In the summer of 2015, Dr. Terry Austin was invited to come to the Guang Dong University of Technology to serve as a guest conductor on campus. VCU Music faculty member Rex Richardson had previously played at the university, and had maintained a relationship with the band director, Ming Hui Liao. Western-style band music is still very new in China, and Liao knew he wanted his students to have the opportunity to work on their technique. He contacted Austin and asked him to come over and work with his students.
“I was there for a week, and I was stunned at the passion these students had for band music,” Austin noted. “None of them are music students. They are studying at a technical university, and are playing for love alone. When their peers are done for the day and are out enjoying their evenings, these musicians come to rehearsal and practice for hours.”
During his week on campus, Austin had three rehearsals with the university band and directed them in concert. While everyone there shared a universal love of music, finding a common language to communicate difficult techniques proved to be a little more challenging. A translator was available for the first night, but most of the students understood English quite well. The students were not very familiar with American band works, so Austin worked with them on some Chinese pop tunes and a Japanese film score. The music was as new to him as some of the technical methods were to his students.
“They all played with heart and tried their very best,” he said. “We all just communicated the best we could.”
The concert proved to be a success even beyond Austin’s expectations. The concert hall seated 600 and it quickly filled to capacity. Another 150 people stood behind the seats for the entire concert. A representative from the American consulate was in the audience, and at the conclusion of the concert, hundreds of people rushed Austin for his autograph and to take pictures with him.
“It was a little overwhelming,” Austin admitted.
And the love of band music wasn’t just at the university level. Austin also spent the weekend working at an arts program for middle school students called The Children’s Palace. The city of Guangzhou has ten arts programs for young people across the area, teaching children art, dance and music. Austin worked with the middle-school musicians on breathing together, playing notes at full value, and making sure the melody could be heard. At the end of the session, the young musicians also stood patiently to say goodbye to Austin, many asking for his autograph and snapping selfies with him.
Austin returned to the United States with a newfound appreciation for the students of Guanghzou. He hoped he would be able to stay in touch with the programs and keep up with their progress. A few weeks ago he got a big surprise. Band director Ming Hui Liao called and informed him he was in town for the VCU Music Global Summer Institute of Music, and he had something for him. It was an official proclamation from Guang Dong University naming Dr. Austin as an honorary faculty member for the 2016-17 academic year. It was the first such proclamation in the university’s history.
“I was quite honored and very surprised,” Austin said. “I hope this is just the beginning of an on-going collaboration between our faculty and theirs.”