The Shen Yun Performing Arts Orchestra won the heart of famous Russian conductor, Camilla Kolchinsky of the former Soviet Union. Renowned as the “number one” female conductor in Europe, Ms. Kolchinsky watched the Shen Yun Performing Arts show earlier this year. After, she met the orchestra’s young female conductor, Chen Ying, the two held hands and talked like old friends.
Many musicians have marveled at the music produced by the New York-based Shen Yun Orchestra and wonder how Ms. Chen, a former flute player, has become so distinguished as a conductor the world over.
This year, the Shen Yun Performing Arts returned to Taiwan for the first time accompanied by a full orchestra.
After watching the show, Professor Xu, a well-known conductor and stage manager with Taiwan Normal University’s symphony orchestra, was impressed with the entire ensemble. “The coordination between the conductor, all the orchestra members, and artists was simply superb!” She paid homage by saying that the next time Shen Yun came, she would bring her family and friends.
‘Immersed in music from cradle to adulthood’
Ms. Chen grew up with a family of musicians. Her father, Chen Rutang, a highly-acclaimed cello player used to be the conductor and head of China’s Central Philharmonic Orchestra. He is now a conductor with the Shen Yun Performing Arts’ Touring Company. Her mother, Chen Ningfang, who was also with China’s philharmonic orchestra, played the flute.
The family lived in the same neighborhood as some orchestral members, so Ms. Chen has been immersed in music ever since she was born. “All my neighbors were musicians.” Ms. Chen said.
As a child, she often followed her parents wherever they gave performances and absorbed much of what she saw. “It was quite an experience. I saw symphony orchestras, dramas, ballet … everything I saw and experienced seemed to be a basis for what I am doing today,” Ms. Chen said.
Under her parents’ strict supervision, at 5 years old Ms. Chen began piano lessons and spent many hours practicing every day. Influenced by her mother, she later specialized in flute, and upon graduating from a high school that was affiliated with Shanghai Conservatory of Music, she won a scholarship to study at Esther Boyer of the Temple University under the personal mentorship of Mr. Murray Panitz, the first flute player with the Symphony Orchestra of Philadelphia.
Ms. Chen said, “I learned different kinds of instruments and took many courses, which was a big help for what I am doing today. I felt it was my destiny from the beginning.”
After her mentor, Murray Panitz passed away in 1988, Ms. Chen changed her major and began to study economics. Only later did she become a conductor bringing Chinese music to the world, something she and her family had never expected.
‘Family back home in China flees to America’
Ms. Chen’s brother, in 1995 began to learn Falun Dafa, an ancient meditation system made public by Li Hongzhi in 1992. His physical and mental state improved, and he became more kind and tolerant for others. Chen Gang’s new demeanor impressed his wife and family and so they soon began to learn it. After a few days of listening to Falun Dafa audio lectures, her father quit a three-decade smoking habit.
But everything changed on July 20, 1999, the day when the Chinese communist regime illegally declared Falun Gong banned. One day, the police broke into Chen Gang’s apartment and arrested him and his mother Chen Ningfang. Her father asked police, “What law allows you to arrest people this way?” The law enforcement officers could come up with no answer. One month later, Chen Ningfang was released, but Chen Gang was held for 18 months during which time he was subjected to various means of brutal torture, such as being shocked by high-voltage electric batons, deprived of sleep for 15 consecutive days, and suffering constant beatings, etc.
At the time, Chen Ying was already a U.S. citizen and managed to have her parents come to America first. She soon started a humanitarian assistance campaign by meeting with members of Congress and launching an international requisition for signatures. After years of much hardship, her brother joined his family in the United States in 2004.
‘The family joins Shen Yun’
Over the past 60 years, the Chinese communist regime has consistently displayed its desire to crush everything that it cannot control. Part of what was lost was China’s traditional culture and art. In order to revive the traditional heritage, Shen Yun Performing Arts was initiated four years ago.
Ms. Chen said: “During intermission or after a show, many audience members come to the orchestra pit to tell us how wonderful the music is. Musicians from the U.S., Europe, and Asian countries are very excited to tell us that they couldn’t believe how well we combine Western and Chinese music together.”
Whether acting as flute player, stage manager, or the orchestra’s conductor, Ms. Chen once held anxieties about the job. “When I first started to conduct the orchestra, I was worried whether I could take on such a big responsibility. It is an honor to be the conductor of Shen Yun. But the expectations are very high,” she said.
“I learned from my [Falun Dafa] cultivation experience that one shouldn’t limit oneself. Most of the time, we put a limit on ourselves. We feel like it is too difficult and we can’t make it. Just don’t worry or fear too much. Be positive and peaceful. If you don’t have a strong desire to get something, God will give you power and your potential can reach a level that you could never imagine. You feel it’s actually not that difficult and that everything will work out,” said Ms. Chen.
She said cooperation provides the key with the orchestra working towards the same goal. “We work together according to the principles of truth, compassion, and tolerance, and concentrate on the most important things. We all look into ourselves for shortcomings and are willing to give up our egos so problems can be fixed very easily.”
‘Creating a perfect work of art’
With the help of other senior musicians and staff, the orchestra improved very quickly within a short period. Their music pieces have won many hearts.
“Although many orchestras have attempted to combine Western and Chinese instruments, it’s not an easy job. After all, they have different ‘personalities,’” she said. “In order to reflect [classical] Chinese dance well, we use the oriental musical theme, while using Western instruments to lay the foundation.”
Continued on the next page: Ms. Chen believes the ancient people of China were “peaceful in mind”