Cleveland Chinese Music Ensemble

On Sunday afternoon, February 3rd, we drove to the Hudson Library to attend a concert for the Chinese New Year put on by the Cleveland Chinese Music Ensemble, which has been playing together for ten years now and has performed eight times at Hudson Library, their most consistent venue. We were very warmly greeted by our friend, Mr. David Badagnani, who told us to be sure to thank Ms. Margaret W. Wong for her continuous support over the years.

Mr. Badagnani also told us about some things that have been happening as of late that have benefitted the Ensemble such as the donation of some lovely Asian instruments from the family of the late Dr. Robert Lam, a very courageous and generous man who immigrated to the United States from China many years ago. His daughter, Dr. Mimi Lam of MetroHealth, mentioned that a fellow musician, Mr. Bill Kennedy (who ironically happens to be of Irish descent but respectful of all forms of music) drove all the way from Cleveland to Kentucky to pickup the instruments for which Mr. Badagnani was very grateful.

In addition to Mr. Badagnani, the Cleveland Chinese Music ensemble consists of Mr. Jay Xiao and Ms. Yan Ping Ye, who play various instruments, as well as Mr. Rob Hassing and Ms. Courtney Lambert who specialize in percussion and voice. In addition they were joined, for their opening number, by Ms. Yangxin Xiao, a visiting scholar from China attending Kent State University, who played the suona, best described as a doubled-reeded horn.

On this day, the title of the concert was Spring Comes to the Snowy Land which was apt considering the unexpected gush of warm weather Northeast Ohio was suddenly experiencing. As always, the Ensemble performed Chinese music covering a variety of genres but, also as always, made use of completely different selections.

For instance, as was written on its Facebook page, “because 2019 will be the Year of the Pig, the program will also include a performance of Piggy Fights the Scary Monsters, an exciting original composition by Canadian musician (and erhu player) Jeremy Moyer, which is based on a story from the famous Chinese novel Journey to the West.

Mr. Jarrelle Barton joined with the group for the whole concert. Mr. Barton, who at age 26,  is one of the most accomplished masters of the guzheng (an ancient Chinese zither) in North America. He came to Northeast Ohio from Minnesota for eight different engagements over the period of a few days.

In the course of the concert, in which he played both solo and with the ensemble, we learned that Mr. Barton had developed an interest in the guzheng after hearing a tape at age 13; so much so that he persuaded his grandmother to purchase one for him and, subsequently, one year later they moved from his home city of Cleveland, Ohio to Minneapolis, MN so that he could learn to properly play under the guidance of Mr. Li Jiaxiang, an renowned musician and teacher who once worked with the Beijing Dance Academy.

On this day, Mr. Barton wowed us not only with his accomplished playing of the guzheng but for the passion that he displayed while doing so. We especially liked a composition that Mr. Barton had written himself titled “Gazing at the Moon on a Foggy Morning.”

When Mr. Barton was planning to come here, he discovered that the airline would not allow him to take a belonging as large as the guzheng on the plane with him. Fortunately, Mr. Badagnani knew a person who knew a person in Strongsville who owned a guzheng and was willing to loan it to Mr. Barton who was so thankful that he performed a mini-concert for the guzheng owner who was very much impressed. Since funds were short, as they often are for members of artistic communities, Ms. Margaret W. Wong stepped in and helped Mr. Barton with his travel expenses.

Along these lines, Mr. Badagnani said that there are musicians who specialize in Chinese music like that played by the Ensemble in 30 states and 6 Canadian provinces but, sadly, they seldom have the opportunity to work together as the Ensemble and Mr. Barton were doing at this time.