PHILADELPHIA—Some of the best dancers in the world presented myths and legends in Philadelphia as Shen Yun Performing Arts took to the stage at Merriam Theater. Shen Yun’s orchestra, which is comprised of a unique combination of classical Western and traditional Chinese instruments, accompanied every dance piece. Watching and listening, fully absorbed, was Eileen Finley.
“My eyes kept going from the stage to the pit, from the stage to the pit,” she said. “It was beautifully choreographed; the dance really spoke to the music. The union of the two is really beautiful.”
For Ms. Finley, who founded the Pennsylvania Youth Chorale, a children’s choir, in 1977, the combination of dance and music worked well, and the Shen Yun Orchestra’s combination of two usually disparate musical traditions worked perfectly.
“The balance between the classical western and Chinese instruments was beautiful,” she said. “The seamless combination provided “a very beautiful comfort level for every listener.”
The Pennsylvania Youth Chorale is formed of boys and girls ages 7 through 15, helping these children grow musically, professionally, and personally. Venues the choir has appeared in include New York’s Carnegie Hall, Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center, and Canada’s Parliament House.
Ms. Finley is an award-winning teacher of over 36 years, who has conducted courses and workshops at such institutions as the Philadelphia College of Performing Arts, and studied at several schools including the Royal School of Church Music at Princeton University.
New York-based Shen Yun presents a revival of the 5,000 year-old Chinese culture in 100-plus cities around the world every year. Though the heart of the performance is classical Chinese dance, the accompanying orchestra has an important role and has earned accolades from the music community in multiple continents.
A Western philharmonic orchestra plays the foundation, while traditional Chinese instruments lead the melodies, according to Shen Yun’s website. The Chinese instruments include the 4,000 year-old erhu (two-stringed Chinese violin); the suona, a double reed woodwind instrument which, when skillfully played, produces notes sometimes resembling birdcalls; and multiple, different-sized gongs, which accentuate the music’s power.
Ms. Finley said the music in Shen Yun was “absolutely beautiful.”
“I was really taken by it,” she said.
Eileen Fields, a pianist and vocalist who accompanies the Pennsylvania Youth Chorale’s Touring Choir and Senior Choir, joined Ms. Finley for the performance.
Ms. Fields has been accompanying the choirs since 1992 and studied at Temple University.
Ms. Fields found the vocal soloists, whose songs are interspersed between sets of dance pieces, intriguing.
“That’s a very different style from what I think of as the American operatic style,” she said. “Very powerful and very intense emotion.”
Shen Yun’s vocal soloists use the genuine bel canto tenor and soprano technique, a style difficult to find in the entire world in the present day, while singing in Chinese, according to Shen Yun’s website.
“This means that the singer must, while continuing to meet the challenges inherent in bel canto technique, retain proper Chinese pronunciation and diction,” the website explains. “Today, their ability to do this is unparalleled.”
Ms. Fields said the method worked well.
“I certainly found the delivery of the sounds very powerful and very sincere,” she said. “Their voices are clearly beautifully trained.”
Reporting by Pamela Tsai and Zachary Stieber
Shen Yun Performing Arts has three touring companies that perform simultaneously around the world. For more information, visit ShenYunPerformingArts.org.
Shen Yun Performing Arts is performing at Proctor’s Theater in Schenectady, N.Y., on May 9 and The Oncenter Crouse Hinds Theater in Syracuse, N.Y., on May 12.
The Epoch Times considers Shen Yun Performing Arts the significant cultural event of our time. We have proudly covered audience reactions since Shen Yun’s inception in 2006.