Arts and Cultural Exchange Celebrates 10 Years

College of Music invites community to join MSU's Year of China through opera and song.

Vocal arts students from the MSU College of Music and China Conservatory receive an ovation near the end of their opening night in Beijing during the 2016 exchange program. Photo courtesy MSU, Kurt Stepnitz.
Pausing for a group photo, the 2016 class of vocal arts students selected for the opera and exchange program pose with faculty.
Spring 2016 opera poster, “The Savage Land & Bernstein Sings America”
China Conservatory and College of Music Students on stage in Beijing. Photo courtesy MSU, Kurt Stepnitz.
Photo courtesy MSU, Kurt Stepnitz.
Photo courtesy MSU, Kurt Stepnitz.
Students in the exchange get opportunities to see regional sites, like the Great Wall of China.

Some are calling this the ideal fusion of programming, events and celebration.

Not only is 2015-2016 the Year of China at Michigan State University, it’s the 10th anniversary of a unique vocal exchange program between the MSU College of Music and the China Conservatory of Music.

“It’s simply incredible that our anniversary correlated with the university wide, yearlong exploration of Chinese arts and culture,” says MSU Professor of Voice Richard Fracker. “Everyone immediately recognized it was a natural fit.”

Since 2005, the MSU-China Vocal Collaboration has enabled voice students from the U.S. and China to spend time together in both countries performing and learning about each other’s music and cultures. This academic year, Fracker recognized the opportunity to link the program with Year of China celebrations and stage a premier event both in East Lansing and in Beijing. See video interview below.

Working with MSU Professor of Voice and Director of the MSU Opera Theatre Melanie Helton, Fracker merged the vocal exchange program with MSU’s Spring Opera for 2016. The result is a two-part program consisting of a traditional Chinese opera as well as a revue of theatre music from the legendary Leonard Bernstein. See ticket and event information.

“We’re extremely excited and hoping this becomes a jewel in the crown among MSU’s Year of China events,” says Helton. “It’s a perfect synthesis.”

The exchange and opera involves 26 students—13 from MSU and 13 from the China Conservatory of Music in Beijing. Director of Choral Programs, Associate Dean, and Professor of Music David Rayl and Instructor and Vocal Coach Elden Little will also join Fracker and Helton in the productions.

Vocal performance master’s student Schyler Sheltrown is among those participating from MSU. Despite the trip being her third with the program, she says she’s still looking forward to a million new experiences.

“Singing in Chinese is always one of the coolest things,” says Sheltrown who will sing a lead role. “Last year, I sang a duet with a Chinese student. It didn’t really matter that we didn’t speak the same language or understand each other because we were able to come together with that piece. She took my hand at the end and we bowed together. It was amazing.”

Vocal performance doctoral student Stephen Martin will also participate in the exchange for the third time, assuming both a leading role on stage and in program production.

“MSU is giving us a guided tour of what our lives will be like as professionals,” Martin says. “This program has taught me so much about being a performer as well as a colleague to people of different backgrounds and cultures.”

Chinese student Zaikuan Song agrees and offers his own perspective. Song first participated in the collaboration on the “Chinese side.” He then decided to come to MSU for a performance diploma while concurrently earning his master’s from the Chinese Conservatory.

This year, while on the “MSU side,” Song serves as a liaison between American and Chinese participants. He tutors MSU cast members in Mandarin, and assists with communications with his classmates and faculty in China.

“I’m helping to make everyone’s work a little easier,” Song says. “I’m hoping to help my MSU friends enjoy their time in China and my professors and friends from China enjoy their time here, too.”

VIDEO: College of Music students audition for the 2016 exchange program and spring opera.
Video Courtesy of MSU 

MSU faculty travel to China on February 28, and will be joined by students on March 3. After a week of rehearsals, the American and Chinese cast will perform twice at the China Conservatory of Music, and a third time at National Centre for the Performing Arts—the Beijing equivalent of the NY Metropolitan Opera.

Program members then come to East Lansing on March 13. Four performances are slated for March 23, 25, 26, and 27 at the Fairchild Theatre, with David Rayl and MSU Alumnus Youqing Yang, a professional conductor from China, leading the Symphony Orchestra.

“While our vocal exchange program is truly an intense undertaking, it is one that unleashes the creative power of diverse viewpoints and contributes to the inclusive culture of our university,” Fracker says. “Everyone agrees it’s a wonderful opportunity to ‘bring a little bit of home’ to the Chinese community here as well as to the American community living and studying in China.”

Special thanks to our generous donors who have helped make this international student travel experience possible: Doug Jewell, Drs. Lou A. and Roy J. Simon, Barbara Wagner, Loren and Carol Wall. 

The public is encouraged to follow the journey on Twitter using #MSUChinaOpera. In addition, the Big 10 Network is currently working on a 30-minute documentary about the MSU Chinese Vocal Collaboration and Opera.

See more information and tickets about the upcoming opera.

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