties, holiday parties..... or just not able to catch up on the regular basis due to my continuous deadlines and heavy work load at school. Nevertheless, I wish I will be able to see you more in the coming year for I will not be writing paper anymore :) , at least not for a long long while!!
I know it seems a bit crazy that I had decided to go back to school to get my third master degree in my mid-thirties and whether a degree in composition is necessary or not is always debatable, I must say it has been my most prolific period as a composer. My portfolio ranges form solo piece to duo, trio, string quartet, guitar quartet, jazz quintet to Latin big band, funk piece for 12 modern dancers, film scoring, full orchestra and even have my first electro-acoustic avant-grade collaboration! Composing is no longer something I do in my leisure time, it has become the way I live my life, how I pray, how I mourn for the loss and dream about the future.
Even though each composition itself is a struggle and challenging process, I have been learning to search deep within, develop, and relish my own unique voice. To accept and embrace who I am, including my insecurity, my limitation, my insanity, my pain and my doubt. In the end each struggle will lead to its own triumph as the creative spirit inside of me can never be quenched and the oppressed voice that yearns for freedom and equality has to find its way out.
The best thing happened to me at Brooklyn College is to meet my amazing mentor Arturo O'Farrill, a Latin Jazz Master who just won his second Grammy Award! In the coming semester, I will have the privilege to work alongside with him for his Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra and have the opportunity of having my big band pieces played by top notch jazz musicians in the city! If you are ever out and about on Sunday nights and want to hear some Cuban jazz and catch up our lives over a drink at Birdland jazz club, feel free to drop me a line and I would love to have you as my guest!
Have a blessed holiday and Happy New Year!!
In the spirit of Christmas joy and peace,
Sept /3 2014
I will cover you
I normally am not a big fan of rock music, to me it is too loud and the harmony language seems a bit predictable, I prefer to sit in the jazz club with romantic candles light or grand concert hall with my elegant dress rather than rocking from the crowd with ears plugs on. Maybe there is also a bit of snobbery and pride that my perfect –pitched ears behold as they naturally are prone to more “sophisticated" sound. There is a famous joke I like to tell: the difference between rock musicians and jazz musicians is that rock musicians play three chords for thousands of people and the jazz musicians play thousands chords to three people.
Ironically, regardless my disinterest in rock music, the past two boys I dated were all coming from rock background and are all writing rock songs and recorded with rock bands. I realize I have the tendency to be drawn to the “Bad Boy" charm of rock musicians though I am supposed to only date nice Christian boys by doctrine. Generally speaking, though I should not stereotype, to me classical guys are too gay, jazz guys are too desperate and Christian men are neither hot or smart, and if they are both, they were probably not interested in women, or at least, in me. I think after peeling off my skin of ivy league credential, seminary degree and church job title, at is very cord, I am a “Bad Girl" too.
During the last few free days before fall semester starts, while browsing on Netflix, I stumbled upon the film version of a rock musical called “Rent". Although I am not a big fan of either rock music or musical per say, this particular “rock musical" somehow speaks to me in a profound way and I sob along with it even after watching it several times. Perhaps the lead character, Roger, played by Adam Pascal, reminds me much of the pretty rock boy whom I last kissed but is now far gone. Or I sob because I sympathize with the pain of this dead young/talented composer who composed this autobiographical musical yet never see his dream came true. Like Jonathan Larson, the composer of Rent, I also had lived in harsh condition and struggle to make the ends meet and paying rent in the Big Apple as a musician in the past. Nevertheless, what touches me most is the community of friends and artists portrayed loosely based on the story of La Boheme. They create a family of acceptance, support and love regardless their race, sexual orientation and stigma of HIV/AIDS. This group of impoverished young artists all share the same fears of uncertain future, unfulfilled dreams and cruelty of death yet their love for each other help them to get through the most difficult time even till his or her last breath.
Yes, I know it is silly to cry over a movie drama, but I can’t help to be jealous of this community of artists because I don’t have one. It actually makes me really sad as I recall on my days of being engaged to a Jewish guy and the harsh criticisms and judgments or dirty looks I receive from the Christian community. The community that was supposed to be built on the gospel of love and grace yet is the most judgmental and hypocritical that I ever experienced. The acceptance is only found if you speak educated like them, dress conservatively like them, or act like you are holier than rest of sinners in the world as you are the only ones who will eventually make into heaven. How many times have we ever worshiped and sat next to gay brothers and sisters or AIDS patients in the church pews and shake their hands or embrace them as we passing the peace? Yet aren’t they the crowd that we condemn the most is the one Jesus himself choose to hang out with and rooted for? He himself knows the best that it is the sick and the unrighteous ones that need Him the most, not the opposite.
Yes we can always preach the sound doctrine and leave the sinners outside the church doors and inner circles. We condemn their sinful acts and lifestyles and justify our actions with biblical texts. However, we might as well lose the chance to embrace people who believe the different things and live the different lives. Can we at least show the basic respect and give them the dignity that people deserve as human being if we can’t spare our kindness and love to them? My tears flush out at its peak during the scene of the drag queen character, Angel's funeral. His close friends commemorate his/her angelic and generous love to them as well as the strangers on the street. To me, Angel’s love is Christlike and I strive to be a good friend and good person like him. His lover, Collins sang the final song “I will cover you" while his hands and tears cover Angel’s coffin: .
So with a thousand sweet kisses, I'll cover you
, With a thousand sweet kisses, I'll cover you,
When you're worn out and tired, When your heart has expired
If you're cold and you're lonely
You've got one nickel only
With a thousand sweet kisses, I'll cover you,
With a thousand sweet kisses, I'll cover you
To me, this is true love, though it may seem queer to you. Love covers multitudes of sins and sinners. My dear friends, won’t you build a community of love with me, whether you are gay or straight, rich or poor, christian or atheist. Whether you like classical, jazz, rock or hip-hop, I will be your friend and I will cover you.
Eat, Pray, Love
July 22nd 2014
I couldn’t officially document the day that we broke up. If I really have to pick a day, it would probably be the day that we sat at the Starbucks and had our last conversation about our frustrations of the relationship. I returned your home key in exchange of a bag of my belongings at your place, then i cried the last time in your arms in the midst of the brutal winter wind, but you, didn’t.
Breaking up is deadly brutal: it is somehow like experiencing the death of a love one, even though the person you love is still alive, the person who used to love you is no longer there. You may or may not hear from and see him/her ever again in your life. I know facing death of your beloved is the most traumatic experience, getting over a breakup could be just as painful. There is no emotional pain killer invented yet, except alcohols and drugs, but I don’t do either of them. The heartache that kept me awake at night or prevented me from getting up in the morning is not merely an emotional hurtle, I can physically feel the heaviness in my chest, it is tangible and it does hurt.
The breakup hit me much harder and longer than I anticipated as the duration of our intense romance is relatively short. I think I overestimated my ability to recover from a loss and I underestimated how much your companionship means to me. Although our romance did not last that long but because of its intensity, it left a strong impact on my heart..just like when you press the pen down really hard while you write, the imprint still can be traced even when you have turned to the next page. This ongoing pain has dragged over months and I was annoyed at the fact that I am still not over you. As a matter of fact, during the middle of a depressed composing day, I even went on line to google the tricks of how to get over a breakup. A site suggests focusing on the bad memories and the wrong parts of the relationship instead reminiscing the good old days, but somehow it makes me even sadder, bitter and angry. Then I try to think of the beautiful moments that we shared then I found myself wondering if I make the right decision or regretting the things that I did or didn’t do. Anyway, both of them don’t work and it is confusing as it could be. I don’t know how long this pain will last but I do know the brutal winter has finally passed and spring is already here, it is a new beginning and a new chapter in life. The new beginning could not take off unless a real closer is executed, therefore I held a memorial service of this relationship by writing a composition for you. I wish you all the best in your future as I mourned over that this dream of being with you had died and maybe it is time to dream another dream and let you go.
So here I am with a boarding pass in my hand, ready to go on my Eat Pray Love journey in Italy. During my adventures at Contemporary music festival in Pavia, I will start my day with Italian lessons, learning to speak the language of love, hearing stories behind each new composition of living composers from all over the world. Maybe I will still think of you at certain moments while I sip over a rich cappuccino at the local cafe in a lazy afternoon, eating pasta with fresh basil grown from the Italian soil and drinking the the finest Italian wine along the evening breeze. I do hope that my tears will finally evaporate under the Tuscan sun and I will regain my passion and love for life back and feel that life can still be beautiful. Nevetheless, while I visited all the famous cathedrals, I will certainly say a prayer for you, and I will pray that the good Lord above will continue to watch over you after I finally sacrifice our relationship at the altar of His loving hands. I relish my anguish and frustration to God and hopefully in exchange a beautiful sunrise. I have faith that He will take good care of you just as He will take good care of me too. So farewell, my love.
B44 bus ride
Since I attended Brooklyn College in the fall, B44 bus ride has been my daily routine from Sheepshead bay to Flatbush Junction. Although Brooklyn College’s main entrance is located on beautiful Bedford Ave in Midwood, a predominant Jewish neighborhood, the south entrance of the campus is situated among the West Indies community. During most of my afternoon ride to the campus around after school hour, I will find myself to be only one or two non-Black passengers among the whole bus of African American kids. Sometimes I find myself could hardly stand the noise they made, but sometimes their care free faces which are so full of life, laughter and energy made me wish I could be young again.
Compared with my previous years studying at IVY league school, attending BC is quite a very different experience. People ask me if I feel safe taking subway or late night bus home among so many Black passengers. However I somehow do not really see myself being so different than them. Growing up in a dysfunctional, violent and emotionally abusive family plus being an immigrant who came to the States at an older age, I could sympathize the pain and hardship that the African Community has gone through. I do not believe someone can truly understand the essence of jazz without knowing what is like being oppressed, discriminated against and marginalized. The deep hunger and cry for liberation, justice and freedom could never being heard in the music if you do not know the meaning of the “Blues" .
Despite objection from my family and church community, I decide to pursue a musical journey as a jazz pianist, conductor and composer. Although sometimes I could appear as too much a feisty woman or a fireball, it truly takes courage to break into the male dominated field and challenge the traditional view of woman, especially an Asian woman. Without Irene Morgan’s bravery to fight against the injustice, people maybe still be riding on segregated bus in the south. Her case inspired the 1947 Journey of Reconciliation, during which sixteen activists from the Chicago-based Congress of Racial Equality rode on interstate buses through the Upper South to test the enforcement of the Supreme Court's ruling. Reconciliation does not come without cost, someone has to stand up and speak up and it could be a woman.
I find it ironic that I spent thirty thousands dollars tuition a year to enroll in a jazz program with seventy white guys and studied solely with white male faculty at NYU. Perhaps my experience at BC will change my course as an American composer, who ride on the bus and subways with black passengers daily and playing in the big band with African Americans from the local community. I hope under the influences of great music mentors such as Tania Leon and Arturo O'farrill, who are faculty of colors, I will thrive to be the musician who not only has craftsmanship and intellect, yet with passion, soul and compassion. Instead of being the stereotyped submissive Asian woman, I can ultimately have a voice in the society and inspire others to fight against inequality and injustice. I also know very well it is not an easy path, but a journey worth the fight.
Authenticity vs Stereotyping
Soon after the winner of Miss America 2014, Nina Davuluri, an Indian descent was announced this past Sunday night; twitter was flooded with angry and frustrating comments. I was quite amused by the names that people call this new beauty queen such as “Arab" “Terrorist" or “Muslim Extremist" while apparently she is an Indian descent. Obviously some Americans were confused and disappointed at the outcome and the public dism is the reflection of the problematic definition of the word “American". Therefore what should the authentic representation of American look like? Maybe a hardworking, generous person who is optimistic about his/her American dream or a person who is struggling with obesity as his diet is centered on apple pies, burgers and fries. Perhaps the world will prefer a better candidate of Miss America who is an unsophisticated and uncultured racialist yet a gun-loving peacemaker who loves to wear cowgirl boots and supports unwarranted military intervention.
From the above example of Miss America, we can see the interesting fine line between authenticity and stereotyping .The symbols that present American culture could also easily fall into stereotypes of Americans and at the same time we are constantly searching for true, authentic representation of a “real" American should be. In the realm of art, it is never easy to define what authentic American music ought to sound like or in this case what an authentic American opera should look like. Allen’s article reveals the racial and cultural issues raised by African American community regarding Gershwin’s problematic opera “Porgy and Bess". Unlike some white and black critics who appraise Gershwin’s artistic merits and his contribution to African American’s cultural uplift, three prominent Black artist and critics Duke Ellington, Hall Johnson and Ralph Matthews all gave negative responses to Gershwin’s attempt of racial stereotyping and cultural exploitation.
Whenever someone is attempting to do “cross-culture" art making, the issue of “Authenticity" will always be raised. For example while a trained Italian chief attempts to make traditional Chinese “Peking duck", or a black ballet dancer auditioning the role of “Sleeping beauty", or an Asian girl like me sing or play the Blues, people cannot help but raising their eye browns and secretly wonder how “good" it really could be. In Gershwin’s case, when a Jewish white man writing an classical opera about the stories, lives and music from southern African-American community in South Carolina, I am not surprised that people will challenge its authenticity or leaving contemptuous and unfavorable comments . No matter how long Gershwin live or mingle among the African American community or how hard he tries to capture its spirit, idioms and nuances, some people will always criticize that the opera is not “Negro" enough. You will think it is impossible for a white man to understand what a negro have gone through. As Ellington says it should be someone from their own community that voice their own lives with cultural authenticity and accuracy. However, imagine an African American composer in 1935 attempted to write an opera in the European art form, will not the white audience and critics and not be questioned about his conservatory training, authenticity and mastery of European classical operatic form?
In my opinion, I do not think Gershwin is purposely stereotyping African American as drug addicts, prostitute or disabled begger. It is a story about people who are in the lowest stretta in the unjust society and were oppressed, discriminated and trapped in their misery yet still seeks love and freedom in their hungry souls. Good art ultimately transcends racial and cultural boundary as it expresses the deepest human emotion and longing that speaks to every wounded soul in the universe. Should we only produce arts that reflect our own heritage and culture and staying in our comfort zone of what we already know? Perhaps we should give more credit for people who stretch themselves outside the box and create art that is somewhat less culturally authentic and accurate yet artistically innovative and genuine.
It has been a long while since I have seen lot of of you and you may be wondering what have I been up to. I've been working hard, in solitude, at my classical compositions portfolio for grad school, in compositions for the fall. Hopefully I'll have a concert in the near future premiering all my new classical works, but till then... .
I am putting on different hat as a jazz pianist and will be performing with a wonderful jazz singer Marie-Claire at the Metropolitan room in Manhattan. http://metropolitanroom.com/index.cfm
There are four gigs in the upcoming month- it will be nice to see you again at one of the performance so we can catch up our lives over a drink in this elegant jazz club.
and Happy Chinese New Year!
12/25/2010 Merry Christmas
I am currently back to the Big Apple and had fulfilled my one year teaching commitment in Shanghai. It has been a challenge year to adjust new culture and environment and had experienced moments of severe homesickness, loneliness and discouragements yet I have learned to appreciate what I have in New York more than ever before, my family, dear friends like you, church and seminary community as well as the diversity and greats arts that I can only find in NYC. God also use this oversea experience to shape my characters and humble me and transform me to be more Christlike.
There is now where like New York and I am happy to be back for now and am still seeking God's guidance for future direction. After a busy year working and teaching , I have decided to come back to NYC focus on writing new music and be recharged spiritually as well. Though my friends and students in SH all wish me to return soon and I also have invitation to go to Taiwan to work in the pop industry but I want to walk in God's will and be obedient to His calling.
My jazz CD " On My Way Home" is finally out and can be purchased at -
http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/MavisPan -Yes it is good to be "Home" especially during the Christmas season. I wish to be in touch with you again and catch up with you.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. << Romans 15:13 >>
I know many of you have been wondering how I am doing in SH; I am sorry for not keeping you posted for a while. Compared to six months ago, I do have a much busier life here now and so many new things have happened so fast, that it is hard to tell it all.
My debut CD "On My Way Home" is finally out. I was back in the States over the Christmas holiday to see family, but my short vacation break did not give me enough time to plan a CD release party. I hope to be back again in June to do the CD release party, so stay tuned! If you would like to see the CD cover, it is on my Website www.mavispan.com.
Remember I told you from my last update that I started to perform regularly at a beautiful jazz club every weekend. More so, starting from the New Year not only do I perform there, but also I was put in charge of the music, creating the program and doing the publicity to improve the business of this newly-opened jazz club. I was never experienced at running a jazz club, so I wasn't sure if I should take on this responsibility. But this experience is quite rare to happen to me in NYC so I decided to give it a shot. It is certainly very challenging and there are still many things I have to learn. As a program director, I am not only looking for jazz musicians to play, I also invite expat community actors to do an improv show and stand-up comedy. In a way, this job has helped me to connect with many non-believer artists here in SH and I hope I can create a nice and "clean" venue for the artists to share their talents and keep the jazz music alive in SH.
Another important thing is I met a young, local Christian guitarist who shares my same vision to spread jazz education all over China. He and I recently started a jazz program that recruits jazz lovers and students from all over China to study jazz in a 7-day intensive period. I am teaching as one of the main instructors and I also provide the venue for the students to take an ensemble class in the afternoon at the jazz club where I work. In addition, the club gives these faculty musicians a place to perform in the evenings. The program takes 20 students for each intensive period and today I just had my first class. I have students from all over the different provinces and conservatories and it is a pleasure to meet them. For them it is surely an ear/ eye opening experience to learn music in a totally different way. It was one of my visions and calling to come to SH to teach the local students jazz in order to stimulate their creativity and imaginations, something which they are not exposed to under their rigid and traditional educational system. Just the assignment of creating their own version of "Happy Birthday" is quite difficult for them. They also purchased my CD and have learned about my story in NYC and about my faith. We are also recording most of our classes and I was joking to my business partner that maybe one day we can make a documentary similar to "Mao to Mozart" but it will be called "Mao to Mavis" :)
Besides working, I am also helping a group of young migrant workers who are from underprivileged families in different parts of rural China. I have joined with some other art teachers to give them music, dance and drama classes. This group goes to many places such as factories to perform and minister to other migrant workers, and often their performances bring tears to the audiences, including me. Every time I see them, I feel I am extremely blessed to have the opportunity to receive higher education, not to mention the experience of living overseas. Therefore I do not mind devoting some of my time to share with them the gift that God has freely blessed me.
Here in SH, I meet new people each day and exciting things happen so rapidly that each day is a new day for me. However, I still miss my old friends like you and miss NYC tremendously whenever I look at my own CD cover. I hope that all is well with you and please keep me in your p*ayers. Facebook takes forever to load, so I hardly get on it, but will try to keep you updated more frequently.
Happy Chinese New Year!
Last night before I depart, I had all sorts of mixed feeling. My room was filled with things that I have accumulated for fourteen years since I moved to America. I found it an extremely painful task to decide what to put in these two suitcases. Reluctant to go to sleep, Mom stayed in my room to help me pack and had been tried to stuff as many things as she can into the suitcases. I knew she hates the fact that she couldn’t stuff herself in the suitcase as well to go to China with me. It is my first time to leave home this far and this long since I was born and it is hard for her to see me go. However, no matter how much she worries about my life in Shanghai, but I know from now on I am totally on my own. I would need to be independent and responsible for my life either for better or for worst.
I know I tend to be careless and blunt and not too cautious with things and I always complain that she is too finicky and demanding. She thinks I am too much like a boy and tried very hard to make me be more like a lady. Therefore we often get into conflicts and fights about little things and our relationship has always been tense. I often thought will that be wonderful if one day I can run away from home to a far way place and will never have to endure her nagging and will be finally free. However at that particular moment, I really didn’t feel like leaving home especially when Mom put me in her arms around me and began to sob. She said she knew she tends to be harsh to me but she really loves me and all means well. I hardly hear the word “love" from her mom, it is not the way she normally express her affection and as I heard her said that my heart ached too. I could only comforted her that everyone has to leave the parents at some point and learn to grow up and now is the time for me. I persuaded her to go to sleep since she had to get up early to deliver the mails and I was tired and sleepy too. The next morning , the whole family got up at five am to send me off. After I got into the cab, I waved goodbye to them but quickly turned my head back to look straight as I could not look at my mom’s crying face anymore.
During my 17 hours of long flight, I wept some too as I am not sure if I make the right decision to go to Shanghai and I realized how hard it was to leave someone you love so deeply. However, since I already made the decision, I can only look forward and no tuning back. I wiped my tears and forced myself to smile, I believed days from now one will only get better not worse.
April 10-17th 2009
As part of our seminary curriculum, each year the school will take on the trip learn more about God’s creative works in other continents. This year me and my fellow classmates from City Seminary had the opportunity to take on the Urban Pilgrimage to three cities in Latin America: Lima/Peru, Buenos Aires/Argentina, Rio De Janeiro/Brail from April 10-17th. We took on a pilgrimage of Pain and Hope, as described in “A mile in my Shoes" by Trevor Hudson to each city not as tourists and consumers but as learner and listeners by cultivating compassion with the suffering poor and also deepen our spiritual formation and living a missional life calling as well. The pilgrimage contains the three essential ingredients: Encounter, Reflection, and Transformation. I personally have experienced a deep spiritual transformation after encountering with the pain in our shattered and fragmented society. I was also deeply encouraged and moved by the love and sacrifice of those missionaries, ministry leaders and volunteers who serve as hidden saints that bring rays of faith, hope, and love to the lives they touch. By encountering these signs of hope challenges myself to examine my own faith response within my own life and communities.
Our first stop is at the city of Lima/Peru. I had the chance to visit the unique cultural place such as the museum of archeology and the museum of Peruvian Indians Arts prior to the group arrived. I was amazed at the beauty of and creativity of the Indians crafts and vessels, the color is so vivid and the patterns are so imaginative and daring. One of the major mistakes that foreign Christian missionaries made is that they try very to impose western culture and civilization to the local community and cause a threat and extinction to the indigenous culture. Each indigenous culture is so uniquely created by God and added much colors and diversity to our humanity and we often fail to preserve them by imposing our cultures and belief through colonization and Imperialism with a sense of superiority and pride.
The Indians are the outcast in Peruvian society yet they contributed a great deal of rich cultural heritage to Peru. For example, Machu Picchu's impressive ruins are Peru's foremost tourist attraction. During its 15th and 16th century prime the fortified site was an important stop on the Inca highway. Sites such as Machu Picchu and Cusco recall the wealth of the Inca civilization, destroyed in the early 16th century by Spaniards, who built an empire on Peru's gold and silver. Lots of outcast Indians live in desperate poverty and their hardship lead to the ruthless Maoist guerrilla organization Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path). The guerrillas were largely defeated but problems with poverty and illegal coca production persist. As Tito shared us the strategy of reaching the Quechua-speaking Indians, he shared that instead of imposing the traditional way of western worship style with hymns and organ, they used music festival that incorporate the native Inca musical instruments and dance to reach out the Incas and encourage them to create new songs of praises for our creator who created each tribe and nation so uniquely and creatively. As a musician, I am much reminded that what a beautiful gift music is that God gave to mankind and how God can use music to draw us closer to Him and adds much joy and excitement even in the midst of our hardships and difficult lives.
A visit to Quiche speaking Indian church in Lima on Easter Sunday is a remarkable experience that I will never forget for a lifetime. My tears will not stop falling as I laid my hands on those Indians and praying for them. Their earnest desire to seek God as they prayed and their warm welcoming to us was one of the most beautiful things I ever see. I saw so much pain on their faces while they prayed and I also saw so much joy as they worshiped. I am not sure how my prayers will affect their lives but I knew that it is the Holy Spirit that is interceding for them and our heavenly fathers care for their needs.
Another heartbreaking experience is visiting the World Vision Ministry site in the dusty Shantytown in Lima. It is a place without running water and sewerage and lots of children are suffering sexual, physical, emotional abuses and mal-nutrition on their diets. The extreme poverty and hardship I witness was particularly emotionally and physically draining for me. Though I was here to sympathize with the poor, I could not wait to depart the site but almost feel ashamed of myself. I could not help to admire the tremendous sacrifice that those ministry works who work among the marginalized and week in such a bad condition and even though they are short of resources and staffs but they said they believe there is still hope for them. On my way back to the city, I shed some tears on the bus; I could not understand why a loving and just God who we put our trust in to provide our daily bread will permit such extreme poverty in the world. It is a profound mystery to me, but I only know that God deliver his justice and love through human kind like us and I only pray that I can be his vessel to bring peace to the needed.
Our second stop is at Buenos Aires/Argentina. Compared to Peru, Argentina is a much-developed country yet but had suffered much politically instability of dictatorship. We stayed in the beautiful retreat center in the suburb of Buenos Aires and meet with the theologian Rene to learn about his ministry Kairo and also more about the role of evangelical churches in Latin America such as: What is the mission of church? Is it saving soul and plant more churches? Is it true that Jesus is the Lord of all?
In Rene’s view missiology should be mixed with social issues. The right theology is concerned with the justice, which is a consistent theme in the Bible. Jesus is identified with the poor, who were taxed with the imperial tax, temple tax and the land was taken. The wealthy and political power was concentrated on Sadducees and Pharisees. When we take the side of the poor and are faithful to the teachings of Jesus, there is a consequence. The corruption is not domestic issue but it is global, favoring the riches and the wealth are in the hands of the few. Since there are unjust distribution of the wealth among the poor and rich, a simple life style should be imperative to the Christian living. We can see how Rene’s family practices what they believe by devoting their lives among the poor for the drug addicts and abused children and the homeless. We visited the rehab center of the drug addicts and hear wonderful stories of their transformations and the good work they are doing. The most encouraging thing I learned from my visit is Rene’s talk about no matter how corrupted the political system and how much injustice in the world and how powerless we feel in changing the world there should a Christian witness to be maintain in this context. We will not change the system from the top, instead it’s by becoming witness to the kingdom. We will have to work based on one principle that Jesus Christ has come and the kingdom has come. The church is called to live base on the Christian principle. We will not create the kingdom of God on earth based on our work, but we are to be a witness. We can never measure the result of witness. We are to enable the poor not to be rich but to enjoy shalom. The more people we reached with God’s shalom, the abundant life, the more we are to see the signs of the kingdom. Our purpose is to make evident more signs of the kingdom not to have a perfect system. Instead it is to have more people enjoy the fullness of life. Have more people enjoy the generosity of God’s creation and this is the witness of God’s kingdom.
Our last stop is at Rio De Janeiro/Brazil; we visited the ministry site of Youth for Mission in the “Favela" in Rio and learned about their works among the youth. Being in the Favela is a special experience, the missionaries live in community house to serve the youth and children with fellowship, council, education, even dance class. Compared to the shantytown in Peru, the Favela we visited is in better condition. There is running water and electricity and grocery store yet there is much drugs issues going on.
When we arrived in our hostel in the center of Rio, we saw people make music and dance right on the street and I can see the different culture and lifestyle in Brazil right away. Though people do not feel particularly safe in Rio after we visited the CRAZY district called Lapa where people drinking and party till late, I actually found Brazilians are very warm and friendly and how naturally musical people here are. I feel right at home and it is my favorite city among the three.
We conclude our pilgrimage by arriving at the top of the Corcovado Mountain and prayed as a group for the world in front of the magnificent statue of Christ the Redeemer. I am deeply reminded that no matter how much pain, sorrow, frustration, injustice in the world and challenges ahead of us, there is always Hope in Christ and He loves embraced Latin America with open arms.
This pilgrimage is a life transforming experience for me as after I witness the extreme poverty in Lima, our problems and worries among the global financial crisis almost seem insignificant. I feel extremely grateful and blessed for what I have and feel called to live a simple lifestyle instead of accumulating all the unnecessary materials for my own pleasure. I sincerely wish I can contribute more to God’s work in Latin America and I pray that God will bring me back one day to Latin America so I can be part of God’s redemptive works among the poor and marginalized and bring Shalom, good news and justice to his Kingdom in this beautiful land.
Though many of us are struggling and fearing for the economy in the
coming year, especially arts organizations and foundations that are
heavily dependent on donations, I believe it is still my mandate as an
artist to create works of quality and originality that reflect my faith, courage
and hope and to offer them to all. Speaking to our own time and
place, these are virtues that we need to face the troubles ahead of
The year of 2008 held many personally significant events: I went on a
trip to pay tribute to my grandmother's birthplace Chengdu, China two weeks prior
to the shocking earthquake that destroyed the town. In the fall I
moved to center Harlem, where I witnessed the tears, joy, and
excitement over Obama's victory among African American community on
election day. On October 20th, I celebrated my 30th birthday with
wonderful musicians and lovely friends in a jazz concert. The joy of making and
sharing music made turning 30 much easier and happier. During
the Thanksgiving break, I had the opportunity to explore Vienna and
saw Mozart's, Schubert's, and Beethoven's apartments, pianos, and
manuscripts and laid down flowers at their graves. I also visited the
best Flamenco club in Madrid, Spain on my way back to NYC. Though
there were moments of despair and doubts while trying to survive in
NYC as a composer, somehow God always honored my dreams by
taking me to the places I long to be. Life is certainly unpredictable
and has its highs and lows, but I learn to improvise as I go along.
In 2009, I will begin the year by giving a concert on Thursday Feb 19
at 7:30 pm at a beautiful gallery in The Village, featuring my classical solo piano compositions as well as some jazz compositions with my trio. I would appreciate much your support in coming and would love to see you, too. You can log on to www.icogallery.com and click on "Concert Calender" to purchase advance on-line tickets with a price discount.
In April I will be going on my seminary's graduation trip to
Peru, Argentina and Brazil. This will be followed by a tour to Shanghai with a
jazz group in May. There is a "possibility" that I will be moving to
China after my graduation. (Stay tuned!) So hopefully I get to see you
as much as I can before I leave NYC.
Wish you a very Happy New Year!
Many times I told God that I am tired of struggling. Struggle to make ends meet, struggle to create the new piece, struggle to be different, struggle to find acceptance and win approvals and struggle to be who I am. Once a while I will ask myself the question why I chose to be a composer while the rest of the world seem to value something more "practical" in life. Today it came to one of those days that I began to wonder if art is worthy of my sacrifice, my dedication, my enthusiasm, my passion and my stubbornness, why not just quit it and go making some money.
Then I will answer my own question: I chose to be a composer not because I am good at it or I am a genius like Mozart or Bach. I chose it because it is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I chose it because it challenges me to think outside the box, to be different but at the same time be eccentric and most importantly, it challenges me to grow and change from one piece to another. In another world, I think I chose to struggle because I love Challenges. Composing doesn’t require any physical skills to put notes on the paper; it is mostly a mental discipline with emotions involved, of course. The reason it is hard is that I am basically making a decision every single second. I need to decide which key I want, what note I want and how long I want, how loud it should be and when it should end...etc. Sometimes I wonder the reason I write slow maybe because women are generally not so decisive :) but I learn that the older I get, I make wiser and better choices and even when I made the wrong or bad decisions, I learn to trust God that He is still sovereign and things will always get better somehow in the end.
But why I chose to struggle? Because life is a struggle no matter how you live it. My music will lose its vitality and power if one day I cease to struggle, cease to make the right decision. It will come to an end if my heart ceases to feel, my mind ceases to be changed and renewed and my soul ceases to be pure and genuine. What makes Beethoven’s music so great is that he struggled till the end of his life and even when God took away his hearing (which is the cruelest thing God can do to a composer) he still triumphed over this tragedy and composed one of the greatest symphony in human history. I realize no matter where I go, whom I marry to, whether I make it or not, I will not able to escape the loneliness and suffering that a composer face and I will always struggle to create something new and good.
Yet, I know I am not struggling alone with Christ in me, though I do feel lonely sometimes. But when I hear the beautiful sound coming from the instruments or human voices and see my imagination being transformed to reality, that is the moment I know all the pain and sacrifice have its worth. Even it could only be just a few minutes, yet it is Glorious.