Session/Séance 5h: MusCan Panel 2 Chinese-Canadian Musical Belonging

Session/Séance 5h: MusCan Panel 2. Friday/vendredi 26 May 2017.  11:00AM-1:00PM, EJB 225.
Chinese-Canadian Musical Belonging.
     Chair: MARY INGRAHAM (University of Alberta)


1. How Harmonious is Chan Ka-Nin’s Harmonious Interest?
     Eric Hung, Rider University

In 2013, Toronto-based composer Chan Ka Nin and playwright Mark Brownell wrote a “Symphonic Theatre” work entitled Harmonious Interest. Scored for two actor-singers, dancer, solo percussionist, solo hulusi (a Chinese reed instrument) and orchestra, this work commemorated the 155th anniversary of Victoria’s Chinatown. The work tells the story of Wong Sam Mo, a fictional Chinese worker who arrived in Victoria in 1884. Soon after his arrival, he met Wong Ying, a letter-writer who helped him adjust to life in Canada. Chan and Brownell do not shy away from portraying the difficulties of being Chinese Canadians in the late nineteenth century. The music often highlights the clash of cultures, and the plot of the work alludes to difficult work conditions, homesickness, and the head tax that the government imposed on people of Chinese descent in 1886. In the last scene, which is set in contemporary Victoria, a descendent of Wong Sam Mo honors his Great Great Grandfather, and celebrates the development of multiculturalism in Canada. Named after the arch that stands at the entrance of Victoria’s Chinatown, Harmonious Interest serves two “practical” purposes. First, it was part of the Victoria Symphony’s efforts to reach out to the Chinese community. Second, the work served to educate both Chinese and non-Chinese audiences about the history of Chinese Canadians. As a work commissioned to help celebrate Chinatown, the plot of Harmonious Interest concluded, perhaps not surprisingly, with a rather positive note. The music, however, tells a more complicated story.


2. “Make It More Chinese”: Reconstructing Cultural Identity in Diaspora Through Music and Martial Arts
     Colin Patrick McGuire. University College Cork

For over fifty years, Toronto’s Hong Luck Kung Fu Club has been (re)producing Chinese identity in one of the world’s most multicultural metropolises. At the core of the group’s curriculum are martial arts that include not only self-defence skills, but also percussion music for accompanying performances of choreographed fighting moves and lion dance. Intense training in these interdisciplinary practices is a powerful tool for transmitting embodied meanings, values, and beliefs. At the same time, practitioners use martial arts, lion dance, and percussion to negotiate identity in diverse ways. I position kung fu as a type of strategic discourse that is as much creative and performative as it is combative. Hong Luck elders have explicitly stated their broad mandate is to preserve and promote traditional Chinese martial arts in Canada, but they have simultaneously remained committed to the specificity of their lineages from the Taishan County region of southern China’s Guangdong Province and their history as a community of practice in Toronto. Furthermore, the club has long acted as a bridge to non-Chinese Canadians by teaching openly to all ethnicities and giving public performances. Fieldwork for this project was conducted during eight years of participant-observation and performance ethnography, and the discussion is theoretically rooted in cognitive semantics and phenomenology. This paper argues that Chinese kung fu, lion dance, and percussion play an important role in (re)constructing the identity of practitioners, patrons, and audiences in the Greater Toronto Area, but do so in flexible and emergent ways.


3. Singing the Quotidian Chineseness: Songs in a Chinese Geriatric Centre in Multicultural Toronto
     Yun Emily Wang, University of Toronto

In this paper I explore how music may provide texture and routinize quotidian everyday life in ways that productively contrast performative engagements with identity politics in the Chinese diaspora. Based on extended ethnographic research in a Chinese nursing home in suburban Toronto, I first situate the nursing home’s explicit mandate to provide “culturally appropriate care” in discourses on Canadian multiculturalism and in the history of Chinese immigration to Canada. I then trace how this mandate is manifest in practice through a fixed repertoire of roughly twenty Cantopop “nostalgic oldies” from Hong Kong in the 1970s and 1980s. These songs circulate in the broader diasporic Chinese media public, and in the nursing home, the administrators rely on the songs’ symbolic referentiality to negotiate and articulate their conflicting notions of “culture,” of Chineseness, and of aging in the transnational context. In contrast, the aged elderly residents find non-referential meaning in the sonic materiality of this fixed repertoire, which allows them to enact sociality within the nursing home, engender contact with the diasporic network, and aestheticizes their experiences of the daily life despite having relatively little control. Framing my analyses of the elderly residents in Henri Lefebvre’s rhythmanalysis (1992), which theorizes repetition as the interface between space and time, I argue that to the extent this fixed repertoire of “nostalgic oldies” can strategically signify difference and cohere ethnic or cultural identities, in the constant repetition it also becomes an important avenue through which people make sense of the spaces they inhabit.


4. The Millennium Chinese Orchestra: Playing Tensions of the Old and New
     Heidi Chan, York University

The Millennium Orchestra, a community Chinese orchestra formed in 2008 and based in Mississauga, Ontario, is comprised primarily of immigrant retirees from Hong Kong, China, and Taiwan. Most of its members began playing and learning their instrument after retirement. The backgrounds of its members range from former professors and nuclear physicists to housewives and post office workers. Since its inception, the Millennium Orchestra has performed in numerous community events and annual concerts across the Greater Toronto Area. In May 2016, the orchestra embarked on its first tour to Calgary, performing for various senior homes and collaborating with a local church choir, and it will be travelling to Vancouver for its second tour in the summer of 2017. In this paper, I explore the socio-cultural and musical dimensions that make up the story of the Millennium Orchestra, and in particular the vision of its artistic director and founder, Bill Ko. I argue that the orchestra has flourished through two major factors: a strategic combination of both participatory and presentational music-making practices (Turino 2008), and a careful selection and arrangement of musical repertoire (traditional Chinese music and Cantonese pop songs) tailored specifically for the musical sensibilities of its members and intended audience. I frame this narrative in a discussion of the interplay between notions of new and old (new skills/experiences/relationships/arrangements vs. old lives/bodies/memories/songs), and the enactment of their dynamic tension that form the unique music-making site that is the Millennium Orchestra.

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