Slideshow: The Fifth Annual Chinese New Year Concert Celebrates, Shares Culture

Kimberly Ashton
February 6, 2017
Piao Huang sings at the nearly sold-out Chinese New Year concert at the Berklee Performance Center on January 31, 2017.
Junshu Zheng, a student who was in the Chinese franchise of "The Voice," performs a new arrangement of "Olive Tree," a well-known Chinese song from the '70s.
Dancer Kevin Qin, an eighth-semester music production and engineering student, performs at the Chinese New Year concert.
Dennis Montgomery III, a professor in Berklee's Ensemble Department, sings at the concert.
Yazhi Guo plays the suona, a traditional Chinese horn, at the Chinese New Year concert.
Guest artist Shuwang Yang from Boston dances in a dragon costume.
Bassist Shyrkhan Agabekov gets into the groove at the Chinese New Year concert.
Billy Yeung plays the saxophone at the fifth annual Chinese New Year concert at the BPC.
Xavier Yuming Xie helps emcee the show at the nearly sold-out Berklee Performance Center.
Hongli Peng plays bass in the band at the Chinese New Year concert.
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When Paris Wu and Jackie Huang went to new student orientation in the fall of 2014, they noticed a Berklee infographic that broke down the student body by country of origin. That year, they noted, the college had more than 100 Chinese students, and almost half of them were new. When they dropped by orientation the next year, they saw that more than 75 new students were from China.

Now in their eighth semesters, Huang, who serves as the president of the Chinese Student and Scholar Association, and Wu, the group’s vice president, says they’ve noticed the increase by just walking around campus.

“Simply, we see more Asian faces around campus and more people speak in Chinese,” says Huang, a music business/management and violin performance major from Beijing.

As the Chinese student body has grown, so has the profile of the main Berklee event celebrating Chinese culture, the annual Chinese New Year concert at the Berklee Performance Center (BPC).

Celebrating Chinese Culture

“Chinese New Year is like Christmas here, or Thanksgiving here. It’s the biggest event for every year in our culture and in our country,” Wu, a music therapy and songwriting major from Shenzhen, said.

On January 31, three days after the new year began, more than 1,000 people filled the BPC to celebrate the holiday. Among the guests were three officials, including the deputy consul general, from the Chinese consulate in New York City. The concert featured both traditional Chinese folk songs and contemporary pop music by a cross section of Berklee and Boston Conservatory at Berklee students, including Junshu Zheng, who was featured on the Chinese franchise of The Voice and mentored by superstar Ying Na.

Wu said that, for her, the concert was a great opportunity to get close to her peers from China and share the celebration with the wider Berklee community. “It’s an opportunity for us to close up the gap between us and people who don’t know about China, who don’t know about Chinese culture, or even Asian culture. It’s something [through which] we can all come together,” Wu, who stage-managed the concert, said. The concert was cosponsored by Bridge the Gap, a student-run organization founded in 2015 to provide an environment of collaboration and cooperation between students at Berklee College of Music and Boston Conservatory at Berklee.

Paris Linxuan Wu, the show's stage manager and the vice president of Berklee's Chinese Student and Scholar Association, at the Chinese New Year concert.
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The show came only a few months after Berklee’s best-known Chinese-American alumnus, Wang Leehom '99, H ‘16, also known as the King of Chinese Pop, took the stage at the Berklee Performance Center in November 2016, when the college awarded him an honorary doctorate.

Part of that night’s ticket sales went toward supporting the Wang Leehom Scholarship, which will be awarded to talented and deserving musicians from China. The fund comes at a time in which the college is shifting more of its attention to China, and Chinese students, as Wu and Huang have seen, are becoming more prominent on campus.

A Growing Berklee-China Connection

Berklee began making regular annual trips to China in 2009, when the college had eight full-time students from the mainland, five from Hong Kong, and 17 from Taiwan, said Jason Camelio, the director of Global Initiatives.

That year, the college visited Beijing and Shanghai. Each subsequent year, Berklee has added cities to its auditions and interviews tour. Admissions and Global Initiatives now visits Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Suzhou, Taipei, Xi’an, and Xiamen, stopping by major music conservatories, exceptional secondary schools, and music festivals. In addition, each year for the past four years a Berklee student band has gone to China for Dulwich College’s Diversity Tour. This year the electronic duo Sleeping Lion went there.

This academic year, Berklee boasts 56 students from Taiwan, 30 from Hong Kong, and 212 from mainland China. It’s no wonder, then, that the Chinese Student and Scholar Association’s activity has taken off in recent years. Founded only five years ago when the two dozen or so Chinese students on campus at the time decided to create a community group, the association now has more than 120 people on its mailing list and 500 people subscribed to its newsletter.

"I think we're also really lucky that Berklee started paying more attention to China and wants to accept more Chinese students. It's like really good timing with what we want to do and what they want to do," Wu said of the fifth year of the association and concert.