MILWAUKEE, Wis.—For musicians, professionals and amateurs alike, seeing New York-based Shen Yun Performing Arts is a treat. For some, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to glimpse the inner workings of an orchestra that has blended two musical traditions in ways where many others have failed. Ancient Chinese instruments are mixed into an otherwise familiar Western symphony orchestra. Chinese melodies and tones are brought to life with the buoyancy of entire sections of violins and cellos.
On Feb. 1, 2020, David Neese and his wife attended Shen Yun, her Christmas gift to him.
“The orchestra is spectacular, I enjoyed hearing the Chinese instruments—I play brass myself—and it was just, it was tremendous,” said Neese, who plays with the Sheboygan Symphony Orchestra, Wisconsin’s oldest continually active orchestra which has been performing concerts since 1918.
Neese marveled at the orchestration of the music accompanying the dances, and how the New York-based company’s artistic director could come up with these original scores every year, much less the entire production of some 20 vignettes.
“Do you know how hard it is to do that? It’s spectacular,” Neese said. “I’m really impressed, we’ll be back again.”
Neese, like many who see Shen Yun, confessed he knew little about the 5,000 years of ancient China, in particular, how spiritual it was. China was once known as the Divine Land, its culture said to be divinely inspired, and that is the culture Shen Yun aims to share with the world.
“I love how [Shen Yun] blends the spirituality, the humanity, and the integrity together,” he said. “Such a rich tradition, of 5,000 years of culture and art like that? Spectacular. Love the stories, loved the way they were acted out, it was just great.”
Shen Yun often feels much more than the sum of its parts. Neese lauded the way the music, art, dance, singing, stories, and spirituality were meshed together to create something with significant meaning.
“There is a higher power. This something that creates in us, this artistic gift we give to others, that’s what touched me,” Neese said.
Beautiful Artistic Expression
Also in the audience was Kristine Haak, a flutist, with her husband Joe who also plays the bagpipes himself.
“I really loved it, and our seats were so fantastic,” said Kristine, because she was right in front of the flutist during the performance. It’s rare to see a performance with live music, much less a live full orchestra for a traveling production, and Kristine was thrilled with the talent and skill of the artists on stage and below.
“I thought the skill level was way up there,” said Kristine, who explained that with the setup she saw, the musicians must have memorized all the music and performed it perfectly in sync to everything that was happening.
But her interest in the performing artists did not detract from the experience, nor prevent her from sitting back and just experiencing.
“I just thought it was beautiful, it was wonderful. I think if someone asked me what I thought about it I would say it was a musical, visual movement masterpiece,” she said. “That’s how I would describe it because it’s really just, it’s an artistic expression.”
“You could experience what they were trying to communicate through the music and the dance, which is really amazing,” she said.
With reporting by Nancy Ma and NTD Television.