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Jacksonville Celebrates the Year of the Tiger

Impressions of Jacksonville’s 2010 Chinese New Year celebration: This was the best one we’ve seen since moving here in 2000, and very well attended. The parade had more entries than ever, and more authenticity than in the past. I loaded up my camera with images…and felt a definite shiver when our humble little dragon made his pass through town, chasing away evil spirits to the powerful, ancient sound of a large Chinese drum. Surely the “God of the Year” was pleased.

After enjoying the parade, the question was what to do? There were so many activities scheduled to follow the parade it was difficult to choose from those that overlapped each other. I went first to the calligraphy demonstration at the Jacksonville Public Library, where a very sweet and pretty Chinese lady showed me how to write “China” and then invited me to visit her home province on the East Coast. Simply put, but a deeply moving experience. Then off to City Hall, where I settled in for a discussion of the astrological interpretation of the Year of the Tiger. I’d been looking forward to this, but when the hall began to fill up I realized I’d have to leave halfway through in order to catch the performance of 11 musicians from Zheng Zhou University – and after seeing a tantalizing preview of them in the parade, something I felt was a must-see. I didn’t remember an opportunity like this in any previous Chinese New Year lineup, so I reluctantly left the hall and strolled across town, enjoying the sights of our little town packed with people participating in children’s activities, cooking martial arts demonstrations and a myriad of other kinds of colorful fun as I made my way to Jacksonville’s historic Presbyterian Church. I arrived to find a full house and the performance underway.

Having grown up in the San Francisco Bay Area, I remember hearing lots of Chinese music at such celebrations, and have always loved the beautiful, mysterious sound of their cultural style. This was a special treat, an exotic beauty we’re not accustomed to hearing from day to day here, and from the moment I stepped in they had me! I couldn’t find a good angle to capture the young lady who played a Chinese harp solo called 100 Days of Spring, but her graceful movements as she played were captivating, and her music carried me away, summoning visions of cherry trees in bloom, singing birds, sunny days and springtime storms. The audience rewarded her with a huge round of applause punctuated with calls of “beautiful!”

 The image above shows several players performing a piece that will be with me forever – “The Phoenix Summons 1000 Types of Birds.” The young woman with the horn musically recreated the calls of different Chinese birds, at times calling back and forth to the flute player (young man on the right) and at others cycle-breathing notes so long that I saw her take at least 4 deep breaths while the note she played continued with perfectly unbroken fluidity. Astounding to watch and to hear, the memory of this breathtaking performance brings the sting back to my eyes even now. I wasn’t the only one so affected, as this group received more rousing applause.

The closing piece was more operatic, featuring a male and female vocalist and all the players giving another moving performance. After a monster standing ovation, again punctuated with calls of praise for these wonderful artists, and a closing word from the interpreter, I all but stumbled out the building, rocked to the core by the beauty I had just witnessed. I certainly hope presentations such as this are included in future celebrations.

I walked back downtown to find that the last performance of the day’s main event, the Dragon Arts Studio  puppeteers performance, “Images of China,” was well underway. I was very disappointed to have missed this important segment, yet despite having missed a good bit of Jacksonville’s wonderful welcome to the Year of the Tiger, I was filled to the brim with the musical impressions these students brought to Southern Oregon from China. My review does little justice to it, so you’ll have to join us next year to see, hear and experience our welcome to the Year of the Rabbit. No doubt this is one of the year’s highlights contributing to Jacksonville’s reputation as one of America’s top ten coolest small towns. Many, many thanks to the Southern Oregon Chinese Cultural Association (www.socca.org) for producing this wonderful event!

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